Musical Notation, 35 Years Later

Do you remember John Cage’s book Notations – a 1970 compilation of pages from more than 300 various composers’ scores, mostly presented without comment, and ranging with wild diversity from conventional notes to graphs to pictures to unintelligible scrawls? I used to look through it when I was young and wonder what all those notations meant. The fantasy they offered pushed me into some of my own notational experiments.

Well, there’s sort of a new Notations out. Composers Torsten Müller, Kunsu Shim and Gerhard Stäbler have put together a book called SoundVisions with excerpts from about 150 scores. You might expect that musical notation in 2005 wouldn’t exhibit anything near the same experimentalism or diversity as in 1970, but actually, it nearly does; if the experiments are not quite so ambiguously outrageous, the different ways in which music can be precisely notated have increased, and there are more routes today for even relative traditionalists to take. There is a Max/MSP diagram by Kenneth Atchley and another by Achim Wollschied, a digitzed map of the world showing locations of sound recordings by Klarenz Barlow, eight channels of audio waveforms by François Bayle, a diagram of slide-projector placement by Maria Blondel, instructions for creating video and music by Gene Coleman, Philip Corner’s scrawled ms. for his piece “At some point during this concert the hall might be blown up or bombed,” directions for representing shifts in the resonant frequency of the earth by Pauline Oliveros, a John Oswald score for brass and Ondes martenot that looks like it melted in the middle, a kooky-looking score to Stockhausen’s Hoch-Zeiten of 2002, a real minimalist-looking work with noteheads and numbers by Michael Pisaro, instructions for making your own Larry Polansky canon, a musical score with cartoon interpolations by Sven Herman, some splotches showing how to play Judy Dunaway’s Molto for balloons, plus sketches by György Kurtag and Helmut Lachenmann, and precompositional drawings of parameter curves by Julio Estrada. There are also pages from more conventional scores: two pages of the ms. of Boulez’s Sur Incises, and excerpts by, among many others, Sofia Gubaidulina, Steve Reich (Three Tales), Lois V Vierk (Europa for brass quintet, 2003), Jo Kondo, Alvin Lucier, Wolfgang Rihm, Frederic Rzewski, my friend Frank Abbinanti, and two pages from my own Disklavier piece Bud Ran Back Out. It’s a truly international collection with composers from at least three continents (I’m in because I’ve known Gerhard Stäbler for 20 years), and there are a lot of European women composers I hadn’t heard of.

I don’t know what your chances of getting SoundVisions are, but the publisher, PFAU Verlag in Saarbrücken, has a web page for it here. No free examples given, unfortunately, and the price is 39 Euros.