Friday, August 12, 2011

The art of musical notation - scoring outside the lines

Pat Muchmore writes a fascinating piece on musical scores that are presented in a more exotic form than the standard music clef notations that I and other musicians have spend many thousands of hours with. He uses the term ergodic notations,
...which I derive from the game and literary theorist Espen J. Aarseth’s phrase “ergodic literature.” These are writings that require some amount of effort to read beyond simply moving one’s eyes and flipping pages. There are ancient examples, such as Egyptian texts that span several walls across several rooms or, more recently, Islamic calligrams that render Arabic words like Allah and Bismillah in many different directions and scales.
The article contains numerous modern examples of ergodic scores, and also notes:
Ergodic notation is not new. Baude Cordier, a composer of the ars subtilior style, wrote during the first half of the 15th century. He created many graphic scores, one of the most elegant of which is for a piece called “Belle, bonne, sage.”
“Belle, bonne, sage” by Baude Cordier.

It’s a love song, so it’s rendered in the shape of a heart. The performance is essentially unaffected by the shape, but we needn’t condemn it — it’s a beautiful addition to the artwork. Furthermore, not every visual element is purely decorative, the red notes indicate a rhythmic alteration that was otherwise very difficult to notate at the time.
The article provides further examples of ergodic notations from modern composers George Crumb, Peter Maxwell Davies, John Cage. It also includes notation and audio files of a composition by the author.

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