Three Five Part Inventions

A score for two hands and one piano. Gordon Shrigley and John Snijders.

During the twentieth century a number of classical composers experimented with new ways of notating a musical score. One of the ideas underpinning such experiments, generally referred to as ‘graphic scores’, is by reinventing the pictographic nature of traditional music notation, this may lead to a new world of sound relationships and hence composition.

I had first been introduced to this idea during my stay at Academy Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart in 1998, where I met the composers Marc Sabat, Chiyoko Slavnics and Krystyna Bobrowski, whilst working on an artists’ book that attempted to rethink the nature of line.

Also by chance Christian Wolff held a workshop at the Academy at the time, and invited fellows of the Academy to work with him to realise his graphic score ‘Burdocks’. I volunteered as percussionist, and although I make no claim to any performing expertise, this experience did allow me valuable time to study and meditate on the nature of the score that Wolff had invented to realise his work.

It was during this time then that I began to consider what would a graphic score look like, that is created from linear dynamic relationships alone? So taking the inherent discrete play of the graphic line and its sonic result to its equivalent extreme.

Importantly though, so as to be more than a picture for a performer to react to in an aleotoric manner, such a score would also need to mediate between its very ‘pictureness’, and its role as ‘instruction’, and so situate itself therefore somewhere between an aesthetic object that is explored in and of itself, and a distinct set of codes that could be interpreted by any performer.

Illustrations show preliminary sketch scores.