Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Play This Shape

Play this shape.

*          *              *
''''''       ''''''''       ''''''''

What did it sound like? Why?

The second question is a critical aspect of making a lasting connection with listeners when playing graphically notated music. Even if your answer is "I don't know" or "I started playing it without really thinking" there is something to be said about your choices or lack thereof. The reasons why people play graphic notation in unique ways are fascinating. In my experience, audiences are genuinely excited by performers who provide a thoughtful, honest description of their performance choices.

A friend of mine wrote a graphically notated piece (a complex series of shapes and lines) for me and another bass player to perform back to back in a program. We decided to explore the possibilities of perception.  The other bass player received the work a week in advance and made several notes about his choices for performing. He performed the piece for the audience and answered questions while I sat with my ears plugged in an adjacent room. I then walked to the performing space and was handed the piece for the first time just before I played it. This allowed for a completely different perspective of the work both in respects to who was performing and the amount of preparation time. Our interpretations were completely different which led to wonderful discussions among everyone present.

This is not to say that all graphic notation is solely based on performer choices and freedoms. Many compositions in this style are specific about rhythm, pitch, dynamics, timbre, etc. In those cases, graphic notation serves the purpose of demonstrating exactly what a performer should do when playing a piece. The graphic element of the composition is often used to fill a void left by traditional notation. This type of notation is certainly useful but it is less romantic to talk about.

Onto the romantic part...

Let's be free from stems and note heads  Let's play rectangles, triangles, photographs, paintings, nature, or even actual people. Who is to stop a performer from 'playing' the audience? Think of all the inspiration that comes from curious people. When we talk about the future of classical music we need to be considering every facet of composition as well. Playing music that is graphically notated can be fulfilling and even liberating. I highly recommend it to anyone that is curious.

One final thought:
What is the limit of graphic notation?


1 comment:

Christina G said...

I love this post! This is a very powerful idea and it opens the door to infinite possibilities of modern day expression. This makes performance relevant.