Soundfjord’s micro fest and graphic scores

Last Sunday saw Soundfjord celebrate their first birthday, and to help them celebrate I had written a piece specially for this event (and no, it had nothing to do with H*ppy b*rthday!). The birthday celebration took the form of a micro-fest from noon-to 9pm which featured many great AV works, Acousmatic works and some excellent,. diverse performances and a great birthday cake topped with particularly nice fruit pastelles.

To perform the piece I had written- I drew out a graphic score, a technique I’m quite experienced in, and really the best way for me to remember how to perform the piece. its idiomatic and only works with a combination of Ableton, my desktop and the Novation launchpad. You can hear the piece at the bottom of the page and see if you think what you hear is described on the sheet.

graphic score for Soundfjord

Graphic score for Soundfjord piece

At first this might look like a circuit diagram, or maybe a patching diagram for my synths, but thats fine because this piece partly flows like a controlled process. Its not process music, but it is evolving music, and visually this describes what needs to be done in order to achieve something like the desired results. If I was to publish this so that it could be played by someone else then I would have to be even more detailed than here to describe how to work my set up.

Basically the way the score works is this: the squares represent buttons to push on the novation launchpad- the numbers are the order of which to press, the shape of the group visually represents how they appear on the launchpad (buttons that are assigned light up), the arrows describe what happens to that button as the piece progresses- if the arrow crosses a movement (movements are delineated by the vertical lines). If it reaches a square with a cross in it- then the button is to be turned off. In this piece precise times are avoided, so the structure is organised by events happening- by this I mean the button goes off when something else goes on or when a section is reached. The fragments of notation are descriptions of chords/ clusters to played or inprovised around, finally the < > signs work the same as in standard notation.

Graphic scores are a great tool for composing works when starting off on a project; they can help evolve the overall shape of a piece before any of the notated harmonic structure is decided upon by allowing the composer to muck about with alternatives in a very visual, intuitive way; they are brilliant for a composer to share a work in progress with a group of musicians at a very early point in a works development, especially if improvisation is involved or if the final work is to be a finalised, notated score. Used a main means of compostion, works can be described where the music is modulated by things outside of the traditional concepts of time,harmony, beat, meter; the last century has generated some striking examples, most famously Cornelius Cardews Treatese, which opens an entirely different set of music aesthetics

There are no hard and fast rules in graphic scoring but I would strongly advise the following if you’re drawing with the intention of others, like any other score, put as much information on it as possible, and unless a good reason, use as familiar symbols as possible. Colour can be employed, but if so, keep the contrast up, bearing in mind some players may be colourblind (found this out the hard way). Always give a glossary to any symbols or phrases devised, and aim to make the score look how it should sound, and read as clearly and logically as possible. Remember you are describing instructions to be performed, no matter how pretty your graphic may be!

Heres a graphic score devised for a flexible ensemble (with transposing instruments) to play:

the way to the C
The way to the C for flexible ensemble

The piece on the left allows the players to make descisions about what and how they want to play within a given harmonic structure; two options are given for duration- long and short. This is fixed by the player but must stick to those times as closely as possible for the piece. When a plaver gets to a note, if more than one arrow leads off, the player can choose which arrow to fall. They must be silent if landing on a cross circle for a duration equal to that of a long note. Finally the player works toward a fermata which then end their participation. There is no time limit for this piece, that ends up being determined by the process.

Do you have a graphic score to show?

Helen Frosi at Soundfjord is curating a exhibition of graphic scores as part of a larger exhibition at Gallery 8. Contact Helen at helen AT if you wish her to look at your material. Bear in mind deadline is this Sunday 7th August 2011

Do you have a graphic score to play?

Midnight Llama are interested in working with graphic scores. Details on their webpage.

Finally- the piece-


About stuartrussellcomposer

Composer/ sound artist. Electronic musician. Modern classical composer
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