Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Problem with Music Notation in Electronic Works

For a while now, I have been collecting musical scores of classical works of the 20th century. I a have some scores from Ligeti, Stravinski, Crumb, Debussy and a few others. I get these scores because I want to study the technique of composers who ultimately lead the way to the avant guarde and eventually early electronic music (back when music played by electronic means was something which was somewhat rare).

What most fascinates me when I look at these scores is not only technique but how composers notated what were often very unconventional methods, for example Crumb. Suffice it to say that George Crumb scores can look very different than most and even Ligeti's.

In my last post, I asked the question, would it be possible to notate Tangerine Dream? OK, perhaps some who are reading this find this whole concept absurd but its not that absurd is it? Think of vibrato, glissando and tremolo. Thee is notation for all of these. But lets get more complex here to challenge the analogy. Consider a simply push of a mod wheel which is modulating pitch (i.e. vibrato). There is nothing to indicate vibrato of growing intensity is there?

Now most classical musician use vibrato even when the notation does not call for it because its really one of those aspects of music that crosses the dividing line that I spoke of in the last post between performance aspects in music and musical composition and notation. OK, I agree that that all sounds well and good when dealing with physical instruments because the vibrato of a violin or cello or any other instrument is limited by the instrument. I falls within a fairly narrow range. But vibrato for a synthesizer can have a much wider range of both magnitude and frequency.

Now what if a notation where used such as vib (to indicate to begin the vibrato) and sens vib to indicate when it ends or reaches its maximum but aslo two small numbers, one to indicate frequency and relative intensity (perhaps a %).

What about pitch bends? I have been listening to "Tangerine Dream"s Socerror which has lots and lots of tricks with pitch bends. Perhaps simple glissando would do this?

I don't have all the answers here but you get the idea. I have always wanted to get some of Karlheintz Stockhausen's scores because his electronic music challenged notationb beyond its limits and yet he made up his own.

You may ask, why bother? The reason is that I can read a score of music and understand the technique quickly. I can't do that by listening to it nearly as easily. Musical notation is a tool so that not only music can be played but techniques also studied. What about serious electronic music? Are there ways of developing some notation so it can be studied. Perhaps not but the topic does fascinate me for some reason.

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