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Notation and Nature

Last night I was having a few drinks with the other festival composers at the house and we got discussing notation. Tim Geller, a visiting composer from the US and I got quite deep into the question of the art of how much information to put on the page. We were talking about those moments when a performer might instinctively play the notated music differently to what is written. We both had many examples of occasions when the performer's divergence from the written markings sounded way better and how we usually try to encourage the performer to keep going along these lines if they are feeling like a different solution is better. In other words we tell them not worry too much about the written notation if they feel it needs to be played a slightly different way.

I am not really talking about the player changing notes or rhythms but more the expression or dynamics, the manner of shaping of a musical gesture.

I realised that Tim might be interested in the score for VE where I use tree names to help the performer shape the rising phrases (shown here in the thumbnail).

The strategy here is to encourage that more intuitive, creative style of interpretation int he performer. This is as opposed to the more play by numbers approach where a player might play the notes as written without really hearing in their imagination the overall shape that they are trying to achieve.

If I had on the other hand written more specific traditional markings to get the shaping then I think I would not quite get the rich variety and more importantly, the intuitive logic, the authentic natural flow in the music that I get by notating in this unusual way.

I have of course used this technique before.

One of my favourite things is to give a player a poem and get them to play on one note only as if they are using the instrument to recite the poem. Its a great effect. Surprisingly rich and variety and compelling despite the limitation of the single note.

One day I recon I will do an entire piece this way: of players intoning on a single note... actually come to think of it I have a piece I am doing right now called "Impossible Echoes' which this would be perfect for...


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