+61 413 599216

+61 413 599216


13 Moodie Street, Rozelle
Sydney, NSW, 2039

PO Box 1520, Rozelle
Sydney, NSW, 2039

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Playing Pictures
Date 23.01 MMXIV
I started learning piano pretty late ... 13 years old and my favourite thing to do was sight-read Debussy and Beethoven, put on the metronome and play Mozart with a Salsa rhythm. The language of music, communicated through dotted notes and symbols, became a playground. When I was studying  music and learning about Graphic Notation, the way composers such as Earle BrownArnold Schoenberg, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage reorganised this system of notation fascinated me. The music score became a tool that could be personalised, played with and improvised. The sound quality and tone of instruments (timbre) became the focus rather than the harmony of the music. It was love at first sight!

In Graphic Notation there isn't any notated harmony or rhythm and an ensemble's director and performers can choose their instruments or sounds. You are literally playing pictures. The number of players can vary widely, from a quartet of Classical instruments to performances by Indie bands such as Sonic Youth. Below you can listen to their performance of the graphic music piece Edges by Christian Wolff (1964) from the album
SYR4: Goodbye 20th Century (1999)

In the 1960's the 'downtown' music scene of New York nurtured composers such as Elliott Carter, Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Cornelius Cardew who all embraced this new form of notation and approach to music. This music scene didn't confine itself to the traditional ensembles, performance traditions, or the musical rhetoric of European classical music. They welcomed the experimental, the vernacular, pop culture influences, simplicity and noise! By realising a new visual vocabulary outside the realm of traditional music they unearthed a new freedom of expression and opened up different ways to communicate the beauty of sound. For me, this is the perfect union of art and sound.

Other exponents of Graphic Notation: Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, György Ligeti, Krzysztof Penderecki, Mauricio Kagel, Cathy Berberian, Brian Eno, Herbert Brün, Aphex Twin, and Iannis Xenakis.

Sonic Youth - Performing Edges by Christian Wolff (1964)
From the 1999 album SYR4: Goodbye 20th Century

'For 1, 2, or 3 People' Christian Wolff (1964)
'For 1, 2, or 3 People' score is in the slideshow above.

Listen To
S.E.M. Darmstadt Essential Repertoire (12/2/2010)
You can find some more graphic music scores on our Musique Graphique Pinterest page

By Alison Cole