On Air Now
Smooth Classics at Seven with Zeb Soanes 7pm - 10pm
Explore these beautiful (and at times perplexing) musical works of art, with pictures from Theresa Sauer's stunning Notations21 book.
Unlike the more traditional five-lined musical stave, with each line and each space representing a different pitch, a graphic score is a different way of notating a piece of music.
Scores can blend conventional elements notation with the unconventional. The performer has to use the pictures to inspire his or her performance - it's more like a guide, or a musical map. Picture: iwantdesign
John Cage, the man behind so much groundbreaking music including the famously silent 4'33", was a keen graphic score composer. It might look like random squiggles, but each line indicates a different style of singing, notated in wavy lines in ten different colors, and the black squares indicate non specified 'non-musical' sounds.
One feature of many graphic scores is they can be played by any number of players, of any standard, on any instrument. No two performances sound the same, but all the players will be following the same instructions.
With so many notes, this score would be difficult for any pianist to read if it was laid out simply on the page. Luckily, this piece by Crumb also contains three detailed pages of instructions, with movements including Primeval Sounds, Crucifixus and Spiral Galaxy.
Ligeti wrote his electronic piece, Artikulation, in 1958. Although it existed as a recording, there was no score for musicians to 'see' the music. Rainer Wehinger studied the piece in the 1970s and created this colourful explanation of the music, with a vast key explaining all the colours and symbols.
This is just one fragment of the 193-page score for this lengthy work. Unlike many graphic scores, this piece has no instructions as to how it should be played, so every performer has to make up their own rules!
Graphic scores serve a dual purpose: as well as looking beautiful, they explain abstract ideas about how the music should be played. In this piece, written in 2006, each line represents a different instrument, with the colours and shapes informing how the music might sound.
Graphic scores first developed in the 1950s as an alternative way of showing how music could be played. But they're not entirely straightforward for inexperienced players. This piece by Tom Phillips uses uppercase letters to show notes that should be played in the bass, and lowercase letters played in a higher register. You're allowed to add flats and sharps as you please. And the dots around the notes are supposed to help with how loud to play the note, and how long to hold it for. He's blocked off a few notes too (you're not allowed to play a B flat at all).
One of the most famous (and most cartoonish!) graphic scores is by composer Cathy Berberian. Written in 1966, it uses lines just like a traditional musical stave, indicating an approximate pitch for the singer. The difference being, the singer doesn't sing notes - she sings noises and words, with actions, including pretending to be a radio, roaring like Tarzan, and urging a kite to come down from a tree...
Don't be fooled by the title: this work is nothing to do with Handel's work of the same name. The number of seconds is written on the top, with instructions as to the props to be used, accompanied by a tape.
Any ideas how this one might sound? Because of the flexible nature of graphic scores, they can provide instructions for a live performance, or just give a graphical interpretation of an electronic piece of music. This is a score from a piece by Smith, which he describes as: "An Electronic Sonic Garden of Delights and Transformations, Events 1-15"
Sometimes graphic scores aren't just abstract images or drawings. Many include more traditional musical notation like key signatures or musical staves - just in an unexpected layout!
Luckily, there's no need to work out how on earth to play this piece of music. It's another graphic score interpreting music that's already been recorded - a bit like listening to a piece and drawing what comes to mind.
Ever played Consequences? This is the musical equivalent. Find a piece of paper and some friends, and each grab a coloured pen. Write a musical phrase or draw a picture that might inspire you, and pass it on to create your very own composition. The beauty of this piece is that any paper will do: this one's written on the back of a Natural History Museum paper bag...
It doesn't look all that different from a traditional musical score... until you realise there are no barlines and there's no stave. Still, the music gives an idea about rhythm and pitch, even with some of the traditional features missing.
Written for 40 performers, this solar-system-inspired piece asks groups of performers including choirs, duos, trios and quartets to start playing in an orbit-style cycle.
This nature-inspired score is a representation of an electronic piece by composer Slavek Kwi. He explained: "There is nothing to be understood, no comprehension required accessing this work… only intensive listening."
Composer Brian Schorn is as much a visual artist and graphic designer as he is an expert in eletroacoustic music - that is, music using electronic sounds. Nebula is written for three instruments, with each player taking inspiration from one of the three interlinked dark clouds.
It might look a bit like a load of unusual road signs, but Ornamentik is actually a piece for trombone. It was drawn at the request of an American player, Stuart Dempster, who asked for a piece that would provide various provocative challenges to corner him into inventing new sounds or techniques.
When it comes to imagining what this experimental jazz-inspired composition might sound like, your guess is as good as ours. Composed by abstract artist and musician, Daniel Schnee, the highly detailed symbols all inform how the music should be performed.