Entries tagged with “Treatise”.

Cornelius Cardew's Treatise page 72
Page 72 from Cornelius Cardew's Treatise

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to the readers of these pages to hear that there has been little music this year, especially improvised music, that has really captured my interest. Certainly there has been well received releases and all of that but with only a couple of exceptions I’ve found little of it to be of sustaining interest.  This is why for these monthly music entries I’ve been primarily focusing on releases of mostly composed music which has been engaging my interest.  While I’m still listening to plenty of music from my collection I don’t think I bought a single piece of music this month and since I don’t really want to delve into stuff from the collection for these posts,  I thought I’d do something different this month: analyze a recording of a couple of pages from Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise that I recorded myself but have not made available in any form.

In the autumn of 2005 I went to New York City for the ErstQuake 2 festival where Keith Rowe performed in several sets. Over the course of the festival I was able to meet and talk with Keith a bit in which I learned that he’d be playing a couple of shows in Seattle.  One of his two dates in Seattle he played from Treatise and I ended up talking to him quite a bit about this as at the time as I was actively engaged in performing it with the Seattle Improv Meeting.  While I had at that point researched Treatise extensively this first discussion with Keith was the beginning of a much deeper relationship with the score. Keith showed me his personal copy of the score and I noted how extensively marked up each page was with direct indications of the gestures performed for specific symbols and even an overall time range for some (perhaps all?) pages. This of course is a fundamental aspect of really treating the material as a score and not just as a springboard for improvisation. I took these ideas back to the Seattle Improv Meeting and had us work on a single page from the score for several months in a row. The idea was to build up a body of gestures to map to the symbols consistently. Over the weeks we’d refine our approaches and ideally, at least within the subset of the symbols on the page we were working on, develop  our own personal but consistent language for the score. This worked out well and from that point on I would use this language as I played from the score, sometimes iterating on it, sometimes refining it and sometimes abandoning specific gestures as I altered my approach. I should of course note that we had more or less been developing our own language all along as we’d been working on Treatise all that year winnowing down the body of gestures we had experimented with, but this exercise I think was fundamental in our approach and understanding of  the score.  You can check out our results of working on page 72 on the meeting recording archive.

Prepared Wire Strung Harp 3
Not the exact setup from this recording, but typical for that time

Several years later,  I found that notated page and decided to record a solo version of it plus the following page. I’d been developing my prepared wire strung harp into a very particular setup combined with electronics and this seemed an ideal way to fully explore this setup.  So late winter 2007 I set my harp upon the table and recorded these pages resulting in this recording. The downside of recording oneself is that one is playing as well as engineering and one can really only focus on one of these. Thus in this recording the levels were too high initially which I eventually noticed and turned down. This has led to the first part of the score seeming much more dramatic then the rest of the score as if its symbology in some way demands this,  but of course on looking at the score you see this isn’t the case. For this reason I’ve always felt this recording was somewhat compromised and post processing on this was never able to satisfactorily resolve this (because it is I think clipping initially and that is obvious even if the volume is brought more in parity with the rest of the recording).  So I just filed this one away for years now but in many ways it is the best document of a portion of my musical life that isn’t documented anywhere else. So I present this now for the first time as a vehicle for examining an approach to the score.

Cornelius Cardew's Treatise page 72 (working score)
My annotated page 72 from Cornelius Cardew's Treatise

Cornelius Cardew Treatise page 72 & 73

Use the player above to listen along as you read, or you can download one of several archives (recommended) that contain the recording plus PDFs of the Treatise pages including my annotated page: Apple Lossless, FLAC, 320kbps mp3.

00’00”- 2’20”
The first symbol, apart from the center line, on this page is the number 3. The numbers in Treatise are about the only concrete symbols, that is to say they aren’t an abstraction upon which an interpretation can be placed but actually have a meaning in and of themselves. Of course as Cardew offers no direct explanation of how to interpret any aspect of the score, much less the numbers, one could just treat them as just another symbol with which one is working with.  However it is part of the oral record of performance of Treatise, which I first heard from Keith, but later also from John Tilbury both in person and in his essential Cardew biography, that the numbers are  treated as outside of the system, that they are interpreted as the number of repetitions for an event. Since learning this I’ve always treated them this way and in this recording it is no different. As you can see in above scan there is an notated event associated with each number; part of the assignment from the SIM was to notate what we’d done after we played from the page. So from the session where these notes where taken I applied “3 Sets of Bowed strings” a here set meaning a full bow stroke.  In this recording I instead strike a spring that is mounted on strings above a contact mic. This is repeated three times each time waiting for the spring to settle before striking it again.

The next symbol is an upwardly inclined  line of moderate thickness which ends with a short vertical line, creating two sides of an scalene triangle. For this symbol I note “descend by 1/3rd” which I do, by playing down a series of strings with a bolt, repeating it a third lower for the gamut of the harp. For the sharp vertical drop I “ascend by 1/5” which is the same gesture only moving up by fifths for each repetition.

The next number, a 2, follows a short  gap to which I respond with a pair forceps which are clipped to the strings in such a fashion that it can be lifted up, dropped on the strings whereupon it oscillates for a time. This is of course repeated twice. The resonance of the harp, from sympathetic vibrations as well as the long sustain of the wire strings can be heard well beyond the last of the forceps oscillations. In the original notes I again bow the strings, specifying that I use high strings.

A pure tone comes in at this point, in response to the thin curving line that comes in from above. I always use pure tone for curved lines, either from an eBow on the strings or live or sampled electronics. In this case it is the oscillator that you can see in the setup picture above, but it has been recorded and is being played off an iPod. I had created a sample library from that oscillator as I loved it’s sound but it is rather unwieldy to lug around. However unlike the oscillator you can hear the sample repeat, which I consider somewhat unfortunate. Momentarily after the tone comes in you can hear the excitation of multiple strings with a rather circular sound. That is in response to the thin parallel lines, which my standard gesture is to rub multiple strings with a stone. This is indicated by the “Rub Strings” note, to which, by this time, I would be fully prepared to apply the rock to the multiple strings – one of the earliest and most consistent gestures I developed. Along with the stone I am also observing the “descend by 1/4” instruction for the sharper angled heavy lined triangle, which is again done via a bolt. The abrupt dropout is again similar, but its greater length modifies the gesture to “ascend by octaves“. For the last few seconds the one thin horizontal line is the only thing you hear in this cluster now, the stone rubbing on a single string. Just about the end of the line is a circle above it, for circles I always use a percussive event here it sounds like I tap the body of the harp with an object.

There is a gap between that last cluster and the next event: the number 5. Five repeated events, in this case it is bringing up the volume on a radio that I have in a feedback loop. It is tuned to static and bringing its volume up in this way creates that abrupt whispery sound, with that hollow almost echo-y sound that feedback adds.

Another short gap and then another cluster of sounds. Again there are several parallel horizontal lines which I address via the stones on several strings. I chose to excite the strings around the spring/contact mic resulting in an over-driven metallic assault. The surrounding spring represents the surrounded larger circle with its percussive attack on the contact mic. Around 8’25” you can hear a percussive event necessitated by the smaller circle: the forceps vibrating against strings. But what of the square? In the notes, I indicate “gliss strings” (I think) but I had long since settled on using the square as a symbol to listen, based on a comment that Tilbury made in the Treatise workshop I took with him; that the symbols do not have to correspond solely to musical gestures. When playing a score the important thing is to respond to the symbols regardless of what the ensemble is doing; they may be playing whisper quiet but if the score says to play loud, that’s what you do. I treat Treatise the same way, but I use the square when it comes up as a direction from the score itself to listen to the surroundings and to bring them into the proceedings. Since I was playing this alone in my living room, I think you can hear this in the change in tone toward the end of this cluster, as the single line curves downward. The percussive event at 9’48”, muted strike on the strings by a mallet, is probably slightly off-time and should have been in response to the black circle just before the line begins to curve.

After about thirty seconds of silence the number 1 is responded to with an electronic tone turned on and off.

Another pause and then a pure tone, louder then the earlier one, for the thicker downward curving line. At 13’05” I begin to softly rub the strings as the horizontal lines require. The thinness, shortness and stagger nature demand the softer approach. The vertical segments are handled by brushing against the spring and contact mic at times. A very short pause and then a strike on a piece of metal lodged under the strings for the percussive dot right at the end of this cluster.

Another 1 this one handled with a single pluck on one of the lower strings.

A pure tone for the ascending curved line, this one lower and richer, most likely from an eBow on the strings, though again a sample of this as opposed to a live eBowing. The stone comes in and out for the horizontal strings and you can hear a rather squeaky bowing now and again for the vertical lines. The radio is brought in at 7’44” with gentle static for the thick line paralleling the center line and the tone shortly thereafter stops a bit after the percussive event at 8’08” for the circle (the pure tone actually goes on a bit too long after that, most). The soft radio static plays out to the end with a sharp, by soft percussive attack for the final three dots at 20’19”.

That concludes the first page and this in-depth study, though I describe the second page in brief below.  What is interesting to consider here is the difference between the notated score above and what I actually played. Now I made at least two notated scores during the SIM project and I suspect that the above score was the first one of these. It has the hallmarks of notating what I did in a session before refinement and abandonment of rather unsuccessful gestures. Many of the techniques notated here are ones I have not kept in my repertoire and just rereading them know they aren’t things I’d regularly use especially as a constant response to a symbol in Treatise. The gestures that you use in this have to be consider, have to be adaptable, have to be amenable to the interpenetration that so often occurs amongst the symbols in the score. It is instructive to see this work in progress as I was learning both the instrument and the score. The pitfalls of poorly considered gestures was only just beginning to make itself understood. Playing the same page over and over again taught some of these lessons, but playing more of the score really brings them home. When you play the same symbols for page after page, the all their permutations, variations and interpenetration, you learn the weight of each single sound.

Cornelius Cardew's Treatise page 73
Page 73 from Cornelius Cardew's Treatise

A bit over twenty minutes into the recording I leave page 72 and proceed onto page 73.  As I’ve described above at the time of this recording I was several years past the page 72 exercise I did with the SIM and had quite extensively developed my personal language with it. When I’d play pages that I hadn’t played before, hadn’t explicitly worked out what I’d do for every symbol on the page I was still able to play it with a high degree of consistency and rigor.  While still working with the same set of tools it would be a bit different when I’d “sight read” these pages:  perhaps I’d  not respond to every symbol(which  is always an option and in fact preferable in many cases), perhaps some nuances w/r/t the variation in some symbols wouldn’t be as developed. In the case of continuing from page 72 to page 73 it was rather straightforward and I quite like how it developed. The symbology  of page 73 directly continues on from page 72 with its lines and dots at first exactly how it was used in the previous page but then becoming scattered and more fragmentary. The center line also loses fidelity; always an important event to take notice of. My response to this page was to continue playing it as I had page 72 but to reflect its fragmented nature, to work with the gaps, the variations alter the techniques used for these symbols to try to capture this essence.

While I never was satisfied enough with this recording, this is probably my single favorite performance of Treatise that I’ve done, certainly as a solo.  The rawness of it, its mix of the prepared wire strung harp and primitive electronics, the layering of disparate elements, all of these I think worked really well and I find completely engaging.  It reminds me a bit of David Tudor’s epic performance of John Cage’s Variations II in its use of over-driven amplified acoustic sounds. While not in that league of course to me it is in the same general area which I find all the more striking as I really hadn’t listened to that piece until a month after this recording was made. Additionally there are a lot of my concerns with sound addressed here, things that I think a lot of people don’t necessarily like, don’t find beautiful: flatness, hums, lack of warmth – these are things that I’ve engaged with for years and are well applied here. I like how the more dramatic feel of page 72 persists into page 73 but as the lines fragment and become more scatter so to does the music.

Further reading

A Young persons Guide to Treatise – my Treatise resource page.
Cornelius Cardew – A Life Unfinished by John Tilbury, Copula, 2008.
• My report on a Treatise workshop with John Tilbury.
• Seattle Improv Meeting recording archive containing many recordings of Treatise.
Keith Rowe’s solo Treatise performance in Seattle.
• On performing Treatise. My analysis of several recordings of Treatise.

In the spring of this year there was a Cardew retrospectiv-ish looking thing in France put on by the Centre d’art contemporain de Brétigny that included John Tilbury, Keith Rowe, Marcus Shmickler, Rhys Chatham and many people I’m unaware of. I’d read about this back when it was going to be put on and apart from a regret that I couldn’t attend it more or less slipped my mind. In doing some searches for the Tiger’s Mind (I was curious if anybody had made a recording of the performance that Keith Rowe put on at Mills College as the David Tudor Composer-in-Residence ) I discovered that that the CAC Brétigny had setup a website for the festival and put up mp3s of the entire thing.  These are all streamable from the website site but you can also get into their FTP and download them all directly from this directory. This was a pretty impressive event and I have to say that it is great that they have put it all online.

Cornelius Cardew et la liberté de l’écoute
Exposition et programme de manifestations
5 avril – 27 juin 2009

The festival included performances of:

  • Treatise (p. 50) performed by Keith Rowe with projections by Luke Fowler and Peter Todd
  • Cornelius Cardew Piano works performed by John Tilbury
  • Treatise (p. 170, 136, 168, 167, 140) performed by Michel Guillet, Jean Jacques Palix, Marcus Schmickler and Samon Takahashi
  • Volo Solo performed by Rhys Chatham (!)
  • Tiger’s Mind performed by Nina Canal, Nadia Lichtig, Michael Morley & Sara Stephenson
  • The Great Learning paragraph’s 5 & 7
  • Christian Wolff’s Stones
  • Micheal Parson’s Walk
  • A Terre Thaemlitz performance

So far I’ve only listened to the Keith Rowe Treatise, which is quite nice, the Tilbury Piano Music, which is excellent and the Tiger’s Mind, which was interesting but not to my taste, nor did I really get much of a sense of the score from it. I look forward to working my way through the rest of the material.

(archived from this ihm thread)

Part I:

What I wanted to add to this thread was how to judge an interpretation of the score.  This is an incredibly complex issue but there are I think several basic rules of thumb that can be applied. First off, to get the most common objection out of the way, if you like a particular recording as a piece of music then that is great, no-one is denying you that.  On this issue I think there is no discussion to be had.  The question is though, is a particular recording an actual realization of the score, or more influenced by the score?

The key to interpreting the score is that you build up a consistent vocabulary for the symbols of the score. This vocabulary needs to be flexible as the symbols rarely stand on their own: they are constant intersected, amended, interrupted or overlaid with other symbols. This is an important issue that I think leads to failures in many interpretations, but I’ll get back to that in a bit.  The consistency issue is equally important, if you do not consistently interpret the symbols then you aren’t really playing this as a score. Let me give an example; if you created a version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that played all the notes, used the exact orchestration, followed all of the rules of the score, except that you played it at a tempo such that it lasted nine hours, this would no longer be Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  It would be at best “inspired by” or a gloss on it. Why? Because Beethoven gave explicit directions on the tempo for the score. Now there is a lot of debate on that and realizations of the score can vary in times by 15 or more minutes.  But these I think are all valid, they fall within the parameters of the score.

So am I saying that doing a short version of Treatise is a priori invalid? No, but to do a short version of the score requires a huge amount of work. Cardew’s composition Volo Solo is apparently a transcribed version of the entire scored to be performed by a piano virtuoso which can be done in about 10 minutes. But this is meticulously scored (and it is rather difficult to see exactly how it is transcribed from the score. Tilbury (for whom it was composed) goes into this in Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished) and contains thousands of notes.  So this is one solution to the issue of consistency and flexibility: rigorous transcription. In essence you are compressing the score into a smaller more compact version, a translation of all of this syntactic content into another system.

Beyond that level of transcription what else do we find in interpretations of the score? When you are not converting the symbols directly into traditional notation you tend to utilize varying degree of abstraction. That is you associate techniques, events, or sounds to the symbols. You then need to take into account the various permutations of the symbols, the spaces between them, the center line and the numbers. When sight reading from the score this is pretty challenging and the pages themselves contain varying degrees of density. In these sort of interpretations it takes much longer to work though each page, some pages have a lot of content to work through others have very little. Though the relationship between density and tempo is not precise, so pages with very little syntactic content can feel very slow while others dense with information feel fast.  When sight reading the score, the amount of time it would take is certainly highly variable, but I think that on average you’d be pretty hard pressed to fully interpret a page in less then five minutes.  Maybe a few pages would be less but many many more would require more time.  Even if you did spend one minute per page, which would really be a gloss over most of the symbols, you would end up with a three hour+ performance.  So when you are presented with a short performance there are basically five options:

  1. It is fully transcribed to traditional notation and is played at a very high tempo with a high density of notes
  2. The score is being broken up among the players such that for each page each player is playing only a small subset of the information there.
  3. The score is being played layered: that is you each divide the score up among each player so that each player is only doing about 20 pages)
  4. A subset of the score is being performed
  5. It is a gloss of the score

Now lets specifically consider the Hat[now]ART version of the piece. I think its fair to rule out option (1) – it is too sedate, too ambient to be like a 120 minute Volo Solo. (2) and (3) are possible though of course this is impossible to know.  Ideally any performance of the score should include information on the pages played and some description of the strategy adopted. I would guess that it isn’t a layered version of the score – it again doesn’t feel dense enough. (2) is certainly possible and I think would be the most obvious to someone who reads up on the available resources on the score:

“Performance advice. Divide the musicians into those involved in dot events (percussionists and pianists?) and those involved in line events. Dot events to be exclusively soft.” -Cornelius Cardew,Treatise Handbook(1)

However in this fashion to really treat it as a score, you’d basically have long rests between a lot of the events that you are playing. So it’d still come down to spending less then a minute a page, which even if you were only making a few amount of sounds would still come out to all the symbols in the score being played within this time.  Again this take just isn’t that information rich, or quick in tempo. Thus it seems fair to say that this performance is a gloss, a “take” on the score. And there is nothing wrong with that, except that they say this is the “World premier complete performance” on the set (which rules out (4) of course). You can still like the music here, enjoy it for what it is, but it isn’t Treatise anymore then a nine hour version of the Ninth Symphony isn’t Beethoven

This post has gone on long enough, but I think it establishes a set of criteria for examining realizations of the score and demonstrates how to apply it. If there is further interest, I’ll add examinations of a couple of other versions here over the next couple of days.

Part II:

The most successful (and common) strategy of interpretation of Treatise is to play a subset of the score.  This allows you to devote the time that each page requires.  When playing as a group without any sort of strategy of synchronization these types of interpretations necessarily become layered versions of the score. I for one am a fan of that type of layering and this was something well embraced by the 60s Experimental Composers (c.f.  all of the simultaneous Cage performances) including Cardew. The entire score could be played through in the fashion, playing a page or series of pages in a number of sessions. We began this process in the Seattle Improv Meeting and played through 44 pages in this fashion (these can be downloaded here). This attempt  to play through the whole score in sequence was stopped at that point as the interpretation was suffering in other ways.  This is a good example of one of the other failures in interpretation: using the score for structured improvisation.

“The score must govern the music. It must have authority, and not merely be an arbitrary jumping-off point for improvisation.” -Cornelius Cardew,Treatise Handbook(1)

Use of the score for structured improvisation again becomes a gloss of the score; one is not interpreting the symbols of the score consistently or rigorously. Again you can make good music this way and it is not an invaluable exercise. In fact I quite like structured improvisation, I think that it often adds depth to improv, just enough structure applied to give form and to curtail certain impulses.  However it is not following a score and as is quite clear with Cardew’s own intentions (“It must have authority”) this is not a rigorous realization.  I should point out that in the case of the SIM this was just how the group developed. In our three years of working with the score, we evolved from a tentative learning process, to a rigorous consistent approach and then it kind of slackened off into this more loose approach. See some of the recordings from the second half of 2005 to the first couple of months of 2006 for some of the more consistent realizations (my personal favorite from this period is Pages 146-148)

Other versions that most likely fall into the gloss of Structured Improvisation would include Formanex Treatise- Cornelius Cardew(Fibrr).  While they don’t explicitly say which pages they are playing on this recording (as opposed to their other recording) overall the music here is too overtly ambient to fit much of the score. However it is possible that this is the last three pages of the score in which this sort of interpretation would be valid. Again this is a case where it is frustrating that they don’t tell you the page(s) that are played. If you contrast this though with the other Formanex recording, Treatise-Live at Extrapool (also on Fibrr) it is markedly different, that one has the spaciousness and spikiness that more strict realizations tend to feature. I would also guess that the performance of pages 21 & 22 On the hat[now]ART release Material also leans this way. At least by some of the members (which is worth noting, there can certainly be degrees of rigor in any group performance of it) especially the vocalist who seems to be free riffing well past any material available from the score. This sort of free improvisation on the score I think is particularly egregious as this is adding semantic content which is not contained within the score.

Part III:

Quax Ensemble plays Treatise

Cornelus Cardew Treatise (Prague version 1967) (Mode)

The most recent Treatise recording out there came out just a couple of weeks ago on Mode.  This release is certainly of much historical interest, the QUaX Ensemble being one of the earlier groups to work with the piece. During the course of the development of the piece a number of musicians worked with it (including the members of AMM, in various combinations and of course AMM itself) and one of these was Petr Kotik. He was pretty young at the time, (early-mid twenties) and had was still in conservatory when he met Cardew and developed a relationship with him. He was able to get a number of pages (alas and annoyingly the liner notes do not specify these) prior to the scores publication in 1967 and put together the QUaX Ensemble to play it among other scores.  They played from these pages frequent but and eventually put together a 2 hour version of the pages they had which they performed once on October 15th 1967. That of course is this recording. He quite clearly states in the liner notes that he received a copy of the complete score in Buffalo NY in 1969, two years after this performance. So this two hour version is clearly a subset of the score, thus eliminating the issues that are rife with short complete versions.

“There is much to admire in this 1967 version of Treatise by the QUaX Ensemble from Prague: the feeling of spontaneity, its uninhibitedness, the rough-hewn sounds, the accidental, the half-intended, the blurred.” -John Tilbury(3)

The liner notes include a page from John Tilbury which tellingly is half devoted to quotes from the Treatise Handbook. The above quote from him, which is rather amusingly used in the Mode PR, I think sums it up perfectly: There is much to admire yes, but there is also much that is not so admirable.

First off they clearly did spend the time developing a consistent take on the pages they had. The liner notes includes reproductions of two of Kotik’s pages which have numerous annotations on them. These include notes on what to play for certain symbols but are actually mostly devoted to timings. Most interestingly the notes mostly resolve around who is to play for a given symbol.  For instance on the back cover there is an except of a page where the same symbol (black filled circles) are notated “Kotik”. Other notes seem to be either instruments or perhaps performance techniques that I can’t decipher (anyone who can, do let me know). These notes are pretty revealing in their take on the score, which to me seems like a fairly typical case of classical musicians trying to improvise.  It in fact reminds me a lot of the workshop and performance I did with Vancouver New Music (that Joda references (in the ihm thread) and which I wrote up at length here: VNM Treatise report) where I’d say most of the ensemble never really managed to work with the score in and of itself, they always were using it as a springboard.

In the case of this version, they seem to have a concern that I’ve encountered among virtually everyone I’ve seen play the score: playing together. It seems for classical and jazz musicians that the concept of everyone working through it at their own pace is a difficult concept.  This was constantly raised in the VNM group and also something that plagued the first half dozen or so sessions with the Seattle Improv Meeting (at least among certain people in both groups). Even a more recent performance that I did with a dedicated graphic score group (EyeMusic) under the aegis of Keith Rowe this issue was also raised. In this case since they seemed also to be working with the score in parts (that is assigning symbols to various performers) this seems a much more traditional approach.  Of course Cardew definitely worked with the score in this way especially before AMM and I wouldn’t be surprised if he recommended this approach to Kotik.

Based on the annotated pages that we have in the liner notes it appears that their working out of the score is more an assignment of who plays what, not much of an indication of what they play. In other words this approach is structured improvisation. Listening to this before I closely examined those score excerpts there were a number of passages I found troubling that are explained somewhat by this approach. These passages involve overtly melodic material from the saxophone (Pavel Kondelik) and kind of piano jazz breakdown complete with vocals (Vaclav Zahradnik). Now one might think that one could assign melodic content to the symbols as long as one is consistent and in theory you could. But as I pointed out in my earlier post, any symbolic association must take into account the various fragments, interjects, incomplete symbols, overlapping symbols and so in. With very few exceptions no consistent melodic line would survive that for long. Thus the multiple long melodic sax passages seem to me outside of a strict reading of the score, but would make sense if you just were using the symbols as sigils for when a particular musician was going to perform.

Apart from this melodic content there are a lot of great sounds in this recording and lots of space. Apart from the center line, there are many pages with long gaps between symbols and thus any performance should have these gaps (unless someone is focusing on the center line, but even in this case the other musicians should respect the spaces). There is even a nice background radio grab for a bit, giving it a bit of a Cage or AMM feel.  Much of the sounds are generated on traditional instruments with extreme extended techniques, using many of the sounds associated with avant-garde composition (ala Lachenmann) or post EFI improvisation. Additionally there are various ambient sounds, passing traffic, shifting chairs and the like that places this within a space and I think add a lot to the overall environment. Long stretches of this performance is fantastic in my opinion, though there often is something coming in that one may not like.  For me it really is the melodic content and even worse the semantic content from the singing that mar the performance.

Cardew on a number of occasions expressed his dissatisfaction with classical musicians performance of this piece. Too hard for them to break out of their routines and notions of performance. Impossible for them to capture the right balance between the spontaneous and the structured. This recording I think is somewhat exemplary of that. The fact that the performers were young and still students probably gives this the life and drama that it does have. It still I think would have somewhat dissatisfied Cardew in that it doesn’t go all the way to where he wanted to go w/r/t performer involvement but probably wouldn’t be the total disappoint of some of the performances by highly trained and rigid musicians. As Tilbury says there is much to like here, but this is not I think a wholly successful interpretation of the score. It is definitely recommended though, it is an important piece in the history of the score a history that is quite lacking in the early performances.

Part IV:

Getting back to analysis of performances of the score there is two important notions that I have thus far neglected to mention. This was deliberate as I wanted to approach these recordings in terms of their consistency and rigor. These notions basically subvert that to some degree but in general they can’t be used to excuse those primary notions.  These issues are numbers in the score and the notion of a perverse reading of the score.  The numbers are inescapable in the the score so lets take a look at those first.

As with everything else in the score there isn’t any instructions on how to handle the numbers. However in the Treatise Handbook he says thus:

“The numbers are included at the pauses for the reason that: any act or facet of the conception or composition of the score may have relevance for interpretation.[…] It is the fact that there were 34 blank spaces before the first sign put in an appearance” – Cornelius Cardew, Treatise Handbook (2, p. 251)

This singular note on the numbers from Cardew doesn’t really give much info on how to interpret them.  However it has come to be interpreted as a repetition of an event for the number of times of the numeric value. As there isn’t a specific symbol tied to the event the event is treated as outside of the score, that is it is independent of your consistent interpretation. So theoretically a performer could say play a chord 34 time, or make 34 sounds or what have you.  So does the potential arbitrariness of the numbers make possible the overtly melodic sax in the QUaX version discussed earlier? Probably not. In general the numbers aren’t too large after the initial 34 and there are multiple long sax segments in that version. So I think my previous read of it still stands, but it is worth taking the numbers into account when you listen to a version where something may seem out of place (for those interested Tilbury includes a breakdown of the number distribution in the footnotes to the Treatise chapter in his Cardew bio, on page 278 No. 16).

The notion of Perverse Readings of the score is a lot more problematic and there isn’t a lot of information to go on. From Tilbury’s bio:

“…John White’s precedent for ‘perverse readings’ by reading ascending lines as descending intervals” – John Tilbury (2, p. 251)

The first time I encountered this notion though was for the AMM+Formanex performance of Treatise at the Musique Action Festival, Nancy, France in June 2002. At this performance AMM performed several pages of Treatise with  John White who once again did his trademark Perverse Reading in this case interjecting banal samples into the performance. (Interestingly enough while looking for data on this, I found this tiny bit of video from this event here).

“AMM were extremely spartan (wonderfully so) while White, on some kind of sampling device, intruded with all manner of awful-sounding blurts, cheezy synth tones, sheep baa-ing, etc. It was very annoying and I found myself vainly attempting to mentally tune him out.” -Brian Olewnick

Now considering that Perverse Readings were par for the course, occurring from the very beginning of the scores history, can any out of the ordinary performance be considered “perverse”?  I tend to think not, I think that the perverse readings are still consistent and rigorous, but in such a way that may be contrary, controversial and against expectations.  Brian later asked Keith Rowe about that aspect of the performance and he went on to say:

“He felt that ‘Treatise’ performances had a tendency to get overly somber and reverential and wanted to inject a “low” element that he thought of as the sonic equivalent to US rags like Weekly World News, to introduce “transgressive” sounds that “simply aren’t done” at these types of events.” -Brian Olewnick

And this to me I think is the essence of the perverse read, not falling into a free for all, do as you wish sort of situation but subverting received notions. But I do find it a troublesome notion and this would certainly be an interesting point to have clarified.


1) Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) A Reader (Copula, 2008)
2) Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished, John Tilbury (Copula, 2008)
3) Liner notes from Cornelus Cardew Treatise (Prague version 1967) (Mode)

So I just returned from the solo Keith gig listed above. I arrived about 30 minutes early to find Chris (Letchhausen) just arriving as well. We went in and Keith was just finishing setting up. Recognizing us from the ‘Quake he came over and we chatted for a good 20-30 minutes until he went on. This was really great we talked about ErstQuake, classical music, art and Treatise. This was a really informative discussion for me and I was happy to finally talk a bit about Treatise. He related that every time he performs it, it is a personal tribute to Cardew.

He opened the set with an introduction about first his guitar setup and then about what he was going to play. It was the “room” piece that he has been performing of late, that is made up of elements of depression and anxiety. He said that to some degree this was a reflection of the times we live in, that he can’t help but to channel the environment. Along with this he also was going to play from Treatise (p.54).

I have to say, that I’ve seen a lot of fantastic music over the last week, but that this set moved me the most. It was powerful and you really could feel the depression and the anxiety that had talked about. It opened with a very droney, layered effect that had a melancholy feel to it, after some time he cut into this with a sharp attack using the Bluetooth feedback that he looped on itself and increased in volume. During this set Keith was mostly hunched down over his instrument and seemed deep, deep into it. After 20 minutes or so he pulled Treatise toward him and lowered the sound to gentle hum and began to play it. He attached a spring and alligator clips to the guitar and played both discrete chunks and more continuous bits, looking back toward the score every now and again. He brought up the radio for a good long chunk toward the middle of this segment and it played this syrupy lullaby. I found this rather moving in a way, thinking about Cardew. Anyway it was a real treat for me to see some of Treatise performed live and I found it very engaging and emotionally rich as well.

Afterward a scrum of people came up and talked to Keith. Interestingly they mostly wanted to talk about his setup. Keith was very open and would talk about any aspect of it. One thing of interest was he did say that he was using Reaktor on the PowerBook and that he is using a patch that Phil Durrant made that references Steve Reich. After these people had left Chris and I talked to Keith a bit more again about classical music and art specifically cubism. These talks with Keith before and after the show were really rewarding and informative. It is so refreshing to get to talk about this music with someone who has thought so deeply about it and to whom the intellectual underpinnings are so vital.