The Book of Musical Patterns
The ideas behind the scores
I began the Book of Musical Patterns in 2006 in response to creating the piece Thaw. This piece began with a concept that I was trying to achieve and in the course of many takes trying to realize this I formalized it's structure. Later I realized that it's structure was essential and that it's elements could be generalized. So in place of specific descriptions of sounds I used symbols in their place. And thus the idea for symbolic scores was made.
I had several other interests at the time: use of silence, indeterminacy of performance and most importantly indeterminacy of structure. I should make a brief explanation of my thinking on these issues especially in light of other work in these areas. John Cage of course pioneered most of the usage of silence and indeterminacy in modern composition and the reverberations of his explorations are still guiding much of modern music. Cage's ideas came so fast and furious that I think in many cases he would make an example or two and then move on. Thus a lot his ideas were not fully explored and are very fertile ground for discovery. Additionally he had his methods of working and composing and he tended to stay within those confines. Thus the basic ideas applied in a different context can yield unexpected results.
Silence is quite possibly the most successful of the Cagean concepts, especially as applied outside of Cage compositional structures. It has been used in improv situations from AMM in the 1960s to an entire movement exploring it in the early 21st Century. In the Cage sense silence of course is the utilization of sounds outside the control of the performer. It turns around what could be considered an intrusion into an equal participant in the music. In my musical patterns I am working with silence in a Cagean sense, that is to say whatever happens in between the sounds is an essential part of the piece. However the silences are up to the performer and are part of the indeterminacy of structure.
Indeterminacy was of course Cage's primary tool, one that he explored vigorously in his compositions. He did at times work with Indeterminacy for the performer but primarily it was used to create the compositions which the performer then rigorously played. Christian Wolff for one worked a lot more at the performers level as did Morton Feldman with his early graph pieces. But it was in graphic scores like Cornelius Cardew's Treatise that the performer was placed in complete control of the sounds used. This is a primary facet of the Musical Patterns and the first genesis of them as I stated above. A symbol is used where a sound should be played but there is absolutely no limits on what that sound is. Similar symbols should be assigned to similar sounds but this is not so strict as to not allow bodies of sounds. For instance I used a phonograph cartridge as one of the symbols in my realization of no 3 on Selections from the Book of Musical Patterns, but each instance I manipulated the cartridge with a different object. Though each score gives varying degrees of cues the level of diversity is up to the performer.
While the above techniques are applications of fairly well trod territory, it is in indeterminacy of structure that I was primarily focusing on in these works. While this is not original territory either (Earle Brown's Open Forms and some of Christian Wolffs pieces spring to mind) it is one of those areas that I do think are rife for exploration. This is the guiding principle of the pieces and Silence and Indeterminacy of performance are subservient to it. Performances of any of the pieces require that a specific time limit be set, a limit which is up to the performer(s). The piece must be played in this time limit and as they are made of symbols and gaps the essence of the piece changes as the time allocated changes. For instance a pattern such as No 1 (above) played in a short duration would be quite active, filled with tiny events in a near staccato rhythmic pattern. But give considerable more time it'd be tones suspended in time, full of breath and space. Some of the patterns at a longer duration would be huge gaps of silence with sound events seemingly lost in them.
An additional feature of the scores is that they are ideally performed with this set time and a clock but not a rigorous predetermination of when each sound event should occur. This is an application of Indeterminacy of Performance to the Indeterminacy of Structure. This allows for a humanness to intrude into what could be a very mechanical and lifeless process. Any realization with more then one participant fully takes advantage of this as no two peoples sense of time is the same. Sounds begin and end out of sync with the score and happy accidents of overlapping and isolated sounds add richness to the proceedings. As the instructions allow for events to be ignored at the performers discretion (but never the gaps) there is a greater fluidity in the score structure. Silence again provides this structure and is the building blocks upon which it depends.
These scores present a challenge to the performer, a challenge to turn a minuscle amount of structural information into compelling music. They aren't really graphic in the way that something like Treatise is, there is not really much abstraction to attempt to interpret. You can very easily assign a sound directly to a symbol and consistently play that, applying a rigorous interpretation to any changes in it's size, color, density of what have you. There is very little ambiguity regarding the symbols and consistency is easy to attain. However the rules don't require such rigor, this is another aspect that has been left up to the performer. The rules are strict but ultimately they cover very little. The choices that an interpreter makes are of the utmost importance to wringing music out of structure that the scores provide.
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