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Please comment on my spatial notation

Discussion in 'Composing' started by glenn, Aug 3, 2011.

  1. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Hello everyone,

    I was wondering if I could solicit some comment on a form of spatial notation I have been working on/with in transcribing what are essentially improvisations. I have done some transcriptions using traditional notation but I always find it annoying. It is too complicated in terms of rhythm and tempo, and the sense of precision detracts from the music. It is a right/left brain thing. The music is very right brained, and was not conceived by building from small to large. The tempi, meter, tuplets, etc are expressive, not structural, and a traditional transcription really bothers me.

    These spatial transcriptions are not easy to do, especially in Sibelius. I transcribe screen prints of the graphic editor on my sequencer by hand, and then place the hand transcriptions in front of my screen and move the notes around to get the spacing right. They are not precise, but that is the point. One must interpret them. And, you can always listen to the recording. But I would hope that leaving them somewhat general would inspire different interpretations, which would be very much in the spirit of the music. I have also tried this using stemless notes, but this gives no sense of the music at all. I need the function of the rhythm (strong/weak), just not the precision.

    I have tried this notation with different densities. Waiting for a Breeze is at 7.5 secs./line, and The Sun Brings Hope is 7 secs./line. I have also done two at 5 secs/line, but have finally settled for 6 secs./line. Density is, unfortunately not something one can change once it is in. In the long run, I don't think it makes that much difference, but the less dense parts seem easier to interpret.

    I am doing this because many people have asked me for transcriptions. This music is conceived through improvisation, but is then cut, edited, recast, and polished into a final product. This is not jazz, and it is not a matter of purity. I am a composer, and this is my only shot at the material. But there are no sketches or roadmaps. Though I tend to make a clear distinction between composition and improvisation (a matter of process), I have come to realize that this distinction has become rather anachronistic. Nevertheless, I think how this music is recreated by others is important enough to try to tweek how it is represented visually.

    Please let me know your impressions. Thanks.

    Glenn Stallcop
     
  2. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Glenn, I don't see why the "spatial notation" you're using can't work on principle. As a musician, however, I can't keep a pulse as slow as 60/7= 8.6bpm representing the passing of each line of music, therefore the tempo of the performance is a total shot in the dark and has more to do with the subjective emotional content I would be feeling. The language of these pieces is not very unlike that of the Berg Sonata, but it dangles in the wind metrically. In fact, your approach, for me, is a sort of a-metricality which suggests an a-rhythmicality. Here is what I mean, without a defined meter, no matter how shifting it may be, I can never say this is an upbeat or anacrusis, a syncopation; I can never have a hemiola. In fact, I can't have an accelerando or change in tempo either. The best I can hope for is an agogic here and there to try to fasten my boat to, but the morring itself is floating too! Now this is not inherently bad, it all depends upon what you want the music to be. I suggest that it may be perfect for genuine space travel themes where there is no such thing as artificial gravity (excepting Clarks's version) to keep our feet on the decks with.

    Regards,
    Eddy

    Edit: Removed sesquilatera/tertia from list of "not possibles"
     
  3. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    It is different, I admit. Obviously, you are not expected to keep a 7 second beat, but you don't need graph paper to draw a picture either. The easiest way to get a sense of the spacing is to listen to the recording, hopefully that would come as you tried it. The emotional content is what it is all about.
    I've heard worse.
    I think this is overstated. Meter, rhythm, and tempo are not the same, nor are they dependent. For instance, take a Strauss waltz. My aim is to have them function independently. Meter depends on expectation of function, which refers to the music not the pulse. In my music, meter is more defined by harmonic rhythm than anything else. Take the opening of Waiting for A Breeze or the end of The Sun Brings Hope, they are both clearly a long string of syncopations in the melody defined by the changes in harmony. I have tried to preserve the sense of traditional rhythmic function through the barring and grouping of the notes. I did try taking the stems off and that really was floating without a rudder. Or like what Milan Kundera said of twelve-tone music. "It is like communism, everything is the same!" My intent was for the notation to be just like traditional notation except that tempo and, by extension, tuplets would be shown spatially.

    Thanks, Eddy, for your impressions. What I really need to know is whether the notation would turn you off enough to deter you from looking at or trying the piece. It sounds as if, in your case, maybe it would. I appreciate that. All best wishes -

    Glenn
     
  4. RSPIll

    RSPIll New Member

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    Hi Glenn,

    I have no problem with this idea for notation in a, shall we say, free flowing improvisation. It would not deter me from trying.

    C.P.E. Bach actually uses similar notation in his "True Art..." in the section on improvising a "Free Fantasia", which he says "A Fantasia is said to be free when it is unmeasured an moves through more keys than is customary in other pieces, which are composed or improvised in meter." I'm attaching his example.

    Scott
     
  5. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Glenn, responding in reverse order, no, your notation would not turn me away! You're the contemporary composer so have every right to invent or define any notation system you like. Certainly others have. But I can't say that I wouldn't be "organizing" the music with bar lines here and there :) . Regarding the independence (or interdependence) of meter, rhythm and tempo, I would say that tempo pertains to meter, and not rhythm, as is amply displayed by the function of a conductor. Within the context of a meter, the conductor manages the tempo, but the players provide the rhythm. Your phrase, "the music not the pulse" makes sense to me only in a contemporary style that is intentionally ametrical.
    Not necessarily. This illustrates my very point. How do the chords gain for themselves the nature of a down beat so that the melody notes are opposed to them in the "inbetween" time except by a higher principle called meter? To another listener, your melody may be heard as on the beat, with the chords as up-beats. Now lets not forget, however, that ambiguity is a common theme in modern art, and that may be your point. Further, I assure you that my reference to Berg was meant as a compliment. Finally, call me old fashioned, but I shouldn't have to listen to a "soundtrack" of a newly composed work prior to premiering it ... but perhaps that is the way of the future.

    Best wishes to you.
    Eddy
     
  6. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Glenn,

    Just my two cents worth....

    Mompou sometimes does not incorporate bar lines; at first I thought it a little weird, but I got used to it quickly. To me your scores here look very playable.

    @Scott - that's interesting. I didn't know C.P.E. Bach was like that. Was he more adventurous than his father?
    It's a pretty-looking score.
     
  7. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Scott - CPE is one of my favorite composers. An impossibly creative mind in a period of otherwise rather dreadful music. (Haydn being the exception.) I came across his "barless" fantasies in his für Kenner und Liebhaber.

    Monica, thank you. I see the notation the way you do - without barline. The spatial aspect I feel is an aid to determining the tempo and expression. It actually has more information than the CPE Bach.

    Eddy, I have done a lot of transcribing, and one of the first things I learned was that rhythm and meter are not inherent but are concepts that may be applied in a number of different ways. African musicians, when exposed to Western notation, often cannot agree on where the first beat of the bar is. Ambiguity is not necessarily my point, it is that at the point of transcription, these decisions are applied to the music and not part of the conceptual process. I am trying to find a way to leave this aspect more open to interpretation. If you wish to extrapolate your own barlines, I couldn't be happier. We agree on the syncopation discussion, as my point is that it is either one way or the other and not an undefined, amorphous ooze. Thank you about the Berg Sonata. I think this is a magnificent work. Finally, I am with you about listening to recordings. I think what makes Classical music special is its translation of the visual into aural, but I have been fighting with people about that my whole career. When I first got a job with the orchestra nearly 40 years ago, I heard musicians say a conductor was playing a piece "wrong". I knew the art was in trouble. However, my music has evolved to the point where its visual transcription is an addendum. I would love it if pianists would do these transcriptions without listening to the recording - I think it would be much more interesting - but I am not oblivious to what is a more likely situation, nor how tied this music is to the medium which made it possible.

    Thanks everybody for your responses. They are quite helpful.

    Glenn
     
  8. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Your replies have given me the idea that maybe the exact spatial representation of the music isn't really that important. Maybe the notation would be just as effective if it only suggested the tempo through relative density. I had already noticed that I did not really pay attention to the exact spacing as much as the emotional content of the music (a notion which changes). If that is the case, it would make the procedure a great deal easier to execute. Putting the notes in exactly the "right" place is very cumbersome and, in the case of Sibelius, I must fight and outwit the basic programming to space the notes where it wants. Also, that would solve the most annoying aspect of the notation which is split up beats or groupings at the corners. I would just group them conveniently, without trying to be so exact. So, to that effect, I have included a revised version of the scores which should be just as easy to read as the previous scores. I, frankly, don't notice a difference unless I hold the two up next to each other. Musically, they work just the same for me. Let me know what you think. (I have adjusted the edges, just the spacing.)

    Glenn
     
  9. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Glenn,
    I have printed both versions and can tell you that the differences are of no consequence to me, or I failed initially to capture your whole point about relative density to be an indicator of tempo; but here's why: you're still notating with note-values, not just pitches. To do what I think you are after IMO would require dispensing with all but the note heads and the staff (as you mentioned trying). In that case it just becomes a type of musical electrocardiogram :) with the bars (paper) passing at a controlled rate. As is presnt now in either or the versions, the content is the same (to me) and I would approach it the same way I would any Bach piece that has no tempo indication (search for it's meaning). Anyway, with your permission, I am adding your scores to my library. 8) [and when I get home will add the mp3s to my laptop]
     
  10. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Thank you, Eddy. I am beginning to think this is the way to go. I am honored that you would add it to your library.
    Best wishes,
    Glenn
     
  11. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    I also see nothing peculiar in the notation of these pieces, and would read and play them just like any other piece. In fact I've come across these kinds of scores before - though must admit I much prefer a more traditional layout. Proper spacing does help to keep note values correct but it is not required per se. Please don't dispense of the note stems - you're not writing Gregorian chant :)
     
  12. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    That is just what I want to hear.
    Well, I do to. But these pieces are so complicated in terms of tempo, with continual rubato, metric modulations, etc., none of which were structural or very crucial to the actual content, that I feel it is much better to just leave it up to a sensitive musician. They are likely to make it more interesting anyway.
    That is what I was hoping. It does not matter to me whether there is a quintuplet, 5/8, or duplet plus triplet, and I am just as likely to play seven of them as five. The relative spacing of 6 or 7 secs. per line does, I think, convey what sort of passage it is.
    Ha. Thanks, Chris. This is all good news.

    Glenn
     
  13. RSPIll

    RSPIll New Member

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    To me, what this type of notation is indicating is that the basic rhythmic proportions are maintained within a framework of a "flexible pulse". If you think about it, there is a basic pulse (similar to the "average" human pulse), from that baseline, if we get excited, agitated, or romantically frisky, our pulse goes up, when we calm down or head toward rest, our pulse goes down. There is a healthy range around this average. If the pulse goes too high, you have a heart attack or a stroke, if too low, you can't move. The sensitive musician will find the "healthy" range.

    Also without the barlines or specific meter, the interpreter will shape the melodic movement and stresses based on melodic and harmonic information (such devices as appogiaturas, and other melodic / harmonic points of tension). There has been much discussion over the centuries of the "tyrrany of the bar-line". We see a bar and immediately stress beat one. In reality, in many pieces, the meter is just the overall feel of the temporal divisions of a piece, not a slavedriver demanding lock-step adherence by each part, particularly melodies. I think some of this comes from early level piano and music study that teaches, say 3/4 time means 1-2-3 | 1-2-3

    An example that I has recently come to mind is the "Far Away Lands and Strange People". The meter is 2/4, which is the overall feeling of the piece, particularly the triplet accompaniement. The melody I usually hear (and know that I have played it this way also) invariably puts a stress on first beat of both measures 1 & 2. If we were to analyze the melody (B - G - F#- E- D)without that bar-barline, though the "G" is on weak 2 and is tonic, because of the upward leap from "B" and its half-step descent to F#, it is now acting as an appogiatura with the "F#" as resolution (which continues on to the "D"). Thus, the melodic stress could actually be on the "G", creating a 4/4 melody in the framework of a 2/4 accomp. When you add the bass, the strongest tension is the tritone between bass and soprano on beat 2. Harmonically, this is a stress.

    I am also not sure that "a-metric" or "meter-less) notation fully denies a sense of meter. It is human nature to organize things into similar groups or units. Thus in any given part there may be a sense of metric flow. The notation allows for a freer metric organization that would be difficult, and even possibly confusing to convey through specific meter change and tempo change indications. In our everyday speach, much of what we say is "prose-like", yet from time to time, the nature of the words that we use accidentally create a sense of poetic meter and sometimes we actually get rhymes. While not intentional, they do occur simply as a natural part of our language. There is no reason that that wouldn't, couldn't, or shouldn't happen in music that has no specific meter or metric divisions.

    I hope some of this is making sense. It would be easier to describe with sound. (Isn't a song worth a thousand pictures?)

    As far as the C.P.E. Bach "meterless" notation, I have actually seen examples that have such things as a series of notes with ties hanging off into space which looks very contemporarie.

    Scott
     
  14. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    This sums it up pretty succinctly.
    Did anyone say Grieg?
    To me what you are saying is that there are multiple ways in music to create stress. By itself, none of these are important except in that they refer to the tension/release oscillating mechanisms of our emotion (which are more precise than meter!). A repeating meter sets up an expectation, which allows a composer to create stress by toying with that expectation. It is effective, but not fundamental. As you say, there are any number of different methods available.
    Any time you have musical (or non-musical) events in time, you imply a sense of pulse. With the possible exception of long held sounds (possible!), I don't think you can get away from a certain sense of Gestalt rhythmic pulse even if you want to. (Although some minimalist pieces I have heard come close by using repetition.) But the specificity of those relationships (especially when complex), I believe, sometimes inhibit a performer from getting at the real content of the music, which is emotional.
    Very much so, and I like that quote!
    Not just his notation - what about things like running his movements together, one theme rondos, one note themes, and a harmonic sense (no doubt learned from his father) that is so out of place in the Rococo! If it was not for those blasted double ornaments, I would play his music more often!

    Thanks so much Scott. These comments are quite meaningful.

    Glenn
     
  15. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Continuing the discussion, I have performed the Bartok Out of Doors suite, and the 1st (later), 2nd, and 4th (to a lesser degree) sections have very frequent changes of time signatures. I'm not sure how it would be performed any differently if it had no meter or barlines, instead becoming a long stream of notes in search of a common denominator, EXCEPT for where there is a dramatic change of character (tempo and style). The meter changes are as follows:

    1.) 2/4, 3/4, 2/4, 3/4, 2/4, 3/4, 2/4, 3/4, 2/4, 5/8, 3/4, 2/4, 5/8, 2/4, 5/8, 3/4, 2/4, 3/8, 5/8, 3/8, 3/4, 3/8, 2/4, 3/8, 2/4, 3/8, 2/4.
    2.) 6/8, 7/8, 5/8, 7/8, 5/8, 3/4, 4/8, 3/8, 4/8, 3/8, 4/8, 3/8, 5/8, too many more to list because for most of the piece the "meter" changes every measure.
    4.) 3/2, 2/2, 3/2, 4/4, 5/4, 4/4, 5/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 4/4, 5/4, 3/2, 2/2, 8/16, 5/16, 6/16, 8/16, 5/16, 7/16, 8/16, 3/2, 3/8, 3/4, 5/4, 3/4, 4/4, 3/2, 3/4, 3/2.
    5.) Mostly a romp in simultaneous 3 versus 5 at very fast tempo.

    No 2 being a Barcarrola, could be learned without meter or barlines. More importantly, the metrical organization for nos. 1, 2 and 4 is really for the performer, not the auditor. I would say that it is impossible for the meter to be appreciated by an auditor in these sections and that in essence they are listining to a string of sound without meter. This is like what you are doing, Glenn, is it not? So you could impose changing meters on these two pieces of yours if you wanted to without sacrificing anything but possibly gaining the ability to make dramatic changes in the character when/if desired.

    In summary, I think the difference between what you are doing and what Bartok did with barlines and meter, is that your version doesn't really allow for a dramatic change of character equal to a new common denominator, but Bartok's approach does.

    Edit: Corrected a listing of 3/22 meter :oops:
     
  16. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Eddy - Your comment may cause me to consider adding a descriptive word here and there. A "tempo rubato" or "tempo giusto" would probably help in places to "build character". Though I tend to use eighth-notes as my most common note value, they tend to mean different things in different contexts. We will see about the "character" issue, as some of these pieces do make rather drastic changes at times. I agree, however, that drastic change is not a common trait of my music. My structure tends to the "organic" side, as one might expect.

    Though maybe not so much in the piece you mentioned, I find that the difficulty in Bartok is not his time changes but his tempo changes. This is especially true in his orchestra works. His Dance Suite, for instance, is full of time changes AND tempo changes, which makes it so difficult to perform. You have to watch the music AND the conductor very carefully. It is so much more difficult than, say, Stravinsky, who almost never changes tempo expressively. Must be a Gypsy thing.

    Thanks again.

    Glenn
     
  17. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Except for maybe some juvenilia, I find little or nothing of the gypsy in Bartok. He was steeped in the real Hungarian native idiom, which has almost nothing to do with gypsy music (Liszt had these rather mixed up in his rhapsodies - but he was not Hungarian). Bartok's changing meters, and in particular his irregular metric patterns, where notes are left out or accented seemingly at will, can be a bitch indeed.
     
  18. RSPIll

    RSPIll New Member

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    I don't think anyone is implying that we should get rid of metered notation. Dance music is, and should be, very metric (though some people do dance a Polka as if it had no meter ;-). If one system helps a composer convey his ideas better over another, then that is what that person should use. It is just one more tool to use.

    Scott
     
  19. RSPIll

    RSPIll New Member

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    There is also nothing that would deny the use of descriptive text, even an occasional sectional barline here and there. The composer can be as specific or general as he/she choses to be.

    Scott
     
  20. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Sorry, easy mistake for a desert rat to make.
    Yes, I was thinking the same thing.
    Indeed, i was just wondering whether this would be dismissed out of hand, which does not seem to be the case. In my case, it is a matter of conception. A dance starts out a dance, even if improvised, and meter is essential. This music is piped in from who knows where. I am hoping this notation would make it more flexible, and maybe even more attractive.

    Glenn
     

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