An exhibition of contemporary approaches to graphic scores to mark the 50th Anniversary of the British Music Collection. Curated by Jacob Thompson-Bell
This exhibition is divided into four parts, each exploring different approaches, to celebrate just some of the ways in which British artists are working with graphic scores today.
Part 1: Storytelling
Part 2: Composition as Performance
Part 3: Place and Landscape
Part 4: Listening
The artists featured use graphic scores to tell stories, to map or document the sounds of a specific geographical location, to encourage people to listen again to their surroundings, and to examine issues of authorship and compositional process.
Phil Legard’s score is inspired by the folk heritage of the churchyard of St Digain, in the Welsh village of Llangernyw, home to the oldest living thing in the British Isles - a 5,000 year old yew tree.
Through graphic notation, illustration and visual collage, Legard’s score retells the story of ‘Angelystor’, the angel of death.
Each year, the spirit is said to visit the church on All-Hallows’ Eve, announcing the names of those who will die in the parish over the coming year.
Anyone can take Legard’s illustrated pages and use them as the basis for a musical improvisation. At the same time, Angelystor records something of the feel and heritage of the location on which it is based.
Legard’s score is also partnered with an extended sound work weaving together music and field recordings from the location, with the score acting as a kind of map for listeners.
Box 2: The Foetus on the Sofa
Adam de la Cour
This box score traces a surreal kind of autobiographical narrative, made possible only by the physical and literary media through which it is conveyed.
The box blurs memories of childhood, with recollections of film and artworks de la Cour has seen, featuring transcribed choreography from Jacques Tati's Playtime, and elements from Duchamp’s With Hidden Noise.
The box is even etched with the murmurings of a daemon voice, recalling childhood nightmares.
The instructions tell us the score is to be realised by “2 vacuum cleaners/vocalist in foetal position on a sofa/'daemon' voice/sample of a cat purr”.
The inevitable distance between the musical interpretation and the physical features of the box itself is perhaps analogous to the fuzzy recollection of nightmares and past cinematic encounters that inspired this work.
Box 3: The Mirror Dwarf
Adam de la Cour
This score offers a similarly cryptic retelling of scenes from Werner Herzog's Even Dwarfs Started Small, tracing the movement of the characters on screen.
The dwarf laughter is also referenced and sampled in the recording. The DVDs found within the box contain footage of the original camera traces, to be imitated (indicated by the mirrors opposite each DVD panel when the box is closed).
At the End of School Assembly
Graphic scores have the potential to challenge some of the traditional creative hierarchies by perpetuating more democratic, inclusive forms of music making and appreciation.
Shiva Feshareki’s score is inspired by stories written to her by eight and nine-year-old school children. In the first performance, at the Royal College of Music in 2014, the children also narrated their stories alongside the composed scores.
This piece is an example of how the combined media inherent within graphic scores can allow composers to communicate on a variety of levels.
The work reveals its origins through the imagery, speaking directly to the young people who provided its narratives, whilst allowing any performing musician the license to bring their own musical experiences to bear on the interpretation.
This sequence of one-page scores presents the same simple vocal melody notated repeatedly by Molitor under different compromising circumstances – whilst trampolining, writing with her foot, writing with the pen on the end of a 2m rod...
This intentionally absurd process emphasises how different environments and tools profoundly affect the music composers choose (and are able) to dream up.
Claudia Molitor says: "Uncontrolled markings enter the score, setting the unintentional alongside the intentional.
The (de)formed score testifies to a failed authorship and flawed rationalism of an initial compositional intention.
The work resonates against the historicity of the score as the primary site for musical meaning."
Architect and composer Emma-Kate Matthews’ score, created for the London Graduate Orchestra, seems to explode out of the confines of traditional stave-based notation.
This page is both an instruction to performers and a self-contained visual piece, performed on the page.
Matthews still considers “any score and/or drawing produced to facilitate the performance of a musical composition, as a means to an end and not an end in itself.”
However, the use of open-ended graphic elements acts something like a compositional signature, embedding the composer’s presence within the score.
(Read the full New Voices interview)
Graphic scores often have a sense of humour about them. There is something deliberately ridiculous about claiming deep conceptual connections between abstract visual shapes and detailed musical gestures, which can make us think critically about the role of the composer.
Jennifer Walshe’s Scintillia, scored for solo voice, with film canister and comb, and attributed to one of her Grupat alter egos, Detleva Verens, presents a score created through placing a collection of large bamboo sticks in arrangements on the ground.
Walshe (Verens), further complicating (or satirising) the distance between these sticks and the resultant music, tells us that the various shapes created by the formations of the bamboo are inspired by pictures taken by satellites orbiting the earth in space.
What might be called an artistic “work”, in homage to a seriousness of intent, has become a “play ground”, a fluctuating centre for activity on or around the composer’s own acts of listening and notating.
In 2016, I commissioned a series of new graphic scores from artists based in Yorkshire, as part of a project called Fresh Yorkshire Aires. The scores were exhibited and published as a book compilation.
The brief was to create a score that drew inspiration from the landscape of the region.
Fresh Yorkshire Aires also includes an online showcase of graphic score work and sound-visualising media by Yorkshire-based artists.
Liz Osborne’s Sound Sculptures explore the link between looking and listening.
Liz Osborne says: “For this collection of sound sculptures, I was inspired by the Fluxus movement to create objects that bring attention to the idea of sound rather than hearing the sound itself.
Using found objects and everyday materials, I wanted to explore the boundary of sound and music, addressing our sometimes passive experience of music in the everyday object.”
Sounds in Tom's Deli
Much of my own work engages with listening, using graphic score transcription to map the sounds of specific places.
This score was created in response to sounds in Tom's Deli at Somerset House, London, on 20 February 2014.
The ear at the centre represents my listening, with the notation travelling outwards in a spiral, transcribing the recording between 16:05 - 16:06 that day. The scribbling pencil denotes the sound of my sketching, caught on the microphone as I noted down what I heard.
This score is part of a collection created as part of a Sound and Music Embedded residency at Somerset House, 2013-15.
More Information Links
Fresh Yorkshire Aires – graphic score work by Yorkshire-based artists
Graphic Music Scores in Pictures, The Guardian – some classic graphic scores from the twentieth century
Graphic Score Explorations – an exhibition of recently commissioned graphic scores for string ensemble
Artist List and Links
Curator: Jacob Thompson-Bell
Created for the British Music Collection, with thanks to Sound and Music.
Special thanks to Harry Cooper at Sound and Music and to the artists whose work is featured in this exhibition.