In the Speaking Scores series, we interview inanimate musical scores to get a perspective on what it’s like to be a revered piece of musical notation.
Are you looking at me? Good.
Wait, what do you mean, what am I? I’m a musical score. But not just any score; I’m what they call a graphical score, because, well, traditional scores just aren’t good enough – I mean, didn’t suffice for what I intended to say.
That’s right – I am avant-garde.
Traditional scores have notes and clefs and time signatures and rests. I don’t need them. Instead, I have drawings and symbols and text, all open for performer interpretation. You see, I was composed by the late Cathy Berberian, a most amazing recitalist of new music. Berberian pushed the boundaries of vocal musicality because she understood that the most flexible and adaptable instrument was, in fact, the human voice.
As a performer, Berberian was a virtuoso, and inspired several notable pieces, tailor-made for her by other famous contemporary avant-garde composers. As composer John Cage’s muse, Aria was written for her in 1958, and Berberian’s husband Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III in 1965 continued to challenge Berberian’s vocal prowess. (By the way, both of these scores are currently on show, alongside yours truly, at Notating Beauty That Moves at the new ArtisTree.)
Then in 1966, I was commissioned by Hans Otte on behalf of the Bremen Radio for the Festival of Contemporary Music. Berberian composed me, along with illustrator Roberto Zamarin, who made me beautifully whimsical. As a graphical score, I’m much too extraordinary to rely on typical notation symbols. Now, I know what you’re thinking: you’re stunning and full of interesting scribbles and sketches, but how are you music?!
Here’s how it works. You’d read me like a comic, as individual vignettes. Those straight lines are my version of staves and indicate approximate pitch: low, medium, or high. Each scene is enclosed between bars, so you’ll know when one ends and another begins. As for timing, pacing and breaks? Well, the spacing between each “sound word” determines that. That’s as far as the rules go, though, and the rest is mimicry and onomatopoeia of what you see, with the performer “singing” my words.
So, don’t claim to know me until you’ve heard me. Imagine a radio sound man and his sound effects. It’s like that. In one breath, I’m addressing a delinquent kite. Exhale and I’ll tell you tomorrow’s weather report.
I’m not just “chomps” and “oohs” and relentless, random musings, though. Gestures and movement are welcomed, but props are not allowed. Performers bring me to life in variations and differing, endless interpretations.
People of all ages have all reacted differently to me. They don’t believe I’m musical, but of course I am! Regardless, you’ll appreciate the entertaining, magnificent performances I stage.
I get it. It will take some time for you to get used to me. Take the time to flip through me – I’m really something else. It also only takes about six minutes for you to listen to me, start to finish, and it will be worth it.
So, hi. If you don’t understand me (yet), that’s fine. But you should try to, because once you do, I promise you’ll never forget me.
Notating Beauty that Moves – Music at an Exhibition
3-29 March 2018
See the programme page for more details.
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