Atonal music and naturals

So I have always composed my atonal music using natural signs after having showed a sharp of flat, recently I showed someone one of these compositions and they told me that I should not use them when composing atonal music because it is presumed that the notes are naturals when not shown with a sharp or flat. I have also heard people say the you shouldn't do it because it bring around the idea that they are "accidentals" which is contradictory to the idea of atonality in which all notes are given equal precedence. 

I'd love to hear what everyone has to say.

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  • We can talk about what is likely, unlikely, extremely unlikely or possible.

    But what if Olivier Messiaen was right when he said music was about the “charm of the impossible?”

    Fredrick zinos said:

    1) not likely

    2) not likely

    3) extremely unlikely

    4) There is no natural sign.

    5) extremely unlikely

    6) "similar possibilities" All of which could be avoided if the part was notated properly.

    Atonal music and naturals
    So I have always composed my atonal music using natural signs after having showed a sharp of flat, recently I showed someone one of these composition…
  • That's a moot point in my estimation, Frederick. Most performances are a matter of the conductor's interpretation, not the composer's wishes or intentions. It's a given these days that hot-shot young conductors put their personal spin on a composition by exaggerating features in a composition in order to lend it a "fresh" sound. Glenn Gould's relationship with Bach's music is such an example. Gould was wowing Russian audiences with his interpretation of Bach's music as much as he was performing Bach's music.

    As to the "do any damn thing you want" aspect, do we not, as composers, musicians and conductors, "do any damned thing we want"? Something occurs to us, we find the notion attractive, and we act upon it, as a matter of course.

    How many conductors, for example, have expressed the sentiment, "I just knew it had to go like that!", assuming they were guided by intuition? (This applies to many theorists and writers as well). In the final analysis, they're just doing what they want, with no more guidance than little kids who thought it was a good idea to put a sandwich in a VCR.

    Fredrick zinos said:

    Nice attempt at trying to change the subject.

    We are not talking about anything other than the practicality of notating musical scores in ways that facilitate performances as close to the composers desires as possible. Please try to stay on topic.

    My point of view is that a composer worthy of the name has an obligation to do that and your point seems to be that you can do any damn thing you want.

    Your points are largely irrelevant. A conductor reading a new piece and deciding whether to spend rehearsal time on it generally will NOT waste  time on a composition that will require excessive hours of rehearsal simply because of errors in notation.

  • $100 an hour???

    Here in Saskatchewan, only the 1st chair people are paid in the SSO and the RSO, and they only get a stipend.

    Getting paid is a running joke in the circles I wobble in :^)

    Fredrick zinos said:

    "As to the "do any damn thing you want" aspect, do we not, as composers, musicians and conductors, "do any damned thing we want"

    Some do. Some don't.

    The composers who out page after page of unplayable music and/or music that is not idiomatic for the specified instrument are the ones who don't get many performances, not because of anything in the music but because the time invested to rehearse and present the piece does not pay dividends. It doesn't pencil out.

    That does not mean that extended techniques are to be avoided, but, as you pointed out in your discussion of writing for the clarinet, the composer has to know what can and can not be done, and once again, notate in ways that cause the least amount of confusion.

    A 100 piece orchestra with performers earning an average of $100/hour means rehearsal time is $166.66/ minute. How many minutes should the orchestra spend deciphering errant notation?

  • I don't know any conductors who would spend any amount of time on a hard-to-read score. They'd just glance at it, pass it back, and move on.

    Lots of amateur/young composers take their offerings to a local youth orchestra, and none I know of will take a crack at it unless the score is legible.

    Fredrick zinos said:

    Cut the fee back to minimum wage, $7.50/hour times 100 players divided by 60 still gives you a cost of $12.50 per minute for rehearsal time (not counting rental of the hall etc.) and the question remains, how many minutes would the conductor like to spend correcting incompetent notation?

  • Hello, Fredrick.

    It’s nice at the end of the week to take time out to discuss such interesting issues as we frequently do here, on the composers forum.

    I had said, ‘what if Olivier Messiaen was right when he said music was about the “charm of the impossible?”’

    You said, “Nice attempt at trying to change the subject.”

    Perhaps not. Isn’t it likely that people may have acceptably different ideas about what the subject is? Or are you the only arbiter of what people are allowed to speak about in connection with a topic, or under a thread? I think you will agree, as you are a reasonable person, that opinions about the nature of the subject may vary.

    When you say, “We are not talking about anything other than the practicality of notating musical scores in ways that facilitate performances as close to the composers desires as possible,” I think you might be in error. Are you using the word “we” in the royal sense? “We hereby decree that this and only this is the topic, and the manner in which ‘we’ choose to guide the discussion is the only acceptable way to proceed.” I asked you before if you were opposed to democracy, with regard to decision-making, in another context. I don’t think you answered the question. Perhaps you could say in this context whether you believe that YOU, or a small elite group, should decide what is to be said, or not to be said, in any given situation.

    You say, “Please try to stay on topic,” but I ask you in reply, “Please try to keep an open mind. Please attempt to consider ideas and notions which might fall outside of your definition of what is acceptable and unacceptable discourse, in a given situation.” Consider the nature of this forum, and many ideas you and I have expressed in the past. Our ideas have quite frequently been only peripherally related to a narrow definition of the topic at hand. We generally allow each other some latitude in that area.

    “My point of view is that a composer worthy of the name has an obligation to do that and your point seems to be that you can do any damn thing you want.”

    Oh. So now you opine that YOU are the one who decides who is a “composer worthy of the name.” Don’t you recall that Schoenberg decided that Berg was a “worthy composer,” in spite of the fact he didn’t know whether sharps and flats should go to the right or to the left of note? You appear not to have wanted to address that point. Do you think Schoenberg was wrong to consider Berg “worthy?”

    I have never said, a composer can do “any damn thing he or she wants to do,” or anything like that. But I would wonder whether you or I have moral or intellectual right to summarily dismiss a person as “unworthy” of being a composer (or being anything, for that matter).

    “Your points are largely irrelevant.”

    They are only irrelevant, if you take an absolutist position. That is to say, they may be seen that way, in regard to small and non-essential details if you choose to ignore the larger picture. Or, such points may seem irrelevant, if you choose to limit your purview so narrowly that you think only what YOU determine to be important is relevant. On the other hand, we may want to allow each other some latitude on the issue of relevance as well.

    “A conductor reading a new piece and deciding whether to spend rehearsal time on it generally will NOT waste time on a composition that will require excessive hours of rehearsal simply because of errors in notation.”

    You are making assumptions, of course, aren’t you? All this depends on the number of “errors,” the kinds of “errors,” the way in which the “errors” are viewed by the musicians, and a huge number of factors. Again, you appear to be taking an absolutist position on this. If a few natural signs are left out, people may not take the extreme position that you appear to be taking. Such omissions might not require the orchestra to rehearse for several additional hours. A few minutes might be lost, perhaps.

    I am not sure what your exact attitude is. A least you did not insist that a musical staff must always have five lines, rather than six, or that the staff lines had to be drawn horizontally, rather than vertically. So I may assume you are open minded enough to accept some unorthodox practices. But you didn’t seem to want to say anything about Messiaen’s notion of the “charm of impossibilities,” a notion about which many musicologists have spilled considerable ink.

    Olivier Messiaen also said,

    “The human being is flesh and consciousness, body and soul; his heart is an abyss which can only be filled by that which is godly,” though I suppose that is open to interpretation. The quote seems to indicate an emphasis on the spiritual essence of a thing rather than on the material details.

    You asked, “at what point have you 'overmarked' the composition, i.e., give so many directions that interpretative discretion is impinged? or the part simply is not playable with the prevailing set of instructions?”
    Perhaps any notations at all, including the key signature, tempo, and the placement of any notes on the page may be considered “overmarking,” by some people. Perhaps the single extra natural sign may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. On the other hand, the ostensibly “unplayable score” may turn out to be the very best of all, depending on the actual content and the talent of the conductor and the ensemble. Greg may be right, when he says, “Most performances are a matter of the conductor's interpretation, not the composer's wishes or intentions.”

    Whatever the case, Messiaen also says,

    “No one should be allowed to make music as if he were made of wood. One must reproduce the musical text exactly, but not play like a stone.”

    The last sentence might provide a partial answer, and it may suggest he agrees with your position with regard to the reproduction of the musical text. It’s difficult to say. Perhaps it’s best for neither one of us to insist on a dogmatic position, for or against the proper placement of a natural sign, especially in a piece of music that is nominally “atonal.” It’s certainly an interesting topic. I have a number of additional questions to pose about the issue, from both a practical and theoretical point of view. Perhaps later.

    A good weekend to all.

    P.S. One final query:

    “A 100 piece orchestra with performers earning an average of $100/hour means rehearsal time is $166.66/ minute. How many minutes should the orchestra spend deciphering errant notation?”

    I would ask the following, as a kind of reply.

    If one calculates the total cost of producing a performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (just in terms of rehearsal time alone), how much does each note of that work cost to play, on the first day of performance before the public. I want to know, so I can ultimately do a cost-benefit analysis, and compare the labor value, fixed capital and variable capital values, as well as the wholesale cost and retail cost—as a means of finally determining the “surplus values”—of the most profitable symphonies.

  • Greetings, Fredrick.

    You said,

    “The subject is whether or not a would-be composer should make every effort to notate his/her composition for clarity of expression and which would by definition mean not only no mistakes in the parts but that the parts must be idiomatic for the instruments, i.e. playable.”

    Perhaps we need to start a new thread, which highlights a debate on what the subject of this thread is. It is possible you (and others) may be wandering astray, not that I have a problem with that. It would appear to be so, since peripheral issues are being discussed, and Bob even says, in his own words, he has gone “off topic.”

    When you say, “The subject is …” does that signify you are no longer talking about the subject, but rather that you are talking about “what the subject is,” rather than the subject itself?

    You said, “Discussions of Messiaen and Mahler are not related to this discussion except …”

    I would venture to suggest that discussions of Messiaen and Mahler may almost always be related to any discussion of music, scoring and composition. It’s up to us to see what the relation may be, or (by use of the intellect) to RELATE a specific idea in one sphere to a specific idea in another. The relationships between A and B do not exist necessarily apart from our ability to RELATE them ourselves to one another. (The word “relate” is a transitive verb, when used this way. Perhaps you think “to relate” is a passive activity).

    You said, “This is not a matter of being close minded.” Are you closing your mind to a discussion of whether or not this is a matter of being close minded? Let’s at least consider the possibility that a discussion of accidentals may, IF WE ARE MORE OPEN, lead to discussions of many other aspects of music (as seems to have happened already here). People may wish to add thoughts regarding aspects of performance, the roles of the conductor, the issue of publishing, the nature of the systems of representation, the relationship between symbols and reality (or between notational conventions and sound), and a host of other matters. The suggestion that computerized transcription systems—which represents music in a way different from the traditional score—may actually REPLACE the traditional score, seems to cause some discomfort, even consternation and possibly outrage.

    Certainly, if we are talking about how to represent the sounds that we call “natural,” “flat,” and “sharp,” we may consider whether current systems are obsolete or bound for extinction (unless we are close minded and hopelessly traditional). To question such conventions may be tarred as “oppositional,” but then that may invite the countercharge of being “old-fashioned” or out of touch with progress and the facts of changing realities. There is no need for name calling, or for trying to forestall discussion simply by claiming “that is not the subject,” when clearly IT IS, or can be part of the subject if any participant chooses to speak of it.

    Olivier Messiaen had very specific musical ideas in mind when he spoke of the “charms of the impossible” (limited modes of transposition, for instance). Now you can say over and over, in a hundred ways, until you are blue in the face, the person who writes a score “should make every effort to notate the composition for clarity of expression,” and you have then only said what is most obvious, and beaten a dead horse to the point where it suddenly becomes resurrected like Lazarus. I congratulate your for that, amongst other things, in the context of this conversation.

    The question about our symbolic systems used to represent music, since the time of Messiaen, and even more so now (due to the advent of the computerized storage of musical information) is of paramount importance. The prolonged discussion of where and when to write a natural sign only highlights the absurdity of the system itself. We haven’t even touched on the issue of how to represent quarter-tones on a traditional staff, which is obviously more complex, and more important, as music develops and seeks to break the bounds of traditional limits.

    We may wonder: what would the score of this work by Giacinto Scelsi look like?

    Maybe it’s easy to notate. Has anyone seen a score for a work like this, which goes somewhat beyond “atonal?”

    The last part of your initial statement [ … the parts must be idiomatic for the instruments, i.e. playable] is not at all obvious, even in terms of tradition, much less for the present era. If it is obvious, then why bother to say it at all? If it is not obvious, then it may require justification. The greater composers sometimes wrote scores that were seen initially as “unplayable,” and partly therein their greatness lies. We don’t have to list all the works from Beethoven to Ferneyhough that were considered “unplayable,” and are now considered part of the repertoire. But even given the limitations of natural physical instruments, the assertion would appear less applicable today, in light of the capabilities of computerized composer software. Synthesized woodwind instruments can play outside of their “physical ranges,” as traditionally defined, and there is indeed something attractive and unique in the sound of an oboe or English horn playing in the same register that a bassoon might inhabit. I know some performers, some conductors, some “purists” and many traditionalists are frightened at these prospects. Even so, we have quite a few fans of the “Fluba” (Flute playing in the register of a tuba) on this site, which bodes well for all kinds of innovations with regard to the relationship between timbre and pitch. We might have thought that at least “composers” had given up their old prejudices ages ago, during the initial period of the public’s introduction to electronic music and “musique concrète.”

    Of course, we can avoid this discussion, merely by saying over and over, “ … this discussion is about whether you should use a natural sign in situation X, and I don’t want to go beyond that.” However, the fact that music has broken out beyond its old boundaries will not have changed.

    When we hear a work like the celebrated “1+1=1 for two bass clarinets,” we may wonder what meaning the score has (admittedly the work does have a score, but just how easy is THAT to read?)

    [This link provides you with the performance of the music, and displays the “score” as you listen].

    As for the statement …

    “Once again the incompetently notated piece stands no chance. And that is as it should be. Survival of the fittest.”

    … such thoughts make me shudder.

    Are you a (social) Darwinist? (How is the biological theory of natural selection applicable to music and music theory? I wonder if it “related” to our current discussion.) Do you think the tiny mammalian Debussy prelude will out-survive the Mahlerian Megalosaurus?

    I am wondering if next, you will ask the following: if a conductor’s baton falls on the ground in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, then does it make a sound? I believe you would answer the question affirmatively.

    [And before I am accused of being “oppositional” again, let me ask if such charges are not themselves “anti-oppositional,” and are therefore another kind of opposition. Can one even have any kind of “forum,” without “opposition,” debate, discussion or the possibility of disagreement? Please look up the word “forum” in a dictionary. If anyone sincerely believes we should NOT have opposition, or disagreement on this forum, I invite them to say so, and to explain why. Of course, anyone who accepts this invitation, will probably “oppose” views previously expressed, and may end up falling into an absolutely devastating logical contradiction. ]

  • Hello Fredrick,

    Perhaps a parable will make the situation easier to understand.

    One day, the Great Maestro was asked, ‘is it right to violate the Laws of the Staves?’ The Maestro said to the students, ‘What man is there among you who has sharps, flats and naturals; and if they fall into the Staves and become entangled, will he not take hold of them and lift them out? The Staves were made for Man, and not man for the Staves.’

    One of the students said, ‘Eh?’

    The Maestro answered, ‘He who has a stapes prosthesus, incus, malleus (and cochlea): Let him hear!’


    On a different (but related) issue, you cannot contradict yourself and expect your argument to stand. You appear to insist that the rules of musical notation are absolute and should be followed precisely. But in your last post, you made several errors, and did not keep to the rules of proper usage in English. You cannot have it both ways. Does the phrase “practice what you preach” ring a bell? I think your argument may be undermined, when you call for rigorous adherence to certain rules while at the same time sloppily ignoring the rules of written communication even as you make your points.

    [Specific errors: 1) The first word of the first sentence was not capitalized. 2) The second word “seem” was improperly conjugated. You said, “it seem,” rather than “it seems.” 3) The period at the end of one sentence was not separated by a space from the first word of the succeeding sentence. 4) Your fourth sentence was marred by a comma splice, and should have been separated into two sentences or punctuated differently.]

    I don’t care personally if you could not compose the last post without getting the forms of the first two words correct. That is not an issue for me. My problem is with your logic. How can you insist on rigorous adherence to rules of any sort if you appear so haphazard in your communications to the members of this forum? Are you texting your messages to us while driving a car? I hope not. Is it legal in your state to text while driving? Please tell me you are not breaking the traffic laws of your state while admonishing us to follow the laws of musical notation.

    On the issue of the “overlong text,” I now wonder if you drop so many arguments and write such incomplete answers to direct questions because you are afraid you cannot easily and efficiently write a message longer than two paragraphs. Or is it because you find it too taxing to write logically without taking hours and hours to fret over the wording and punctuation. Do you compensate for this by accusing others of writing “overlong texts?” No thinking person since the time of Plato would say 1200 to 1400 words is “overlong” to express several ideas. If you want us to write our posts only in the form of parables and maxims, then should you not hold everyone else to the rule you want to impose? (I began with the parable above, wondering if you prefer that style of concision, but I fear you may not be able to reply, or find yourself capable of expressing your ideas about the parable, for one reason or another).

    We could all return to the pre-Socratic era, when philosophers like Heraclitus, Thales and Anaxagoras wrote epigrammatically. Or we could go back to a time before the Babylonian captivity, simply write proverbs and commandments and leave it at that. (Do you really simply want to issue commands, to order people to stick narrowly to the “subject” which you authorize, to tell them what symbols to use and when to use them—rather than gently offer suggestions or discuss a variety of approaches?)

    After all is said and done, how many ways are there to say (or to inscribe on a stone tablet)

    ‘Thou shalt not refrain from boiling a natural sign in the milk of your sheep’s own mother, if she has bleated atonally on the Sabbath?’

    Fredrick zinos said:

    it seem to me that you are the only one who is confused about the subject matter of this thread.

    I take it from your overlong text above that you do not believe would be composers have an obligation to notate their "compositions" in ways that  communicate their meaning with utmost clarity. 

    OF course composers have the freedom to make their work as obscure as possible, perhaps feigning some sort of new musical language.I don't disagree, there is no law against stupidity. But just as the inexperienced  composer has a right to pretend to have discovered a new musical language, so too the rest of the world enjoys the freedom to ignore it.

  • I guess most of us agree that there be no different rules for different styles of music. But the rules of accidentals apply on what happens inside one bar. What happens in the next bar is not that much about rules, but about conventions. Should we place courtesy natural signs there or not. If I wrote atonal music, I'd probably place the courtesy natural there, if there were a slightest chance that the performer would otherwise interpret it wrong. Atonal music creates sometimes funny illusions of tonality and the interpreter might read it wrong, if the courtesy natural sign were missing. It shouldn't be that hard to understand. And overwriting courtesy accidentals should not be that big problem. After all, atonal music is a bit hard to read and perform for most players.

  • Thank you Bob, for weighing in on this issue.

    “Seems to me that any music written on staff paper, with some sort of clef, and measure lines, tonal or atonal, needs to be notated in proper standard notation.”

    Written on staff paper. What if it were written on Egyptian papyrus? What if it were inscribed onto a Sumerian stone tablet?

    Don’t look now, but we are living in the computer age, and have been living in that age for quite some time now.

    “Any discussion of doing away with notation as a way to the future is impractical. In every school system, every music class, every band class and choir, teachers are trying to get their students to know standard notation.”

    That may be fine for music teachers working with the current curriculum (which is ultimately doomed). If this were a forum primarily for music teachers, we might be more likely to see the issue mainly from that perspective. From the point of view of contemporary composers, however, there are other variables to be considered, perhaps. [In the classroom, we might just say in passing that there is no need to “do away with notation.” I am talking about the natural death, not of “notation” in general, but of nothing more than traditional “notation on staff paper.” As soon as students have regular access to computers and composer software in large numbers, in every classroom, traditional notation will die of its own accord—just as handwriting is dying now, with the advent of word processing.]

    “The beauty of standard notation is that someone in France and read music created in the US.”

    True. But mathematics is already the universal trans-cultural language with maximum practical use. Computer codes and all the data contained about a piece of music in its file are far more efficient and far more readable in a multiplicity of formats. You can use “the score” (if want to use that outmoded recording method) as well as: the “piano roll window,” the “event list,” the “environment,” “EXS settings,” “automation displays,” and many other interfaces. And we are talking here about simple and widely used composer software. The ‘score’ for practical purposes in musicology will soon take the place of the appendix in practical human biological functioning.

    “A fluba can not be part of this discussion because it will not be part of a Mozart performance.”

    I believe it is the other way around. The Fluba and similar instruments can and must be a part of this discussion, precisely because the new software display features can and will be able to “represent” BOTH the flute and fluba, and every other instrument. It will represent Mozart, Stravinsky, Stockhausen, and all contemporary and future music more accurately than a mere score alone does now. Perhaps you think computer software does not yet do a good enough job. If you do, wait just a few years.

    “And before it gets said that it could be part of a contemporary, electronic performance, realize that in that case notation would probably not be involved. If real players play real instruments live, notation needs to be such that everyone understands it. What is so difficult about that?”

    The question is whether a traditional “score” can encompass the concepts contained in all forms of music (not just tonal and “atonal,” but also quarter-tone music, and microtonal), or whether a computerized series of interfaces can represent BOTH traditional music and contemporary manifestations of music. Clearly the latter is better suited.

    You say, quite rightly, this thread is about a “question regarding standard notation. All this other stuff might be interesting. It might even be worthy of discussion.”

    We seem to be discussing it. We started with a simple question about one aspect of notation and the discussion naturally moved toward the broader issue of notation in general. It’s hard to discuss the individual question of whether to use this or that symbol, without addressing the question of whether the symbolic system itself is sound. It is not sound, otherwise the question would not have come up in the first place. With computerized methods of composing and representing compositions, the question does not even arise; and it is this fact that once again trumpets the superiority of computerized systems over handwritten notation on staff paper. It will go the way of the dinosaur, and probably sooner than people think. We can easily examine the arguments to demonstrate that this should be so, and will be so.

  • Thank you, Bob and Fredrick, for your recently posted thoughts on this topic. Bob, you posed a number of very good questions, and I apologize if I cannot deal with all of them in this post.

    You asked,

    "Are you saying that a computer rendition of such music is superior to a live performance?"

    Not superior necessarily, but virtually indistinguishable. That is a boon for the composer. I am saying a computer rendition of any piece of music is (or soon will be) indistinguishable from any recorded piece of live music. This is especially true if the work is played over the radio or through your speakers. Isn't it true that for most people in the modern world, 99% or more of the music they hear is NOT live, but heard via radio, TV, the internet, home speakers, car stereo system, iPod, and so on?

    “Are you suggesting that there will be a time when live musicians will not be necessary?”

    They aren't "necessary" now. Today, the leisure act of listening to live music is something of a luxury for most people. That is one reason why live concert attendance has declined. For the most part, only wealthy people attend the opera and go to see a live symphonic performance regularly. Soon, from the composer’s point of view (and the point of view of most listeners) there may be no difference at all between a computer-created, large-scale composition and one that is performed by live musicians.

    “Will the millions of people that play instruments (and not just because they get paid) be relegated to practicing a quaint hobby?”

    I don’t know whether or not such a hobby is “quaint.” Will it be a “hobby?” Isn’t the very definition of a “hobby,” in this capitalist world, simply “doing something one doesn’t get paid to do?” (I personally don’t believe that, but operationally that is what is true in capitalist economy, isn’t it?) And what is wrong with millions or tens of millions of people on this earth playing music as an avocation rather than professionally? That is happening now, and probably always will be happening, as long as music exists. Why is that a problem?

    "And handwriting is certainly not going away anytime soon."

    I asked a high school teacher today, how many of your students do handwriting. She said, almost none. Not only is it dying. It’s essentially dead. If she writes in handwriting on the board, students say, “what is that?” They can’t understand it. “R’s” and “S’s” are particularly difficult. They simply don’t do it anymore, and they don’t’ recognize it. And this is in a school district that is above the natural average in test scores, and fairly well funded in comparison to most. If it’s not taught, it dies out. That is what is happening now, and has been happening during the past decade.

    I think there are two questions we are dealing with here:

    1. Are some symbolic systems becoming obsolete? Are they being replaced in practice by the use of computers, both to record ideas and to facilitate the reading of ideas (whether in music or in language)? I believe the answer is a resounding YES.

    2. What effect will the composer’s ability to create, record, play back and disseminate music via the internet (without intermediate performers or publishers) ultimately have on peformers and music itself.

    The second question is more difficult to answer, especially in the long run. But it may not be relevant in the long run to composers discussing the issue on a composers forum. It may be a question better suited to the “performers forum.”

    You suggest another thread could be started to deal with these types of questions in more depth. Perhaps that’s a good idea. Still, people seem interested in discussing it here now, because there are only so many ways you can say, “People should use the natural sign,” without having the conversation coming to a full stop. “Yes, you should use it.” “Maybe you should.” “It’s a good idea.” “It’s not necessary.” “Any good professional would do it.” That’s about the sum total of everything that has been said in response to question, when the discussion is narrowly circumscribed.

    I thought what Fredrick said about “Silver Apples of the Moon” was worth pondering.

    “The other possibility is that the music is "electronic" and/or in some other way not capable of notation. This is not a new problem. Back in the days of Silver Apples of the Moon and prior, there was a concern that the composition could not obtain copyright protection because there was no ‘score.’ Finally the copyright office said it would accept for example electrocardiogram tracings as a copyrightable graphic representation. I do not know if the copyright office still maintains that position.’

    When Subotnik wrote and disseminated Silver Apples of the Moon

    (on vinyl records), very few composers had the capability to make such a wide variety of sounds. Now anyone who has a computer can create virtually all the sounds of the orchestra, all the sounds Subotnik did, and many more. That is a tremendous change. Now, old-fashioned notation is no longer necessary for composing, for recording one’s ideas, for thinking about the music itself, or for theorizing or imagining how it will sound. As the newer generations of musicians learn how to compose (from an early age) without the need to commit ideas to staff paper, the traditional notation system for staff paper must die of its own accord (just as handwriting has died amongst the younger generation).

    Fredrick says, “Composers who utilize either pen and ink or notation software or make any graphic representation of their musical intentions for the sake of performance and who think they are above the requirement of accurate notation are living in a fool's paradise.” There is no question about being above (or below) any societally imposed traditional requirement. More to the point, and this is where Fredrick appears to miss the mark entirely, there is nothing sacrosanct about the traditional score marked on staff paper (whether by a human agent directly, or by a computer). Nor is there anything sacred about that traditional system of notation. The “fool’s paradise” is a place where nothing changes (like the Mythical Eden of the Old Testament). The Garden of Eden is the place where everything stays the same, and no new ways of communicating are ever created, because humans are content to live without progress, and content to do things as they have always done.

    Composers live, or would do well to learn to live, in the information era. The music itself is, and will be “encoded,” in computer files, everything from the midi to the more complicated files used by the most advanced composer’s software. There will be those who want to use the old-fashioned system of notation (during the period of time it gradually dies of its own accord). They are perfectly free to do so. If people want to spend hours and hours slaving over the proper placement of dots on staves, no one will stop them. Those who want to use “piano roll windows,” “event lists,” “automation displays” (all the more sophisticated and accurate methods of recording and showing the musical data) will soon leave the rest behind in the dust.

    The issue of “performance” does not even mean anything necessarily, in the long term. As it is now, more music is probably heard on youtube alone than is heard in the concert hall performed by live players. The composer is no longer “dependent” on the performers. Although that began with composers like Pierre Henry, Stockhausen, Subotnik, Pousseur and the pioneers of “musique concrete” and electronic music, the situation now has geometrically progressed to the point where orchestral synthesis, electronic music and sound sculpture (and countless other methods of producing music using the computer) have rendered the performer unnecessary, both logically and practically.

    I think composers generally (if they don’t already) will ultimately see this as a good thing. Consider what Subotnik achieved, especially in minutes 18:30 – 27:00 in the above linked work (Silver Apples of the Moon) without any performer, or without the need of a “traditionally notated score.”

    Or in this part of the “Wild Bull.”

    15:00 and onwards

    “Look Ma, no hands” becomes for the contemporary composer, “Look Ma, no score” (or at least no traditionally notated score). Today it’s much easier than it was for Subotnik, Stockhausen, or Pousseur.

    Of course, there is a lot to learn, and perhaps some people want to stick to what they know, rather than learn the new methods. I am still wondering how to take a sound file, as Pierre Henry did, and then arrange the sound file so it can be played backwards. On tape, this was easy, and I hear it’s easy to do with computer software. If anyone knows how, I’d appreciate any suggestions. (You can also suggest a method to “notate” that, if you think it’s important).

    Maybe like this:



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