Tag Archives: Experimental Music

Willow

Willow
for vocal or instrumental choir

This was one of numerous graphic scores that I had originally planned to dispose of, but saved after meeting John Cage.

At the time, I had created a series of what I referred to as “image” scores, which resembled sparse paintings; this was the only one to have survived. These scores were often created with very clear methods of performance. The strokes in the upper left of the score were inspired by shakuhachi and Tibetan dungchen notation. These strokes were created first, and once in place over a few days I added the other elements as a contrast. I saw three directions of gestures, an oblique movement in the upper left, a subtle horizontal movement on the bottom left, and a crowd of horizontals and rising verticals on the lower right. These directions were important to the score at the time. Any additional layers of meaning as a result of viewing the score as a painting are welcome yet parallel to the work.

I have an interest in vocal and instrumental choirs and the way instruments of a similar timbre interact with each other, especially when they are not bound by melody or harmony.

Below are additional comments on my notes to the score.

The Notes to the Score:

  1. Written for any number of performers, this score can be performed in any manner the performer wishes, including aurally, visually. kinesthetically, synesthetically, interactively, literally, symbolically, or philosophically. 

This is a statement I included in many of my scores and is one that is fundamental to my philosophy of performing them. I consider the reaction a person may have in approaching my scores as a type of performance. How they then express such a reaction, or any long-term results of this reaction are continuations of the performance.

As a performer myself I engage many aspects of my being in playing music. Those mentioned above are just a few, and they often tend to function simultaneously. I am often amazed that this is not more commonly discussed as I find an awareness of how all these manners of expressing music combine is important, as is the balance between them.

A performer may wish to express the score in any manner including all those listed above, exclusively or inclusively. However the performance may also be more intimate and introspective. Many musicians hear scores upon encountering them, and I consider this an aural performance, and as some elements of this performance may never make it to a stage, it is unique and special. An aural performance may also include hearing wind in a willow’s leaves, or grass, upon encountering the score. It could also include hearing a suspension of sound, or a sustained silence simultaneous to the sound upon encountering the score, or at any time when recalling the score.

A visual performance is any reaction generated from observing the score, and both kinaesthetic and synesthetic performances function in the same manner. Any visual image, such as imagining the colour green or a willow tree is part of a performance. As is any movement or physical reaction such as a tingling, an emptiness, a sense of confusion, or a blankness are all performances.

Any reaction to the score could be construed as an interaction. I see that as a person reacts to a score, the score starts to transform. The score initially observed is no longer the same once it has been reacted to. As the score changes, the reactions of the observer again change, creating an interactive feedback chain. Any discussions of objectivity or subjectivity are further performances.

For some a literal performance is interpreting the written gestures as pitch low to high and duration left to right, with dynamics from soft to full. For others a literal performance is a sonic recreation of the image. I will leave symbolically and philosophically for those that are inclined to interpret.

  1. It can also be read from right to left or left to right, and pitch may or may not be interpreted vertically.

This may be construed as a restatement of one form of a literal performance. However, the term “read” can be taken quite literally and the score can be put into words or thoughts in either direction, with or without pitch.

  1. A deep understanding of willows may be helpful. 

Willow trees hold symbolic meaning in many cultures, and an understanding of these might be useful. Understanding the tree itself is also useful.

  1. The performer may wish to sit close to or under a willow, or give a willow branch to a parting friend.

An extended time sitting with a willow tree may provide a rich palette of subtle experiences, emotions and associations with which to perform this work. In sitting under or with a willow tree, the score is being performed.

The score was inspired by a traditional, but no longer practiced, Chinese custom of giving a willow branch to a departing friend. The willow signified the bonds of friendship and unwillingness to part ways. It also represented new life as the willow could be replanted anywhere forming new roots. The willow also provided protection against ghosts. The symbol of the willow therefore conveyed a melancholic sadness for a departed friend and the longing to see them again.

  1. A deep awareness of the performer’s surroundings and the soundscape is suggested.

I feel this is essential to all performances. This is an awareness, a sensing, of everything in the surrounds, and accepting them without judging if they are good or bad, wanted or unwanted. To be aware of all sounds and everything else in the surrounds equally, with each object holding the same importance – to simultaneously remain consciously aware of everything throughout the performance.

  1. This score can be performed in all manners simultaneously.

Windows of opportunity may be created to experience individual forms of performance as well.

  1. This score is performed by being regarded, and does not need to be performed to be performed.

You have been performing this score all this time. This score does not need any further action from you other than you encounter it. In fact it does not need you at all.

r3willow

Randy Raine-Reusch
15/09/91

The Linfield Cello Ensemble, a group of seven cellists led by Diane Chaplin, performed Willow on April 24th, 2016. The score was printed on the cover of the program and the notes included within. Diane wrote: “It turns out that in the lobby of the music building resides a large vase of long curly willow branches. We placed that vase on a stool near the performers, and added a good amount of recently-live willow branches. We did…three interpretations of Willow. The first was one where we all played the same image at the same time; in the 2nd one we chose our own order of images (and in that one I was inspired to get a willow branch and gently run down the cello strings – very evocative). For the 3rd interpretation, we were contemplative and didn’t play, just admired the willow…”

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Noh 1

Noh1
for ichigenkin, Noh actor
or any other performer

The ichigenkin is a one string Japanese zither, which I have studied for many years. Ichigenkin philosophy reflects both those of Zen and Shinto. Noh is a form of Japanese drama.

The Japanese concept ma is an underlying element of this score, and both the practice of ichigenkin and Noh make extensive use of ma. Ma is emptiness that is full. It is the white space around a Japanese painting. It is the empty space in a flower arrangement. Ma is an extended pause in Japanese music that is full of tension or anticipation. Ma is the small recessed section of a traditional Japanese room used for hanging a scroll, or placing a plant.

The Notes to the Score:

1. Express one sound, one step, of any duration in one second, minute, hour, day, week, month, or year.

  • The score displays the number one written in traditional script. One is the second theme of this score and forms a paradox with ma. Ma needs two opposing elements, a duality: something and nothing, sound and silence, form and formlessness. One is singular. In Taoism and Zen, dualities form a pair linked in their opposition, and together become one. Hence there are two participants indicated and one action. There are further dualities in the suggested participants: one who sits – one who steps, one that is silent – one that creates sound, etc.
  • Time is of no consequence in this score, although it is an integral element. The suspension of time carries the ma in movement and music. Yet the duration of the ma is not specified and can in essence be held indefinitely.

2. No essence of being or the absence of being should be left unexplored.

  • The score incorporates everything, and nothing, combined.

3. No aspect of sound and silence, nor the absence of sound and silence should be left unrealized. 

  • The duality of sound and silence create a pair, in mathematics a set. If we can define a set, then there is an absence of the set that defines it. That absence can be full of ma.

4. One is exclusive, inclusive, both, and neither.

  • One is exclusive: there is only one. One is inclusive: all is one. They can integrate, or negate each other, or both.

5. Existence should be neither regarded nor disregarded.

  • This might be self-evident. Whether or not the score, participants, this discussion or this world exists or not is inconsequential. However keep an eye on it nonetheless.

Randy Raine-Reusch
02/13/2013

R3NOH1

Premiered Aug. 10, 2014
by Redshift Music, Vancouver, Canada
Colin MacDonald – Baritone sax

 

 

Writing Graphic Scores

My eyes don’t function normally even with thick glasses, which was a problem when I encountered staff notation upon starting my musical training in school. The staff lines would move; shifting up, down, or rolling like waves. The only way I could make it stop was by having the notation less than a foot in front of me, the closer the better. The constantly shifting staff lines made it impossible for me to sight-read or even follow a score in class, so I memorized all my music for school. But that still made playing difficult if complex changes were made to the music in class. It was not until high school, that the band teacher discovered my lack of reading skills, which he solved by kicking me out of class and making me promise to never return.

Thus it is not surprising that even in school I had started to gravitate towards improvisation, as it provided me the ability to play with ease while feeling free of my perceived impediment. It took me many years to gain the courage to make music my professional career. Yet, even with that step, the inability to easily read music was an enormous burden that continued to grow larger. When I did turn professional very few people realized that I was primarily an improviser, and frankly I was ashamed to tell them.

As part of my professional music career, I had been studying the history of notation around the world and found that staff notation was not the only method of notating music. In my need for writing down musical ideas I started to use a combination of tablature and graphic notation. I adapted or invented forms of tablature for the many non-western instruments I was using, and to these I later added forms of cypher notation in either roman numerals or Asian script. I often felt that the notation was not complete, as it just indicated what notes to play and when to play them, yet did not provide any information of what the music should be like, so I started to add graphic symbols I adapted from Japanese and Tibetan Buddhist music. These symbols slowly expanded to more complex images, both realistic and abstract. Unfortunately, at that time I did not yet realize how functional this system was, as I was still surrounded by the world of staff notation, and for more than a decade I destroyed all my notes and scores.

That changed in 1992 after I spent a good portion of a day with John Cage in his loft. His acceptance of my musical journey and expressions liberated me. That day he became my musical father. He passed two days later. Cage gave me the courage and insight to be me, to play and write what I wanted with no apologies. I stopped destroying my scores and started to show them to others. And thus began this part of my musical journey. I have learned over the years since, that not everyone knows how to approach these scores, so I started to provide notes, and now after a couple of decades I realize that is time to add yet another level of explanation.

I tend to write my scores for the people that “get them” upon encountering them. I write for the people that hear, feel, experience the music from the scores. Some of my scores “are the music, rather than a score to play the music,” as the visual elements in the scores stimulate a memory or a deep inexplicable feeling for many people that approach them. Most of these scores allow for all the senses to be engaged, and even our extended senses.

Most of my musical training has been in Asian traditional music. Further to that I realized that I was a Taoist since the age of fifteen, not one that prays in temples, but one that moves within the paradoxes of life. As such Taoism and Zen are second nature to me. My scores are riddled with both philosophies and for some this may make them incomprehensible, which is as it should be.

I have encountered opposition to – or dismissal of – my scores from musicians who are trained in, and rely primarily on, staff notation. In my extensive studies of the music of the world, I have found that western art music is but a small sliver of the mosaic of musical expression in our world. From my perspective Western art music’s importance was inflated as a tool of 19th C. western imperialism to non-western cultures, which were regarded as “other”. Outside of the narrow perspective of western art music there are a number of musical cultures where music is recorded, performed, perceived, valued, and functions in many different ways from the western perspective, sometimes radically. All are equally valid musical expressions. Although my music still retains the biases of my upbringing it is also informed by those musical cultures from around the world I have studied and have been exposed to.

My scores often challenge the composer – performer – audience hierarchy, and sometimes decontextualize or recontextualize the concepts of score and performance. My position as a “composer,” if it exists at all, ends at the moment I release the score onto paper, as does any relationship I have with the performer or audience. I am not interested in musical tools such as motifs that function as cultural codes designed to elicit a response from a listener. The experience of the performer and audience is their own; I have no control over their experience, nor wish to have. Frankly, it is none of my business.

That said my scores and notes are very specific in their wording and design. There is nothing flippant or clever in them. I craft each element to express something meaningful in me, and it sometimes takes a year or more to fully realize a score. I have been a poet since I was young and I use words as I do images, so it is often very difficult to find the path to express the specific perception and experience of the world I am sharing. These scores simply document my experience of the world. They certainly can be used as windows of opportunity for someone else to approach how I perceive the world, or at least for them to experience something else of themselves.

I am often quite fascinated at how people approach and express their experience of my scores, whether in performance, conversation, or through correspondence. Sometimes they even seem to get close to how I experience the score. Sometimes that amuses me. Sometimes I feel not so alone.