English Editorial 2017

Edition 2017: Graphic Scores

Music is irreducible to the spoken word, it is well understood, no language structure can account for it. In order to say that there is nothing that can be said about music, nevertheless one has to say it.

The idea that sounds cannot be represented by signs, images, by the visual world in general, is less often expressed. Any sonority that cannot be simply measured – as for example timbre in its global complexity – could not be, according to this enunciation, reduced to a system of signs. The accumulation of signs necessary to represent the totality of the sound matter would render the notation unreadable. In order to demonstrate the impossibility of representation, one has to demonstrate it by signs.

Already two paragraphs full of pointless signs for expressing the pointlessness of the effort to conciliate the sonic and visual realms. Yet, in order to make music, one has beforehand to telephone each other, to talk – a language on the subject of music – and then to take from one’s pocket a diary in which to inscribe the place and time of the encounter – a graphic writing linked to the practice of music. Even in the case of an impromptu encounter, the very decision to make music together can be considered as an inscription. Would that allow the naming of this type of process “graphic score”?

The visual elements inscribed on the page of the diary do not prescribe sounds that will be produced at this date, in that place which is associated with it, and with the persons who have written the same “score” in their note book. The graphics in the diary, foreseeing what will happen at such a date and in such place allows the definition of the time and space of the music, the partial planning of its unfolding. As for the rest, anything may happen. The sound combinations and their eventual meaning have to be elaborated at the moment of the encounter.

Graphics, which determine something different from the musical materiality in itself, give that delicious impression of needing no mediation whatsoever: everybody can have access to it in an immediate manner without difficulty. The presence of a score assumes the same function as a totem in the religious and enigmatic sense: it implies the obligation to do an action, some movements, some sounds, and its absence paralyzes. But if the mediations are not provided by the graphics, they remain necessary elements for action to take place. One has either to call on some resources – knowledge or know-how – already present in the performer’s realm, or to invent some kinds of mediations – codes, rules, different means to transform the visual into sound. The advantage that graphic scores have in relation to the dryness of the daily notebook inscriptions, is that they contain generally enough salient elements for giving rise to codes, either in an existing framework (recalling for example notational systems already in use), or in some framework to be invented by the participants. Everybody can have access to action, on the condition that the lack of mediations specified in the graphic score could give rise to mediations – instituted or to be invented – appropriate to the situation of the participants.

This is precisely the PaaLabRes project, to conciliate free sounds and academic language, the profound implication of artists in production and the access for all to practices, the well identified objects with those which have to be continuously re-actualized, the private space with public presentations. And let’s not forget hybrid activities, which get artists to think outside their narrow professional corporate world. In other words our aim is to conciliate the visual world irreducible to sounds and the sound world impossible to represent; in this way to go beyond the “readable”.


The use of graphic scores is today widespread in extremely varied contexts and aesthetical modes of behavior. The new edition “Graphic Scores” of the PaalabRes site [paalabres.org] shows a good sampling of this diversity, without pretending to cover the field in an exhaustive manner. For us, the confrontation of realizations by very different groups is of particular importance: professionals, amateurs, students, young pupils, electroacoustic realizations, contributions based on original works by visual artists. This diversity, which is also a good representation of the democratic character of practices implying graphic scores, is expressed in particular around Treatise (1963-67) by Cornelius Cardew, a referent work for many musicians: seven interpretations of this piece are presented.

This new edition is presented in the form of a roadmap, inspired by of the metro map of our first formal proposition (2016 Edition), taking as basis a photography of a painting by Lyon artist Christian Lhopital (we thank him for his generous contribution). We took advantage of the presence of these seismic “faults” to use them as lines for connections between what we call “known places” [“lieux-dits”] in a meaningful way. Some contributions are grouped together on the map in regions (Treatise, films, documentation). The map consists of two big categories:

Some artistic realizations

  1. An artistic performance (audio or video) of a graphic score, which can be triggered by clicking on the “known place”, that is the name of the contribution. An explicative, theoretical or poetical text appears when one goes from one known place to either of the two neighboring “known places”, in the form of a collage with the text of the neighboring contribution.
  2. Performances of Cardew’s Treatise, which are clustered in one part of the map and are presented in the same format as in (a).
  3. Three musical illustrations of films.

Some contributions with texts
which serve as reference

  1. David Gutkin, “Drastic or Plastic?: Threads from Karlheins Stockhausen’s “Music und Graphik,” 1959”, Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 50, N° 1-2 (Winter/Summer 2012), pp. 255-305 (academia.edu),for historical and critical perspectives.
  2. “Réflexions sur les partitions graphiques” by Etienne Lamaison, extracts from his recent PhD thesis on non-procedural graphic scores.
  3. Interview of Pascal Pariaud on his pedagogical practices linked to graphic scores.
  4. A collage of texts (in French) on Cardew’s Treatise (by Cornelius Cardew, John Tilbury, David Gutkin, Christopher Williams, Matthieu Saladin, Keith Rowe, Arturas Bumsteinas, Laurent Dailleau, Jim O’Rourke and Jean-Charles François)
  5. Interview of Xavier Saïki, member of the collective Ishtar, on Cardew’s Treatise.
  6. A small area called “Documentation” with contributions by Carl Bergstroem-Nielsen on his International Improvised Music Archive (IIMA) and by Ensemble Aleph on a graphic scores exhibition (“Musique et Graphisme”) organized at Issy-les-Moulineaux during the 1980s (names of the “known places” in white without black edging).

You can move freely in the new map by clicking on any of the names of the known places. But the spirit of our approach is definitively on the side of taking a path following the lines, or seismic “faults” (as in “San Andreas fault”): the strolling from one known place to its neighbor reveals a collage of texts or spoken words provided by the contributors. We strongly encourage you to follow a pathway along on a fault line.

The site is in French. Whenever possible an English abstract of an article is provided. The sources of the texts already published in English are indicated. Original contributions for paalabres.org in English are provided in pdf format.

The Collective PaaLabRes: Samuel Chagnard, Guillaume Dussably, Jean-Charles François, Laurent Grappe, Karine Hahn, Gilles Laval, Noémi Lefebvre, Pascal Pariaud, Nicolas Sidoroff, Gérald Venturi.


Important information about the practical conditions for realizing the 2016 and 2017 editions of the digital space “PaaLabRes”

The totality of the production of the digital space “PaaLabRes” – architecture of the site, creation, translations, technical aspects of the realization – is done with a complete absence of financial means and on the basis of volunteer work. The digital space comes into reality thanks to the participation of artists who can do this because they are salaried in some educational institution or retired from this duty, and who give their time within the limits of their possibilities. These same persons additionally have to carry on with their own research and/or artistic projects, often pursuing a doctoral degree. Some actions (i.e. workshops) carried out by the PaaLabRes collective generate a small percentage in order to pay for the site’s hosting services.

But how can web platforms and communities developing Internet tools (of “framasoft” type) continue to fight the system? How is it possible to escape the invasion of publicity, which is the counterpart of Internet being free of charge?

In the first 2016 Edition, for example, we used “youtube” in order to realize the 72 Itineraries-Songs. This was an “easy” solution to the problem of the enormous space taken by these files, but one which imposed (through “Google”) the presence of publicity. For the 2017 Edition, we have decided to use the platform “viméo”, which appeared to us to correspond more to our sense of ethics, but the inconvenience of the presence of publicity (“Staffpicks”) remains. The trick we have designed to counter it consists in giving ample time to users to click on internal links of the site before the appearance of any publicity.

The issue of the lack of means for alternative research projects and for the use of digital communication tools remains to be debated. All remarks and good ideas on this subject would be very welcome. And more generally any critical feedback on our endeavors would be of great use to us.
Your comments (in english) can be sent at this address: contact[chez]paalabres.org