The collective Ishtar has evolved from having a large number of members of dancers, performers, musicians, actors (1993-1999) to a more limited group of musicians interested in free jazz and improvisation (2003…). They like to call their activity “noise music” as part of the field of sonic arts : the world of making music with objects and modified instruments. Improvisation for them is a way to question listening, time unfolding, space and public participation. They mix acoustical sources with electroacoustic ones.
The interest of the collective for Treatise by Cornelius Cardew stems, in comparison to other graphic scores, from its radical uncompromising approach to visual layout. They became acquainted with this score at the moment in which they wished to fix certain things in their improvisations. In a first approach to the piece, they decided to play the totality of the 193 pages with a clock, each page having a duration of 2 minutes. Immediately some graphics were more striking than others. They concentrated on very minimal lines. They selected the pages that interested them mostly and they applied their usual modes of playing to the strict temporality of the score.
In their realization of Treatise, the ensemble tried to combine a very strict approach to time organization determined by the layout of graphic elements on the pages, with their usual approach to free improvisation. In the Ishtar collective, each player is independent from the others, there are no decisions in common. For the realization of Treatise, they might have been working on the same page and the same time frame, but each player interpreted the graphics in his own way. Some players strictly respected the signs on paper, others had a more general loose way of translating the visual graphics into sound.
The question of the central line or “time line” has been discussed in relation with Cardew’s Handbook. Difficult choices had to be made between the possibility for the musicians to choose individually what pages to be played and what duration they might last, or on the contrary to use the time line as a common point of time unfolding. The work on Treatise had an important impact a lot on the group’s own practice of improvisation, especially concerning the relation to time.
The collective has also organized workshops for amateur musicians, or young students from music schools and primary schools, in which graphic scores played an important role, and Treatise was often used in this context. The use of graphic scores allows inexperienced players to access improvisation, the score is used as a pathway towards sound production not completely determined by some kind of notation. Pieces like Treatise are at the same time “works” in the traditional sense, and open to modes of playing independent from visual structuring. Treatise is a tool to fabricate possible worlds, to make music in the large sense of the word. But from the graphic point of view, the score presents itself as a sacred object, something fixed, untouchable. There is a very precise continuity in the piece, there is a real graphic development.