Reflections on Graphic Scores
Etienne Lamaison (2017)
This article is a development of Etienne Lamaison’s doctoral thesis “L’interprétation des partitions graphiques non-procédurales” (Insituto de Investigção e formação Avançada, Evora, Portugal, 2013). The article is in two parts: a) “The Relations between visual and sound domains”; b) “The Graphic Scores”.
The comparison between artistic domains is a major preoccupation in Western thought. While there is a strict separation of the disciplines, for many artists the sources of inspiration for their imagination may often cross over boundaries. In recent time hybrid forms between artistic realms have been developed and many terminologies belong to two or more domains (color, timbre, nuance, harmony). However all the attempts to develop machines that would translate sound into visual forms or vice-versa have not been very successful. Some artists have developed ways of comparing parameters in one realm to their counterparts in their own realm (Klee and Kandinsky on the temporality of a tableau, Ferneyhough on visual images escaping the unfolding of time, the blank space and Cage’s silence). Colors are often used as code for timbre, visual spaces with temporality. In the relation visual plane / sound plane, notions of simultaneity and polyphony are explored. The concept of density can also produce useful comparison (Xenakis). The notion of splash, of touch, especially in impressionist painting can be related with vibrations.
The definition of “graphic score” is particularly difficult to make in view of the fact that most of them do not constitute a viable notational system. Five forms of graphic scores are presented:
- Propositions that define a succession of events.
- Propositions in which the total duration of the performance is fixed by the composer.
- Propositions that are orientated towards pitch organization (registers, boxes with indicated pitches).
- Mixed scores combining graphic elements with standard notation.
- Propositions that are strictly non-procedural (with no specified ways of interpreting the visual elements).
Each of the five categories is accompanied with examples of graphic scores. The author explains his own approach to the non-procedural idea (the fifth category) and offers different methodologies for interpreting these various written forms, similar to those of improvisation. Historical and philosophical perspectives of experimental notational practices since 1945 are provided. In the conclusion, Lamaison stresses the necessity for institutions to include more development of the interpretation of graphic scores in their curriculum.