September 15, 2004

Music Notation - The Source of Weakness in Contemporary Classical Rock?

It struck me in responding to Steve that perhaps the reason that groups like BOAC et al, appear to contemporary rock fans as irrelevant or behind the times is likely a result of their notational and performance practice. Perhaps the integration of composer with ensemble in groups like GYBE, Radiohead and Sigur Ros encourages the type of experimentation that such a timbrally fluid entity needs to be cutting edge.

Notating a guitar feedback yelp is possible, but playing it just right and according to the needs of the composition is problematic. We have no real rock music ensemble notation and a record of the recording process that Sigur Ros uses would be a record of experiments (as evinced by their recent interview in TapeOp magazine).

Maybe a valid notation (and not merely a record of experiments) is the next step in the cannibalization of rock?

Posted by jeff at September 15, 2004 02:40 PM

Jazz notation practices could pretty easily be adapted to this.

Posted by: Lucas Gonze at September 15, 2004 04:16 PM

The effects of notation are paradoxical -- on the one hand, you can notate what had previously been transmitted by ear and essentially freeze a tradition from further development(which is what happened to German folk music, and was similar the practice in many East Block countries); on the other hand, the development of a tradition of informed but creative _reading_ (and mis-reading) of musical notation is potentially very rich. (The composer Richard K. Winslow put it this way: "if you want music to be played exactly the same, transmit it orally; if you want it to change over time, write it down).

A bit of writing and reading might do rock well. I believe that sufficient notational devices already exist, and it's telling, to my ears at least, that the least-notated part of the rock practice, the percussion, is precisely the area of the ensemble that has become most stagnant in recent years.

Posted by: Daniel Wolf at September 16, 2004 04:18 PM

That's an interesting point, Daniel, and does shed some light on rock percussion as it is today.

In cases of acts like Sigur Ros, given that their compositions are so sound-specific, I'd guess that they wouldn't bear much fruit in more abstracted forms such as written instruction. Perhaps as meta-art or lateral thinking devices, but little beyond.

Posted by: Steve Hamann at September 17, 2004 01:08 PM