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  • Discussion about Role of Notation in Electronic Music

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    I thought I would post a topic to generate some discussion. I just finished my 9th symphony for the virtual orchestra. When I first started composing for electronic instruments, I created scores as though the piece would be performed by players. As the technology and sound libraries continued to evolve, I began to realize I am working in a new medium and that my intention, which is to create the best possible recording of my work, was leading me to question the role of the score.

    When I am programming the computer to play a passage, I am programming a large amount of detail into the phrase: articulation, dynamics, note-length, envelopes--all these things are critical in order to create an expressive, musical work. Bringing an electronic orchestration up to an artistic performance level is a very different approach than creating a so-called mockup. It seems redundant and unnnecessary, not to mention time-consuming, to put instructions to players in the score when there are no players!

    One might ask, why have a score at all? I write out the score because it helps me to clarify my ideas, find mistakes, share with my students, and for publishing purposes. If I know a piece might be played by a live ensemble, such as Windy Hop (I posted that piece in this forum a few weeks ago) then of course I add the breathing, bowing and articulation marks that players need to play the piece as intended.

    Another issue is the use of software syntheisizers, which I often combine with orchestral samples. The complex textures and shifting harmonic content resulting from the use of arpeggiators, envelopes, LFO etc. are impossible to notate using standard music notation. For example, one can write a g#4 held for 8 measures, and on the page all you see is a whole note tied to other whole notes. But obviously, what we hear is not that at all, but rather a rich, evolving texture that is far more complex than merely a single tone being held.

    These are some of the issues I deal with in my work. Have others thought about this, and if so, how do you deal with this? Sometimes people comment that my scores don't have dynamic marks (either did any scores by Bach and earlier composers) but they often don't realize that my intention is to produce a finished recording, not to have the piece performed by a live ensemble.


  • PaulP Paul moved this topic from Orchestration & Composition on