music made of reactions

“How do You Play a Picture?” Graphic Scores and Seis Six

I was recently able to debut an unusual piece of my own under unusual, and very interesting, circumstances.


There’s a music series in NYC called Composer’s Voice, a subset of which is their (very cool) Fifteen Minutes of Fame series. The 15 Minutes of Fame collects fifteen one-minute miniature pieces for an ensemble (or theme). Our was a collection of fifteen graphic scores, dedicated to Rob Voisey.

I and three of my favorite musicians (Brendon Randall-Myers, Bill Beckett, and my former teacher Istvan Peter B’Racz) were able to select the fifteen pieces and perform them in NYC.

Graphic Score Heart-throbs

And here’s my piece we played: Seis Six

Seis Six

After the performance, an audience member asked one of our merry band, “So…how do you play a picture?” Well, there’s no one way, but WE approached the process of “playing a picture” as composer-performers: we picked visual aspects of the score and translated them into musical parameters. So for this performance,

  • The long red triangle in the first bracket was a sound with a long decay that carried over into the next bracket (big piano chord with long sustain)
  • The dotted lines in the fifth bracket (middle bottom) were a brief scritchy-scratchy guitar interlude
  • The fourth, almost-all red, bracket (bottom left) was “filled up” the source of the long decay in the first bracket (in this case, piano)
  • The very last item in the score, a descending arrow was (of course!) a concluding downward glissando

Or, to be more precise….



To me, one of the awesome things about graphic scores is that the score a different group or different performance could generate completely different music by interpreting the score differently.

For example, we interpreted the long red triangle in the first bracket was a sound with a long decay that carried over into the next bracket (big piano chord with long sustain); another group could have interpreted that long red triangle to be decreasing volume BUT very active playing (since perhaps red signifies “intensity”) – so the piece COULD also start with a very active melodic line that decreases in volume as the performers move from the first bracket to the second.

The hypothetical group could play the two triangles in the first bracket as two different audio samples overlaid on top of the melodic line – or, perhaps the same sample processed two different ways (since they’re the same shape–triangles–but two different colors).

And, to me, that’s the beauty of graphic scores – we have a “fixed” score that allows a lot of creative decisions from performers (perhaps DEMANDS a lot of creative input from performers?). Two groups could present two very different interpretations, but they would actually be changing certain parameters in the same *way* – even if, to a listener, the pieces sound nothing alike.

I’m currently hoping to organize an internet noise-music compilation around this concept…stay tuned! (Or drop me a line if you’re interested!)

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