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Moving Forms: Writings on Graphic Notation

Selections by Uesaki Sen and Miki Kaneda; Annotations by Miki Kaneda

Graphic scores visibly and sonically changed contemporary music in the late 1950s and ’60s. The new notation unleashed a torrent of fundamental questions about music, sound, and composition: What counts as music? What distinguishes musical sound from non-musical sound? What is the time of music, and can there be alternatives to industrial clock-time? What assumptions about performance and skill underlie formal musical training? As Akiyama Kuniharu and Ichiyangi Toshi brought their knowledge of music and graphics from their experiences in Germany and the United States to Japan between 1959 and 1961, excitement surrounding graphic notation and its aesthetic possibilities spread rapidly among experimental composers, critics, and composers working around Tokyo. This annotated bibliography presents a selection of essays and articles about the new notational forms. Some, like Donald Richie, wrote scathing criticisms of the scores and performances linked to the aesthetics of chance and indeterminacy. Others, like Takahashi Yuji, questioned the motivation for using graphic notation: is it employed merely as a utilitarian tool for making writing easier, or is it viewed as the basis of a new aesthetic?

Two exhibitions presenting graphic scores in Tokyo in 1962 and the surrounding discourse attest to the high level of interest generated by the new form not only among musicians, but also among artists and designers. In about 1962 the critic Akiyama began using the term “graphic scores” to refer to the scores that used graphic notation. This reflects a profound change in the concept of the score itself, first as a combination of musical practice and graphic design using new forms of notation, and then as a hybrid object that stands on its own, potentially even independently of music and performance.

After the early 1960s, many of the pioneers of graphic scores returned to traditional notation, while others stopped writing scores in favor of instructions or embraced free improvisation. It’s difficult to say why the popularity of the form was so short-lived. One way to approach the question is to return to the conversations that took place in the early 1960s. Another is to turn to composers and performers working today and ask about their relationship to scores and notation. How might scores operate with a new, contemporary significance in tandem with the abundance of recorded sound available online today?

Author

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Miki Kaneda

Lecturer, College of Fine Arts, School of Music, Boston University Harvard University As a scholar and teacher, Miki aims to increase meaningful conversations between researchers and practitioners of sonic and visual arts in order to address the... Read more »
Senuesaki

Uesaki Sen

Archivist Keio University Art Center Sen Uesaki is an archivist and lecturer at Keio University Art Center (KUAC) whose projects focus on the design of archives for Japanese avant-garde art. His recent... Read more »
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Moving Forms: Writings on Graphic Notation

Selections by Uesaki Sen and Miki Kaneda; Annotations by Miki Kaneda

Graphic scores visibly and sonically changed contemporary music in the late 1950s and ’60s. The new notation unleashed a torrent of fundamental questions about music, sound, and composition: What counts as music? What distinguishes musical sound from non-musical sound? What is the time of music, and can there be alternatives to industrial clock-time? What assumptions about performance and skill underlie formal musical training? As Akiyama Kuniharu and Ichiyangi Toshi brought their knowledge of music and graphics from their experiences in Germany and the United States to Japan between 1959 and 1961, excitement surrounding graphic notation and its aesthetic possibilities spread rapidly among experimental composers, critics, and composers working around Tokyo. This annotated bibliography presents a selection of essays and articles about the new notational forms. Some, like Donald Richie, wrote scathing criticisms of the scores and performances linked to the aesthetics of chance and indeterminacy. Others, like...

Show More

Selections by Uesaki Sen and Miki Kaneda; Annotations by Miki Kaneda

Graphic scores visibly and sonically changed contemporary music in the late 1950s and ’60s. The new notation unleashed a torrent of fundamental questions about music, sound, and composition: What counts as music? What distinguishes musical sound from non-musical sound? What is the time of music, and can there be alternatives to industrial clock-time? What assumptions about performance and skill underlie formal musical training? As Akiyama Kuniharu and Ichiyangi Toshi brought their knowledge of music and graphics from their experiences in Germany and the United States to Japan between 1959 and 1961, excitement surrounding graphic notation and its aesthetic possibilities spread rapidly among experimental composers, critics, and composers working around Tokyo. This annotated bibliography presents a selection of essays and articles about the new notational forms. Some, like Donald Richie, wrote scathing criticisms of the scores and performances linked to the aesthetics of chance and indeterminacy. Others, like Takahashi Yuji, questioned the motivation for using graphic notation: is it employed merely as a utilitarian tool for making writing easier, or is it viewed as the basis of a new aesthetic?

Two exhibitions presenting graphic scores in Tokyo in 1962 and the surrounding discourse attest to the high level of interest generated by the new form not only among musicians, but also among artists and designers. In about 1962 the critic Akiyama began using the term “graphic scores” to refer to the scores that used graphic notation. This reflects a profound change in the concept of the score itself, first as a combination of musical practice and graphic design using new forms of notation, and then as a hybrid object that stands on its own, potentially even independently of music and performance.

After the early 1960s, many of the pioneers of graphic scores returned to traditional notation, while others stopped writing scores in favor of instructions or embraced free improvisation. It’s difficult to say why the popularity of the form was so short-lived. One way to approach the question is to return to the conversations that took place in the early 1960s. Another is to turn to composers and performers working today and ask about their relationship to scores and notation. How might scores operate with a new, contemporary significance in tandem with the abundance of recorded sound available online today?

Source contents

Of Theory, the Aleatoric, and Space

Paik discusses recent developments in music theory and composition, notably the use of chance operations and indeterminacy in the music of John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Christian Wolff. The essay is by a young Paik, still deeply immersed in the study of contemporary Western classical music and the debates that surround it. Includes excerpts of graphic scores by Cage, Feldman, and Earle Brown....

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Notation and Graphism: New Tendencies in Modern European Music

Akiyama writes about his encounter with graphic notation during his European travels from August to October 1959. He is particularly impressed by the idea of notation and musical graphics as representations of "moving forms" in Stockhausen's music. He reports that the European experiments with graphic notation are tied to efforts to conceptualize "new senses of time and space."

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New Directions in Sound and Image (Round Table) 1

In conversation with the artist Yamaguchi Katsuhiro, musician and critic Akiyama Kuniharu discusses his recent trip to Paris and Germany, commenting on the state of contemporary music (particularly musique concrète and electronic music) and the music festival circuits in Germany. Yamaguchi draws Akiyama out on the subject of Moving Forms, a new approach to composition that he encountered at the...

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New Directions in Sound and Image (Round Table) 2

Part two of the conversation between Akiyama and Yamaguchi takes up the topic of new entanglements of sound and image, with a focus on jazz and action painting. Yamaguchi opens the conversation with the statement "I think abstract art and electronic music are related in the sense that they are both deeply invested in rationalism.” This is followed by a discussion of the relationship of...

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Toward a New Approach to Time and Space 1

Part one of a report following Akiyama's trip to Europe and his encounter with the idea of Music and Graphics (Musik und Graphik) during a five-part talk on the subject by Karlheinz Stockhausen.

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Toward a New Approach to Time and Space 2

Part two of a report following Akiyama's trip to Europe. Akiyama writes about Musikalische Graphik, an exhibition of graphic scores held at the Donaueschingen Music Festival, along with performances of graphic score pieces by Roman Haubenstock-Ramati and Sylvano Bussotti, conducted by Pierre Boulez. These new notational forms, he argues, are attempts by young avant-garde artists to create a new...

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John Cage

An introduction to the music and thought of John Cage, focusing on his work since the late 1950s and exploring concepts such as indeterminacy, chance, natural sounds, and the musical approach to silence. Also includes a discussion of graphic notation and instruction-based scores.

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Music of Chance

Ichiyanagi introduces readers to chance operations in his own music and in the music of others, including Morton Feldman, Richard Maxfield, and Sylvano Bussotti. He credits John Cage with establishing chance operations as a compositional method. Cage's method is groundbreaking, he writes, because the music of chance begins with the premise that "beauty happens in all sounds that occur in the...

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Design (A Proposal for New Scores)—From This Year's JAAC Exhibition

Akiyama writes about an experiment undertaken at the Nissenbi (Japan Advertising Artists Club) exhibition of 1961, where designers rather than composers presented visual proposals for making musical notation suitable for contemporary musical sensibilities.

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Freedom and Adventure in Modern Music: Hearing Ichianagi Toshi's Recital

In his review of Ichiyanagi's concert at the Sogetsu Art Center on November 30, 1961, Akiyama writes for the general public about the new graphic notation. "There is the sense that music is an aestheticized form that is incapable of violently attacking people." With this statement, he implies that the new music might possess the capacity for violence. Another idea to ponder: "The ‘work' does...

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Nature and Music

Part one of a three-part series. Writing about the ecology of everyday sounds in the city, Ichiyanagi opens with Cage's questions: "Is music just sound?" and "Is the sound of a truck passing also music?" Arguing that traditional notation (using a five-line staff and notes) privileges the authority of the composer while de-emphasizing the natural environment, the essay follows the trajectory of...

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The Meaning of Changing Signs: Looking at Graphic Scores

Beginning with descriptions of graphic scores realized as collaborations between composers and designers (Takahashi Yuji and Wada Makoto; Takemitsu Toru and Sugiura Kohei), and of a then-rare example of musical performance in an art gallery (Group Ongaku at an exhibition of paintings by Hiraoka Hiroko), Akiyama proceeds with a discussion of new undertakings by composers, performers, and...

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Nature and Music 2

In part two of a three-part series of essays, Ichiyanagi discusses his own graphic scores as well as scores by John Cage, Matsudaira Yoriaki, Takahashi Yuji, Yuasa Joji, and Takemitsu Toru. Ichiyanagi argues that this new form of notation places a premium on process and experience (the "natural way of music," as he puts it) rather than on the inscribed score as the final product by the composer...

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Corona for Strings II

Devoted to the theme "Contemporary Image," this issue of the journal Bjutsu Techo includes a graphic score co-created by composer Takemitsu Toru and graphic designer Sugiura Kohei. The reproduction is notable in that it is a facsimile copy of the score rather than a partial or reduced illustration.

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Nature and Music 3

In the final part of a three-part series of essays, Ichiyanagi focuses on the notion of time in contemporary music. Asking what kinds of time besides clock-time are possible, he writes about the endeavors of musicians such as John Cage, Yoko Ono, Tone Yasunao, Takehisa Kosugi, and LaMonte Young, who are seeking new conceptions of time through practices involving graphic notation, chance, and...

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Exhibition of 4 Graphic Composers

Setting aside his customary enthusiasm, Akiyama pans the exhibition of graphic scores at Tokyo Gallery (4 Composers—Exhibition of Graphic Scores). He describes the exhibition as hedonistic and opportunistic, overly focused on visual prettiness and spectacle (“Real live tadpoles! Toys hanging on strings!”), and missing the opportunity to engage with the new creative possibilities afforded by...

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From the Exhibition of Four Composers—An Adventure in Signs of Sound and Vision

A reflection on the exhibition 4 Composers—Exhibition of Graphic Scores at Tokyo Gallery featuring images of scores by Ichiyanagi Toshi, Mayuzumi Toshiro, Takemitsu Toru, and Takahashi Yuji, and accompanied by brief explanations of how to interpret the works. One of the illustrations includes guitarist Ibe Harumi playing Mayuzumi's “Tadpole Music.” Adopting a more positive tone than the one he...

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Tripping up at the Front Lines: Yoko Ono's Avant-Garde Show

In this essay Donald Richie, working in Japan as a filmmaker and active participant in the experimental arts scene, launches a vitriolic attack against Yoko Ono’s concert at the Sogetsu Art Center. Richie accuses Ono of lacking originality and stealing from the work of others. The program consisted of pieces performed using instruction-based scores that challenged conventional ideas about...

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A Voice from the Front Line: A Response to Donald Richie

In an eloquent response to Donald Richie's harsh critique of Yoko Ono's concert at the Sogetsu Art Center (see above), Ichiyanagi defends Ono and explains her position within the international avant-garde, citing established artists such as John Cage and Morton Feldman, who have expressed admiration for her work, and noting her recent invitations to participate in concerts and exhibitions in...

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Seeing Music

Writing from the perspective of a designer, Sugiura regards his contributions to the creation of Takemitsu's “Corona for Pianists” and “Corona for Strings II” as visual solutions to the composer's ideas. For Sugiura, it doesn’t matter if the result is called a "score"; what is important is that the result be seen and handled by the interpreter, who may produce one of many possible orderly...

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I Am Tired of Avant-Garde Art

Revisiting a panel on "The Present and Future of the Avant-Garde" moderated by the critic Hariu Ichiro, the article begins with excerpts from starkly contrasting statements by Yoko Ono and Takahashi Yuji about the current avant-garde. Other panel participants include composer Ichiyanagi Toshi and members of the Neo-Dada group. Noting the proliferation of conflicting statements about the...

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Announcement for Exhibition of WGS: Body text—"An exhibition of more than 100 new works by John Cage and more than 40 composers from around the world"

A newspaper announcement for the Exhibition of World Graphic Scores. A clipping of the announcement, along with a fragment of a news page dated November 19, 1962, was inserted into the notebook in which Akiyama Kuniharu laid out the plans for this exhibition.

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An Exhibition of World Graphic Scores—A Return to Zero

In a review of the Exhibition of World Graphic Scores, Yano Junichi celebrates the event for bringing together works by important figures in experimental music from Japan and around the world. Comparing the new form of notation to work by action painters, Yano writes that graphic notation allows composers to "return to primary sensations" and access the nature of sound itself.

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Round Table: An Inquiry into Graphic Scores—Around Recently Performed Works

Performers, composers, and critics participating in the roundtable discussion address the significance of recently performed works that employ graphic notation. Violinist Kobayashi speaks of practical issues surrounding performance, while Takahashi wonders about the aesthetic and philosophical significance of graphic notation for the new music of chance and indeterminacy. They discuss pieces...

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New Direction's Second Concert, Or, A Critical Reflection on Graphic Scores

Reviewing the July 3, 1963, concert by the New Direction ensemble (see above), Tone suggests that graphic scores such as Sylvano Bussotti’s, which depends on expert performers like David Tudor, harbor regressive tendencies. He contrasts this with Ichiyanagi's “Sapporo,” which he praises for employing minimal signage and privileging actions by performers engaged in forms of creativity that are...

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An Unusual Exhibition

Reporting on several recent exhibitions, the critic Hariu Ichiro mentions an exhibition of "post-graphic scores" organized by Ichiyanagi Toshi at the Minami Gallery. The seven artists in the exhibition included Kosugi Takehisa, Takahashi Yuji, and others who explore the possibilities of graphic notation beyond the experiments of the 1960s.

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