Additional Notes

More Thoughts on mNotation™

mNotation™ is a personal olive branch (not yet a white flag) to my former life, my creative first waters: the world of orchestral music, classically trained orchestral musicians and conductors.

As I’ve wandered a bit over the years, away from conventional notation, toward more electronic means (iPods) and forms (VJamming), I’ve wondered about how to include the expressive possibilities of live musical performers under a  larger tent with my ongoing electronic interests. Eleven years ago I created my first attempt: Web Symphony™, version 1, written in Macromedia Director and Lingo (1999). It was a huge flop [1].

So, what’s different this time? First, laptops, netbooks, tablet computers, and mobile devices are everywhere, and everybody has at least one of these (although I imagine there are still holdouts). Secondly, I don’t know, I’m hoping a decade into this new century/millenium, that performers, conductors, ensembles, and composers have a little more perspective into, and openness toward, mixing technology and conservatory training, in the context of endangered institutions (like, the orchestra, and maybe higher education, although I”d really like both to somehow survive), and mixing them, well, my way. If you’re still with me after those two reasons, the third should be a no-brainer: the application is a whole lot better than the one from 1999.

mNotation™ is a quintessential ‘new media’ work because it’s open-ended (‘for any ensemble, lasting any length of time’), and plays (i.e., mixes) well with others (i.e., additional visual or performance media—film, live digital media, dance, spoken word, theatre, performance art, and even certain musical contexts. mNotation™ is not a specific work, but an add-on, a plug-in, an extension to performance.

Institutions, music directors, curators, and juries for grants applications, festivals, performances, etc. really appreciated neat, complete, and definitive work, which mNotation™ is not. In fact, it may be too ‘useful’ (as maybe a practice tool for sight-reading) to even be considered for its expressive or structural qualities, as a bona fide concert work. There are always dozens of reasons not to program a new work, much less an experimental one.

Maybe the work requires an audacious execution, for full orchestra plus additional electronic and visual ensembles, lasting about 25 minutes, perhaps closing the first half of a landmark concert before anyone will take notice of it. Somebody have $100K – $200K to throw my way? (And remember that quote by Frank Zappa, when asked, ‘How did you get the London Symphony to play your work?’— ‘I paid them.’—See? But, yes, it helps to have been a rock star.)

Performance Suggestions

Perhaps before the huge orchestral splash, however, we create a lighter, chamber entertainment with mNotation™.  Here are five ‘performance suggestions’ (you see ‘serving suggestions’ on any package of frozen food):

1.Interlude/Duos (violin, ‘cello). Duration –  4 to 6 minutes. Other duos (violin, viola; or maybe two winds, or two brass) perform segments of similar length between other pieces on a program of new music. Program ends with both duos or all three duos playing an 11 minute version of mNotation™.

2. String Quartet, standard instrumentation, but amplified, with DJ adding DSP to the ensemble at times, mixing in material from one of my ambient tracks (like Blood Trails from BLUE HAMMER (2009) ) at other times. 12 – 15 minutes.

3. Vocal soloist (performing material similar to the Interludes from my opera Anatomy of Melancholy™, but written for the specific occasion), with antiphonal muted brass ( playing mNotation™ for their instruments), and filmHover‘ projected on screen behind vocalist; audio on film played through sound system, but below vocalist. 9 minutes

4. Combine #2 and #3, but expand time scales for each of the musicians. Additional DJ mix ambient and rhythmic textures (like a typical meme™ mix), main DJ concentrates on DSP for quartet and vocalist. Instead of film, visualist(s) mix(es) video and interactive clips, following predetermined time structure (from Hexagrams of Trichords, see below). 26 minutes.

and yet one more suggestion, and the one that has actually been performed, 5. Trio for Brass and Digital Film “IXION”. This was a work performed in the atrium of a new classroom/theatre building opening on the FAU campus, with trumpet, horn, and trombone each on the second floor, each playing mNotation™ for a total duration of about 45 minutes, while the audience wandered about the building.  My digital film “IXION” was also playing in the background, projected on the third floor.

Obviously, you could add more musicians, and use the entire production as a backdrop for other performance possibilities—a theatrical presentation, modern dance, spoken word, etc.

OK, Let’s Look At Some Real SCORES for the mNOTATION™ Experience:

Performances involving more than, say, 4 people would likely need a ‘score’ which at least tells  performers what density level or vocabulary to use, for a particular amount of time. This could be produced by the ‘conductor’ (or music director, or I guess even the Composer-In-Residence), or it could be derived rather abstractly from a predetermined time structure like my Hexagrams of Trichords (1985), which is a rather bland, but still interesting collection of numbers derived from serial music and set theory [2].

A time-mapping system based on HoT is useful in conjunction with mNotation™ because, not only can it determine the denisty/vocabulary/dynamic range for an instrument over time, but it can also be applied to, for instance, the structure of extra-musical performance elements like live visuals. Here are two scores that supply a time-mapping structure for mNotation™: they are my Sextet (2010), for ‘mixed’ ensemble, and a String Quartet with Audio (2010).


[1] Version 2.0 of Web Symphony™ was an interactive fantasy piece incorporated into BAD MIND TIME™, and still playable today, here.

[2] This number series is derived from the 12 main trichords – in the spirit of Elliott Carter , put in an order determined by a Babbit all-combinatorial row, transposed to a Webern row; the process repeated, inverted, and reversed to produce a total of 64 sets of trichords. The trichords were then mapped to the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching—a tip of the hat to John Cage, of course.



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