New Notation

Kurzwellen is a work written by Stockhausen in 1968 using his idea of process composition. The piece is essentially a set of instructions on how to transform some input material – in this case drawn from short wave radio broadcasts happening at the time the performance takes place.  The performers ‘tune in’ to particular sounds and then try to replicate them on their own instruments.

As this is quite radically different from traditional music, it requires a radically different type of notation.  I haven’t managed to locate a score, but I have found some analysis on the internet (e.g. see Stockhausen – sounds in space).  It consists primarily of plus and minus sounds which indicate increasing/decreasing various aspects of the music such as dynamics, register and duration.  He also includes several different arrow symbols which inform the players when to play together and in what combinations.

The notation in Kurzwellen is very specific and clearly defined; other scores are much more abstract.  Some ideas I found in my research include:

  • Using art to simply inspire the performer
  • Traditional notation with details omitted (e.g. stave and bar lines), giving only the general idea of melodic shape and rhythm
  • Traditional notation in unusual shapes or layouts e.g. circles, creating a work of visual art
  • Explicit written instructions on what sounds to make
  • Timelines written out with durations marked in seconds
  • Colours and shapes interpreted by reading a separate key which provides specific instructions on what sounds to make

I found some good examples on the Classic FM and Guardian websites.

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