by danielgoode

WHO DOES THE WORK?                                        Daniel Goode

—on reading Other Orchestras, a collection by Philip Corner

Preface: some quotation from the Phil’s scorebook:

(or let the fantasy run wild and come up yourselves with the greatest variety of things possible to do with your instruments…)

—All The Musicians Might Play This

There could be two different ways for the musicians to move in relation to…

—All The Musicians Might Play This

Repeated with all the variations of it there may be:…

—All The Musicians Might Play This



Let each player (there may be any number) make a long list of sound-note-tone effects


A sequential order of phrase-events is to be prepared…

—Notes of Orchestral Reality

There could also be a counterpoint of moving lines and areas.

—Space Shaping

A structure to be made combining areas of limited possibilities

PITCH______________one note

______________2 notes close by (intervals may be specified…

______________various types of chord…

permitted zones may evolve

(with no specification) no limitations

may change

or interrupt

or overlap…

Comparable forms are applied to other parameters…

Rhythms, of course…

In some sections the parts can be coordinated…

The now will be to fill out the range of possibilities…


…many of the interesting things heard and noted…recorded by well-directed audio apparat…notated with the help of elected sound analyzers and musicians…These details transcribed for the appropriate instruments…the composer arranges how the pieces will go together in the concert hall. Or conductor…or the musicians collaboratively…

—a way of accepting a commission                                     [sic]

So, who does the work, and when, at what stage, to make all this music happen: the contractor, the composer, the conductor, the player(s), the intern, the copyist, the friend?

Decisions, decisions. Choices, choices. Thousands upon thousands. Just for one piece of music. Some may be made quite quickly: to use a key signature, or not, if so which? Some may be agonizingly slow: to write down the music at all? In which system of writing?

A composer’s dilemma: I asked Phil Corner if he would consider writing out in notation one of his verbal pieces for orchestra. He said that yes, he would if it were going to be performed. And no, not before, because it would take so much work. So work is the issue, just as I thought.

A delicate issue: Are there people in positions of influence who, knowing that the work is valuable, could prevail on a performance group to schedule a performance, maybe even commission the work? Then the composer of the verbal score will go to work preparing a score, or presiding over the rehearsal to present the score. But if the work (the verbal score) is simply circulated, who will be stimulated by its form and content to take the next step? Many will say with reason that the verbal score is a plan for a score, a recipe for making a performance score (and parts), but not the score itself. Some will say it’s a prose poem about an imaginary piece of music that could be made by someone. Some will say that stimulating the orchestra, conductor, the players to make the score either in written form, or as instructions delivered verbally, would enliven the music-making through group creativity. Others might say that’s a recipe for chaos. John Cage said that a composer is someone who tells other people what to do. But that sounds harsh. Put it conditionally: if you want such and such a musical result, then here are the instructions telling you how to get it. What’s at issue is the complex ordering of thousands of details where there are already conventions in place to move the task along: like individual parts which distribute the tasks such that not everyone has to take the time to understand the whole. Someone called the conductor, or director of the rehearsal has been given the task of overview.

One problem with the verbal score is that this distinction is not made. And one can perhaps see why: the overview, the idea of the whole work is what gives the players the understanding of their individual role, without which they are nothing more than assembly-line workers, time-servers, people whose intelligence and passions are not required for their performance. No wonder the music suffers, along with the players.

I wonder, though, if there is a difference in kind between verbal scores like La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 #10: draw a straight line and follow it, and a verbal score of one, two, many pages with many directions, orderings, sub-routines, qualifiers.

I somehow can’t quite imagine a theatrical script that fits the slot of the many-paged verbal score for music. Either you say to the actors: improvise on a theme such as X, or Y, or you actually write down the words to be spoken. The long verbal score in place of the so-called musical score is a peculiar object. It could be looked on as a flow chart, but this begs the question of what a musical flow chart is or could be.  Should it be a chart with arrows, and branchings, and prioritizings shown in font sizes and highlights? Would this be more of an inducement to players, music directors, music curators, conductors? What would be won?

What I think lies behind the frequent and very real outward  attractiveness of the verbal score is its commitment to freedom. And its implied statement of the value of alternate choices. That is: why should one musical moment come exactly four bars after the previous one, and why should it be exactly five and half bars in length? When it could be longer or shorter or come later, or louder, or tutti, or solo? Isn’t each equally valuable, doesn’t each contribute just as much no matter which is chosen? Well, here’s the argument. Maybe there are better and worse choices and maybe we players, curators, conductors don’t want to have to make the decision about better choices. Maybe we don’t know, or haven’t the inclination to decide. We want someone else to sift through and decide. That’s the composer, or someone else designated by someone (the composer, again!) to do it.

Thinking, deciding is work. Putting the results of the thinking and deciding into a form that communicates to those who carry out the decisions is work. A computer can print or send either words or music. Someone needs to decide which it will be.

But maybe there are players, contractors, conductors, interns, curators who would like the extra responsibility of realizing a verbal score for the very reason that their creativity would give them energy and enthusiasm for the task of music making. Should there be a web site for them? Those who want the extra work, who would like to be contacted? I’d use it as a composer, for sure. I’ve worked with people like that. I know their value. But would I put my name on the site? Well maybe, but then just maybe, I’d like to be paid for my work! I accept exchanges.