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Chapter 11 : Use of the writing

Role of the writing

Every art brings up aesthetic ideas that are otherwise untranslatable. So the music enables  to be freed from the influence of the verbal and from the language, to establish a communication between the imagination of the musicians and the listeners.

The writing, unfit to transpose the ideas and the evocations aroused by the music, is nevertheless useful in the creative practice. It can be useful, for a given level of analysis, for translating the perceptible or semantic items which are understandable at this level on an appropriate media, and according to defined conventions.

The writing of the music (text, drawing or recording) can so have two utilities :

descriptive : to record a temporal suite on a material media;

prescriptive : to generate music from the use of an appropriate written language.

The role of the writing is to provide a representation of the semantic information which enables to produce the music from a description through a repetable process.

According to the level of analysis and representation (from the acoustic level up to the musical level), this repeteability decreases in precision of details, but increases in formalism, in the same way as we come from the photo to the architect's chart, from the image to the drawing.

Writing at the acoustic level

The items are emitted, captured and mixed signals, which can be recorded on various types of physical supports :

mechanical ( 78, 45 ou 33 rpm disk, wax roller) ;

magnetic (tape, cassette, computer hard disk) ;

optical (CD, DVD) ;

electronic (computer memory, USB key,…).

The signals are either recorded on these supports from a sound recording session, or directly synthetized on the media thanks to a synthesizer.

The preparation of the instrumental acoustics can also be the subject of a written description: orchestral arrangement, instrumental regulations, "concrete" sound recording. Then we can make schemes of the equipment, to plan editing sessions, to program the mixing of channels, the parameters of filters, the reverberations etc..

Writing at the sound level

The items are sound objects, and the classic media of writing is the traditional score chart. Its main purpose consists in planning the work casted to the interpreters, by describing for every instrument or singer the sequence of notes to be emitted.

In a similar way, the sequencer programs of a composition software distribute controls and parameters towards the electroacoustic synthesis machines. Their ancestors are holed-cardboards or rollers for barrel organs and pneumatic pianos, and also knob wheels of the oldest mechanical musical instruments.

Nevertheless, although the pictorial aspect of the printed music is aesthetically very far from the musical message, a musician " of profession " can fall under the charm of a " beautiful score " in only reading it. Really, the learning and the experience brought him abilities that are not shared by the common run of people :

He usually reads scores, and his memory knows how to almost perfectly render instrumental tones and ranges: thus he can "play"  mentally the musical piece.

This fluent reading allows him to visually locate on the score formants associated with the super-signs relative to the counterpoint, the harmony and the rhythm. He studied in an in-deph way the rules and difficulties of them ; so the structures which he deciphers can arouse at him an admiration and an emotion comparable to what the mathematician or the chess player can feel  in contemplating the elegant solution of a difficult problem.

Writing at the musical level

Items are sound beings, which live in the imagination of the musicians and the listeners, and which especially are not  transposables in an objective world. At this level thus the writing can suggest the music only by similar connotations, but which are not the ones of the music, for example :

by referring to archetypes: brook, thunderstorm, fire, plane, cavalcade, etc. ;

by the expression in a poetic language, and when the words and the sound beings come along, we sing ;

or by quotation of the musicians who intervene in the progress of an collective improvisation, because the personality of the big improvisers is enough to evoke a whole musical climate.

Tools for the writing of music

To give a wide sense to the notion of musical writing, let us agree that any means to record a representation of the music by freeing it from the constraint of the time progress should be a useful tool.

The musical writing thus leads to a topology switching, to transpose the hearing linear message into a visual layout, and mutually. The writing thus enables to represent a temporal system by a spatial system, by flattenning of the time, and the reading enables the opposite, by converting the space into time progress.

When we have a written or recorded representation, it becomes then possible to reach very quickly any portion of the work to edit it or listen to it.

The corresponding functions are: write, possibly modify, and render.

The creation can so lean on the writing, by performing the functions of inscription and modification on the used media, and by using the function of rendering to check the result.

The following table presents examples of practices and artefacts used today to perform these functions :


Considered items




Sound signals

Recording, sampling, electronic synthesis. 

Reading of the media: disk, tape, computer memory. 

Filtering, montage, mixing

Sound objects

Writing of score, programming through a visual software of loops and sequences 

Performance or interpretation

Change within the score or through the sequencer program. 

Sound beings

Writing or drawing of a scenario, of an improvisation grid. 

Improvisation according to the grid

Change within the scenario or the grid

Figure 1 : practices and artefacts for musical writing


Musical currents and writing of the music

In the current musical practice, a set of tools, wider than previously, is so accessible to the composers.

Actually the score appears as an ancestor of the computing program: both are written in an fully standardized language, and both are "interpreted" (or "executed") to restore sequences of notes emitted by standard instruments. However a fundamental difference exists when the interpreter is human: he can make mistakes, and he can bring his own creative value in the performance.

The above table also brings to light a paradoxical fact: the current musical research focuses mainly its works on the manipulation of the sound signals (thus at a level close to the acoustic phenomenon), and, in contrast, the traditional and improvised music is directly inspired by the evocation of sound beings as characters or archetypes (thus at the most abstract level).

Why this paradox which sends back the "intellectuals" at a ground level  and "primitives" near the sky?

As we noticed it in introduction of this essay, the benefits of the globalization and the technique widen our musical imaginary potential, and the classic musical writing appears then reducing due to the standardization by the music theory notation.

To transcend this constraint, three directions appear naturally :

either to rediscover the improvisation ;

either to act directly at the level of the sound signals thanks to technological artefacts ;

finally, to enrich and to widen the musical theory language itself.

Effectively, the  innovative currents who stood out previous half a century exploited areas of research according to these three directions :

the  " free jazz " track blew up all the yokes to go back, by the primale improvisation, to a radical culture freed from the consciously learned melodic, harmonic and rhythmic habits ;

the  "electroacoustic" exploration proceeds by technological processing of the recorded or synthetic sound signals to organize them in original musical works ;

the school in continuation of the classic tradition is entitled " contemporary music ". It complexifies the notation or invents wider systems of notation, with more and more a software assistance.

The reader will easily find the big visionaries, "the popes" or "the gurus" who marked with their imprint these big currents.

But, and it is the prize of any breakthrough into the unknow, most of the listeners and the musicians follow with difficulty. Except within the ranks of its lovers, the new music is often classified as esoteric, barbaric or bothersome.

By the side of these explorers, adventurers or war chiefs, the other musicians finally prefer to keep  the same utensils to accommodate the existing in new mixtures. They can make bad soups, but also propose new flavours, delicate or strongly spiced, rich or light, incorporating as well the Eastern and African influences as the benefits from the discoveries of the pioneers. Nevertheless, this  « melting pot », even with its electronic add-on, still bases on the well-defined substratum of Western classic music and instruments. 

Among these last currents, two are very illustrative, although in different ways :

the diverse spheres of influence which, under the common denominator of " world music ", collect, around a rock-jazz root, instruments, musicians, songs of any origin; this current proposes nevertheless concerts and disks prepared with precision, in a concern of professional  quality and of technical perfection ;

the postmodern current, which, having assimilated the new sound beings discovered during electroacoustic experiments, purified their formants, and applied these formants in " clear lines " to issue scores in following a classic method.






Imaginary music ISBN 978-2-9530118-0-7 copyright Charles-Edouard Platel

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