Off the Staves

It has been well over a fortnight now since Off the Staves took place at Bangor University.  Wales decided to shine by giving us glorious weather - not too cold, and not too hot; a perfect weekend for discussing music notation.  

The conference included Jane Alden (Wesleyan University) and James Saunders (Bath Spa University) as keynote speakers, performances by Le Basile and BBC NOW and fourteen papers given by both postgraduate researchers and established academics.  Beginning with a session entitled Notation, Score, Performance, the conference covered a wide range of topics from performers, composers and musicologists alike, resulting in an extremely fascinating combination of opinions and perspectives.  Composers discussed the trouble of figuring an appropriate form of notation for their specific needs and tried to explain certain concepts of their compositional process.  Performers discussed how to interpret different forms of notation, observing that often, in order to provide what they consider a true realisation of the music, original manuscripts (this especially for early music) should be consulted.  Musicologists discussed the philosophical meanings or significance of notational symbols and attempted to provide a better contextual understanding of why and how certain notations were created by composers.

The performances which featured at the conference provided the realisation of notation in very different ways.  BBC NOW featured new works by three of Bangor's composers, Andrew Lewis, Guto Puw, and Pwyll ap Sion.  The new melodies which were heard at the evening performance were pleasant and refreshing.  Le Basile's performance was extremely informative, performing, among others, works from the Chantilly Codex. 
James Saunders' keynote focused on George Brecht's use of text in his event scores, considering the choice of text which was used for his compositions.  James discussed the various performance interpretations of Brecht's work, including aspects and personal observations from previous performances which he himself undertook.  Jane Alden shared a variety of graphic notations from the twentieth century, showing the compositional process and inspirational background of specific works.  Jane showed how composers seemed to blur the boundaries between music and other mediums of art, not only through visual arts and notation, but also through poetry.  Ultimately, she proposed the term 'noteimage' as a means of describing the relationship between spacial and sonic aspects of music.

The conference was a success in many aspects.  I felt that the weekend created an atmosphere which encouraged and fostered intellectual discussions in an open and friendly manner.  Rather than separating the various disciplines within musical practices, this conference helped to bridge misunderstandings which often occur among us.  From the discussions which were held over dinner, lunch and coffee breaks, it seemed that the conference benefited all by providing much to think and ponder concerning notation.  If there was one thing which could be said about the result of the conference, it would be that notational studies seem to be something which can only benefit from further discussion as there are many aspects which still need to be addressed.

Conference Programme

Session One: Notation, Score, Performance
  • Shaun David Crowdus, Bangor University 'Notational Limitations in Engraving Software: Death to Artistic Creativity?'
  • Anthony Pryer, Goldsmiths, University of London 'Freedom From/Freedom To: Ideological Aspects of the Relationship between Notation and Creativity'
  • Gorwel Owen, Bangor University 'Indeterminacy and Performance'
Session Two: The Old and The New
  • Graham Troeger Bier, University of York 'Reviving an Aural Tradition: The Musical Implications of Performaing from 15th-century Notation'
  • Kate Maxwell, University of Glasgow 'Uneasy Bedfellows? Medieval Notation, Graphic Notation, and Jacques Derrida'
  • Elina G Hamilton 'Sound Which is Music, Sound Which is Not: Musical Concepts Between the Ninth and Twentieth Centuries'
Session Three: Of Art and Graphic Notation
  • Scott McLaughlin, University of Huddersfield 'What Remains': Musical Structure as a Function of Notation in Experimental Music'
  • Nicola Davico, Conservatorio di Torino - Italy 'When Music Meets Art: Connections and Influences Between Music Notation and Visual Arts in the mid-20th Century'
  • Joseph Kudirka, University of Huddersfield 'Number and Numeral: The Relationship between the Piece, the Score, and Performance'
Session Four (a): Of Silence and Numbers
  • Richard Glover, University of Huddersfield 'The Compositional Use of Numerals in Music Notation'
  • Nicholas Melia 'Il Canto Sospeso: Reading Silence in the European Avant-garde'
  • Christian Thomas Leitmeir, Bangor University 'The Signs of Silence: Challenges of Notating 'Nothing', Then and Now'
Session Four (b): Music's Encoding Languages
  • Richard Polfreman, University of Southampton 'Frameworks 3D: Adding Fluidity to Computer-Based Notation'
  • George Athanasopoulos, University of Edinburgh 'Innovative Approaches to Scoring Music from the University of Edinburgh Composers and Sound Designers'