Upon first glance, one might find oneself bewildered at not only the manner in which I have chosen to notate, but also in my willfully obtuse, impractical, and unreasonable decision to not use modern notation and computer engraving; yet, even if I am to be taken for a fool, do not question the importance of my intentions in attempting to alter how one reads and performs a musical experience.
Because it is imperative that I clarify that my methods absolutely result in my intentions, this brief essay has been drafted to allow for an easily digestible form of my speculative theory and my musical philosophy; my epistemology and my ontology; my feverish dreams and my personal practice.
As it is a window into my own conceptual understanding of music, and therefore, how I personally live with music in my private life, this essay will undergo continual additions as I continue my own journey as a musician who shares his house with music.
Through this clarification of my notational system, I express my hope that the reader too might experience, with healthy vigor, a musical life as rich as what I dream to conceive.
The Ecclesiastician sounds, in celebration of good works, a call for those works to be performed earnestly; to be honest with what one has to give through the labor of the hands.
I, in some sense, value the work of my hands, the means through which I grant the work of the intellect physicality, as supreme. It is through my hands alone that I can properly express myself and the object that expresses itself to me.
As many others of my generation, I began first with engraving software, not pen and paper; yet, I abandoned the software for pen and paper because I deeply believed that, as when one composes on the piano as opposed to the paper, the result is altered by the means on which one conceptualizes. There is, for me, in my own personal musical practice, a total desire to reveal my own authentic music, one that requires me to not conceptualize music in any way other than in my head, only committing it to paper when it appears to me fully formed. I am allowed to hear in my head, without the need for playback; thus, my ability to conceive of the sound as I hear it, in my head, not as a MIDI or sampled sound, but as the authentic sound.
Yet, beyond my reservations concerning the conceptual and unconscious traits of using software, I will admit that computer engraving is not without its merits; certainly, it must be noted that the development of engraving technology allows for a more readable, more professional product, traits that are highly sought after in contemporary society, in which the rise of graphic design and the incorporation of it through advertisement, has altered what a professional product looks like and how it is properly conveyed.
I have nothing against this, it is how the world has come to be, and is a logical point in the continual trajectory of technological society.
Music, though, is not this sort of product. The industry might try to convince you otherwise, but music is poetic, not prosaic; a singular entity, not easily mass produced. There are ways to boil out its essence, as if it is broccoli, but who among us finds boiled vegetables palatable?
It is possibly ironic that I, an avowed enemy of subjective aesthetics, choose to express my musical experience through a wholly subjective aesthetic that mirrors the medieval manuscript, but there is more to my intentions than a pretty page.
In the manuscript there is something seemingly missing from the engraved score, and that is immediacy: a connection to the hand that transcribed the genius of the intellect, and thus a connection to the fount of truth. There is an idea that I have expressed a few times before: the object expresses itself. What I mean by this is that the thing, as it is, unconsciously expresses itself. The hand of a scribe, his script, does not only convey the content, but it conveys him. The driving contextual factors that lead to the scribe defining how he writes, both in initial intention of the drafted script, and in how that script unconsciously develops over the years of writing it, reveal to the reader the scribe's body, mind, and soul, his state of being, his attitude toward life. The scribe is no less an artist than the composer, because the manner in which he unconsciously expresses himself, gives life to his art, possesses the ability to enthrall us. To read a manuscript is to read the heart of the scribe is no less than to hear a piece of music is to hear the heart of the composer.
Alternative notational systems often require handwritten scores, and though these scores are not the result of intentional handwriting, they convey the same qualities an intentionally handwritten score possesses; indeed, what is so wonderful about Harry Partch’s alternative notational systems is not that they cannot be engraved, but that, due to the complicated nature of his instrumental notation, they can only exist in his hand. A music as personal and as expressive as his can only exist if it comes from his heart, and the engraved score, perfectly measured, aligned, precisely detailed, does not express his voice in the same manner that the vitality of Carl Ruggles music is not in the scores printed for performance, but through the scrawlings and sketches he committed to butcher paper, with massive chords and lines appearing as if they are the mountains that he sets out to conquer each morning.
The way in which one chooses to order the page, and the manner in which they act upon it, reveals their voice.
“Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly”
Why is my notation frustrating? Why do I have disdain for the modern form of the five line staff and those small, round noteheads with their flowering tails? Why do I despise the valued skill of sight reading?
It is because I wish to offer you this idea:
A musician is like one who lives in a house with music, and the music with which he lives is his family; he is born with them; he laughs with them; he suffers torment with them; he eats with them; he sleeps with them; when he is away from them he dreams of them; when they die he mourns for them; and, when he dies, they die with him.
When a man becomes a musician, he takes as his wife music, and he leaves his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh, and they enter into one house.
And it is so that a musician lives in that house with his wife, as one.
What I mean to say is that, a musician lives with music, but a reader of music is associated with it. The reader of music does not think of what is read when that which is read is no longer available to be read; yet, the musician yearns wistfully for his music when he is not with it, and his heart aches for it, for it is his beloved wife.
And, if one is to love his wife, then he is to take her not outside as to show her to others, for that benefits only him, not her, nor their union, but into privacy, into the house that they share, as to live with her and nurture her.
And so, if a musician is to live with music, to share with music, to be born and die with music, then the musician must treat music differently than how the reader of music treats it; for, the reader is the unbelieving husband, and music his believing wife: she sanctifies him, shares with him, and pours upon him her bountiful gifts, her unceasing love; yet, the musician is the believing husband: he sanctifies his wife, shares with her, and pours upon her his bountiful gifts, his unceasing love.
Thus, if I made the despicable choice to notate music so that it might be read on sight, what would I then be? An enabler of the unbelieving husband; one who does not yearn for that which he lives with when he is away from that house that they share?
For me to create a state in which one does not read, but must invest time and patience in studying and deciphering the page, then I must create something unable to be read, not because it is difficult, but because it is unfamiliar. The unfamiliarity of an object means that we must make an attempt to become familiar with it, and in becoming familiar with it we come to know it, appreciate it, and desire it. Familiarity brings joy and comfort. When a man meets an unfamiliar woman, he must come to know her, and as he comes to know her, his familiarity may become infatuation, and that infatuation, if it is true, may become love.
Music is no different, for it appears at first as unfamiliar, but, when continually engaged, it comes to be known. Nothing is totally clear in an unfamiliar piece of music, but as one comes to know it, the shape of its body materializes, the scent of it wafts through the air, and its voice echoes in one’s ear; and, when one comes to experience these, then one cannot so easily walk away and forget them. Familiarity leads to one living with what one is familiar with, to be altered and transformed by the experience of familiarity, and that familiarity only fading with one’s death.
And so it must be so that music be unfamiliar, that it must be something not read, but found; sought and pursued, as if one opened the Chigi Codex to the first page of the Missa Cuiusvis Toni and had to reflect upon which clef would be best for them. And this makes unfamiliarity quite different than difficulty; the latter is only reliant on technique and physical memory, whereas the former is determined by study and reflection. I do not believe anything I write should be difficult. It should certainly be challenging, but that challenge must never be that of physical virtuosity; instead, that challenge must be for the interpreter to live with the music like a musician in a house.
A central tenet of my speculative investigations into possible structures and methods of notation is the aim of pure universality; not based on removing cultural ideas and national identities, but through identifying how the musical experience, the experience of the waveform, expresses itself. True universality requires a conceptual way of identifying a holarchy in music; therefore, in my studies, which are unending, as you might understand by my continual updates of how I am conceiving structures and notational forms, I am trying to identify a musical structure that is expressive and poetic, yet absolutely acknowledges the oneness or unity of the waveform as a single object without change, or, as I initially defined it: one sound with different qualities
Thus, the third tier of my notational methods has been this continual refining of the neume as to express two ideas that might deny the idea of two sounds not being the same thing vibrating at a higher or lower intensity. These ideas are as follows:
Equivalent — that a pitch, e.g. A, may be any pitch aurally similar to what one knows as A, i.e. the equal tempered, pythagorean, and just intonation A.
Relative — that a pitch, e.g. A, is whatever we define that pitch to be, i.e. A could be 441Hz, 432Hz, 415Hz, 392 Hz, etc.
My motive in not defining an exact sound or an exact pitch has to do with the notion developed in the Prolegomena of pitch as position: the exact position of a pitch in a musical structure is only according to whether or not it is higher or lower than what it is in relationship to. If I do not define a pitch, then I essentially am conceptualizing a form of music that is undivided; thus, I deny a hierarchy where a series of pitches are determined as separate from all others, and promote a holarchy in which all pitches are possible because the notation only defines one being of higher or lower intensity according to the height on the staff.
My initial foray into the unification of these three ideas in practice was in the Mesonyctycon, in which I first attempted to deny durational time through defining neumes as periods of length without any confirmation of pulse or any other object of time.
The problem of time was the first notational dilemma I wanted to deal with, as I had been asked by my teacher my view on musical time after reviewing a pre-neumatic study with him. I had wanted to deny time in two ways: the duration of the pitch and the sensation of the passing of musical time. My formal structures had, by now, been built up of one thing stated, restated, and transformed, which allowed for a conceptual denial of time as a result of change.
My neumes at this time were defined according to Solesmes practice, and in the beginning of the score I applied them according to how they would be in a Solesmes transcription, but over the course of the work I began to distance myself from that, knowing there would be implications derived from previous knowledge if the interpreter was aware of the interpretation of Solesmes neumes.
In this situation, there is no implied rhythmic length, nor durational count, a short neume is short and a long neume is long, but what those mean are not apparent without the context of musical experience. Nothing can be known until one finds the manner in which the line flows, which is not necessarily apparent on the page; therefore, short might be shorter in some situations than in others, all according to how the interpreter experiences the music. It is not due to laziness, but rather a belief that the musician will find something of value in their performance that my specifications cannot provide, and that they, in finding their understanding of the linear flow of the work, might savor it.
In the the Mesonyctycon I had yet to develop the idea of equivalent and relative pitches, but in writing in the genre of Gospel recitation there was the impetus to remove the non-neumatic noteheads, as they were inconvenient in denying previous knowledge of what they represent.
The development of relative pitch appeared here, in which the exact value is given in a square neume on a four line staff and the relative value is given in a collection of adiastemic neumes.
The interpretation of what the adiastemic neumes mean, being up or down, is determined at this point by a standard church mode, Hypophyrgian, which mirrors the octave species that the square neumes represent, but ideally the adiastemic motion is indeterminate, found through how one firmly understands the line should flow, whether that be diatonic, chromatic, or microtonal inflection. Again, if any arguments of laziness or a lack of compositional insight are to be hurled at me, I must express that I compose an indeterminate section intentionally, as if I am providing an exact pitch, because I can only compose what I can understand, think of, and interpret myself.
I have continually made an argument that I am, in some sense, an heir to Harry Partch; not directly, but spiritually; not in tuning, nor instrumentation, but in conception; that is, I firmly believe that my aesthetic, philosophical, and notational goals are corporeal, a term I latched onto early on as an academic dropout to deny the problems I saw in tonality and the manner in which it perpetuates itself through the American industrial culture complex; and one must forgive me for what might appear as delusional ravings, for, being trained to be a professional I had to retrain myself as to become an amateur. As far as I am concerned, without the honest naivete of the amateur—one who commits oneself wholly to one’s work as if a professional, perhaps like that of those whose works are called Naive Art, who, though they lack the training and credentials, consider themselves serious artists, or even the outsiders and monomaniacal visionaries of Art Brut who simply create out of pure necessity—I would never find in my own musical life the concrete definition for the abstract expression of musical corporeality.
Of course, it is perhaps obvious that I did not end up in the same sphere as Partch in my seven years of development. For one, Partch came to detest Christian aesthetics whereas I came to accept them; yet, mine are not derived from mainline Protestant or Catholic aesthetics, but from the monastic tradition, determined by a great love for St. Benedict’s Rule, those that came before in St. Basil’s Rule and the Desert Fathers, and those that developed after in the Carthusians, Cistercians, and Trappists. The common thread among these is a strict observance, a dedication to a life that is decidedly inward without denying external communion, and the organically developed freedom of self-expression in an environment that otherwise deters it, as if a flower emerging from the desert.
Immediately one might find a conundrum in my purported connection to Partch; after all, the most important aspect of music in the monastic tradition, and one that I find of greatest value in the Christian Liturgical tradition—which I am attempting to position myself within—is chant; however, all those who follow Partch cannot copy him—surely Ben Johnston and James Tenney never wrote a note like his, and neither did Dean Drummond nor Danlee Mitchell act as mere apprentices—as it is impossible to assume the position of an individual; rather, those who seek to learn from Partch must be able to interpret his ideas according to their own individuality, one that does not appear from style or fashion, but from the self; for, when one purges oneself to enter the desert, what flowers is the individual. Partch, like St. Anthony or St. Bruno, purges himself within a spiritual desert and emerges with his pure identity; thus, his unique musical style and personal interpretation of the concept of corporeality comes from his flowering.
My own personal developments come from a continual dialogue with Partch, with perpetual reconsiderations of how I know his interpretations of his ideas, in both words and music, as well as my reflections on them. Therefore, my view of corporeality is uniquely mine, not because I am ingenious or original, but because I allotted the space in which my own interpretation of corporeality could organically develop, as if a flower in a desert. And that is perhaps where my problems lie, for the work that I have done is, even to me, not the final product, but a side note in what could be; as Bresson said of his films: attempts rather than accomplishments.
It should first be noted that, in attempting to parse Partch’s vision of corporeality, one finds a development from the notion of One Voice—a reflection on his music as defined according to the four properties of rhythm, phonetics, meaning, and drama—in the 30s and 40s to a shift in interest in the 50s to a more theatrical, ritual experience, one that might still retain his concept of One Voice, but also one in which works attempt to capture the expression of ancient theater. These are both relevant, as One Voice is a foundation for the ritual theater of the Partch ensemble, but the latter is of more importance in the grand scheme of the corporeal argument.
Therefore, this leads to the inciting question, and the one that led me to deny some of the attempts I have made since Sicut in Prologo: what is corporeality in music?
The best place to begin is with Partch, who offered his own definition of the post-50s corporeality as so:
I use the word ‘ritual’ and I also use the word ‘corporeal,’ to describe music that is neither on the concert stage nor relegated to a pit. In ritual the musicians are seen; their meaningful movements are part of the act, and collaboration is automatic with everything else that goes on. How could it be otherwise?
The various specialists do not come from sealed spheres of purity—pure art, pure music, pure theater, pure dance, pure film. As far as large involvements of music in this modern world are concerned, we have really only two choices: we have the pit, or we have the excessive formality of the concert stage1.
And some insights to this are found in David Dunn's interview with Danlee Mitchell:
DD: In that sense, I associate his concept of corporeality with some aspect of a 'primal' identity. He was trying to suggest a function for art within Western society that's integrated in ways similar to a tribal culture. Such cultures often do not have words for art. It is integrated as a continuous component of the social and religious fabric. It's part of the general cosmology and philosophy which integrate all aspects of life within that social order. To desire that level of integration and then try to place it within a culture where art is often a commercial commodity, is a difficult concept. I don't think he knew how to do it. There is a contradiction throughout his work in that for all his discussion of corporeality, it remained a highly abstract concept. It appears to have been an ideal that he aspired to while remaining very confused as to how to achieve it. What I think he meant by corporeality was something at the source of the malaise which plagues twentieth century Western culture. Corporeality was his word for everything that is lacking and thereby prevents the embracing of our full human potential. He obviously had some strong intuitions about what he was missing and tried to articulate this through his creative work. He was trying to discover something we had left behind in our own scientific advance into materialism and industrialism2.
Consequently, there are two levels of interpretation concerning Partch’s corporeality: one, the surface, is how Partch describes it in the physical act of performance on his instruments; that is, how the playing of cloud chamber bowls appears as theater, or how the marimba erotica rumbles in the body, not the ear; however, Dunn probes the subtext of this action in defining the second: the meaningful nature of the music is not in the theater itself, but that the theater is a vivid experience different from the pit of invisible musicians or the stage of seated, motionless performers. Partch views the theatrical element of the performance as something missing, that malaise that Dunn speaks of, but it is not the theatricality of John Cage, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, or Dieter Schnebel; rather, there is something less avant-garde or experimental about it, not an attempt at moving forward from a position, but reaching back for a lost Eden, an attempt at finding something more natural, more organic, than the rhetoric of the artist and the performer; instead, one of a society working in tandem, as in the tribal aspect of his aesthetic outlook.
Yet, this is where I found a great difficulty in writing music for either professionals or amateurs, relegating them to separate spheres; for, if we are to express the realization of corporeality in the participation of the whole body, I find an insurmountable obstacle here to true corporeality in the gap of the performers (professionals) with the laymen (audience). Partch creates theater with the expectation that it expresses a humanistic experience that everyone might relate to, it being primal, but in doing so he creates a dichotomy between the performer, who has a meaningful relationship with the work, and the spectator, who watches it but cannot meaningfully connect with it. The gap is not physical—the stage and the seat—but experiential: the spectators do not engage with the artistic work, and despite the work intending to create a state in which the expressive art is indistinguishable from the society that gives rise to it, they appear instead as observers of that society, like anthropologists studying a tribal culture; instead, when the audience leaves, they express the enjoyment of perceiving the work, but their experience of it is always insufficient: it is merely the result of seeing something done, not the satisfaction of doing it.
I find this unbridgeable distance troubling, because it stands in the way of a complete society, one that has an equally beneficial effect on all; for, ideally, a corporeal music is one that has a great psychological benefit to those who engage with it, as Dunn expresses in this ancient, tribal world in which there is not “art,” but rather the works of art that exist are not separated from their social existence, but intrinsically part of it in such a way that they cannot be separated from their cultural circumstances without losing something of value in the process; therefore, in my developing interpretation, music that is truly corporeal, truly physical and real, is music that, in some sense, has no audience, only performers, so that there are only actors, as in an ancient ritual, one in which those in the vicinity have some sort of profound role in the ritual as celebrants, not spectators.
This sort of corporeality can be contrasted with the theme park attitude the modern world places on rituals: a theater to watch and take pictures of; memories of passivity, not of action. Modernized cultures that hold on to their ancient traditions as spectacles for tourism are purveyors of this sort of falsified ritual; take, for instance, Japan's contemporary Uta-awase (poetry contests), lavish reenactments of Heian court life in which poets, Gagaku musicians, and dancers perform for spectators. In a true Heian contest, there are only participants, those who play a role in the ritual: the poets, the musicians, and the dancers. Each role is separate from the other: the poets do not perform music, and the musicians and dancers do not compose and recite poetry; yet, each possesses a fundamental position in the ceremony, without which it would not be complete. None of these members of the ritual are non-participants, as in the case of an audience, which plays a non-essential role in the ritual and would not alter the outcome if they were not present.
And that is where I must express what those words corporeality and ritual truly mean to me. If I am to equate, as Partch does, ritual music to corporeal music, then it is clear to me that my own answer must be an examination of the purpose of the ritual I know in the Catholic liturgy: the unification of several groups that do not act at the same time, but each possess a role that does not fall under that of a spectator; for, despite the existence of the priest as primary celebrant, the common prayers and communion are shared equally among the baptized. Aside from the catechumens, who have yet to enter communion with the faithful, there are no members of the body that do not take part in the total ritual, that watch for the experience of perceiving the ritual; yet, the catechumens, despite their limited interaction, express the desire to join in with the ritual, and they are not observers in the sense of tourism, but in the sense of being in training. What makes the liturgy, as well as any other ancient form of ritual like the Uta-awase, corporeal, is that in its purest form there can be nothing that exists outside of the ritual, as to be a foreign body or a non-participant, unless the choice is made to be foreign bodies; it is so in the situation of the existence of a spectator that it willingly sets itself aside because its interest is being in the state of an observer. It is not a case of institutional lockdown, that one is barred from performance and must be an observer, for those who observe could instead choose to have their own performance somewhere else, to create their own corporeal ritual without spectators; rather, it is that passivity and observation are a choice, for even if one cannot perform in a orchestra does not mean that their own act of performance is inferior, as the meaning of a ritual is in, as it is in Partch’s tribalistic intentions, the benefit it has upon the society that engages with it.
In truth, I have come to envision a proper musical experience as it is in the medieval choir—and perhaps in monastic communities if they augment chant with polyphony—where there might be two main groups of singers: those who sing composed music (equivalent), and those who sing chant (relative); thus, a left-handed/right-handed set of choirs that specialize in different forms of musical expression. Both forms of music are equivalent, for they all, despite subjective notions of artifice, serve an integral component of their society, and are interwoven within one another’s daily life; thus, even if one is not a left-handed singer, it does not mean that when the left-handed singers act that the right-handed are merely spectators, as neither view the act of performance as a concert experience with spectators. The notion of liturgical music becoming something spectated is the result of the modern revival of the music as concert music. To listen to Byrd’s liturgical music in a secular concert setting creates a distancing effect, as one is listening to it for its musical significance, not for being drawn into a certain state in which the musical experience is interwoven into the context of the liturgy, where the musical setting of the Creed is not just a beautiful piece of music, but a setting of a text that the participants know, understand, and identify with; that is, the music and the text is expressed in such a manner that they experience the music as highlighting the text they believe in, something that, in a concert setting, would merely be reduced to a highly refined musical experience. In the latter, secular setting, one is listening to a musical work that is being performed as a piece of music representative of a style or time period, that is listened to solely for the pleasure of its melodies and harmonies; thus, in a concert setting, the distinct liturgical content is seen as a byproduct of the cultural forces of when it was composed, as if it is just a structural plan in service of the music, like the folkish qualities of a dance movement in a Haydn symphony. This is not to say that an audience is a negative thing, for most music is written for concert performance, for entertainment, not as a form of ritual. Haydn’s intentions are diametrically opposed to Partch’s, thus there is no reason to bring down Haydn in the name of Partch; however, there are composers who write “ritual” music for the stage, and those individuals should be brought down, for they desanctify ritual for the purpose of entertainment, and this attitude ignores the essential quality of the music, one that acts as a means to envelop the the community into the ritual, to transform the participants into one body; instead, it promotes it as an object that one listens to as if looking through a window and watching the ritual unfold, as if to view that body.
It is thus so that I believe the distinction between the groups is just as important in the corporeality of ritual, for it is not a question of role or hierarchy, but notation, as different forms of notation allow for different levels of musical literacy to engage with the ritual.
Thus, the left-handed singers are simply those trained so that they possess the ability to sing according to whatever standards are set for a trained singing, such as reading notation and navigating chromatic music as opposed to solely diatonic music. This may be contrasted with the right-handed singers who have no training in singing, only their natural voice. Knowledge of reading music, or even basic solfege, is unnecessary, as the notation would be devised as to allow for it to be understood as a series of lines. Their notation also takes advantage of the spoken word and its inflections, whereas the notated music takes advantage of the sonority of polyphonic music. And of course, the cantor, the first among equals, like an abbot, appears as a bridge between the two, reading both kinds of notation in a mixed form, where it may be less complex than the left-handed music, but more nuanced than the right-handed.
This format of two groups with a leader is not new, as it appeared in practice for the first time in Mesonyctycon, but the idea was not fully formed and the groups acted as line vs harmony, with the cantor not having an individual role, instead acting like the line group. The role of the cantor became more nuanced in Sicut in Prologo Evangelium Ioannis, a work written specifically to expand the breadth of expression for this unique role, with the appearance of adiastematic neumes in an early form mixed with a composed line that transformed according to my compositional technique.
However, the most important aspect of this work is not within it, but what proceeds from it, for the development of the cantor's role allowed for me to visualize the manner in which I could invite the untrained voice, both the musically precocious layman and the those the musical world considers tonedeaf, to join in the corporeality of musical expression, and a development of it according to vocal inflections allowed for it to contrast with the other two groups. The role of the untrained voice is, unlike the composed lines of the left-handed group and the traces of them within the cantor’s part, totally amelodic. There might be wisps of melody in the interpretation of ligatures, but much of the composed material is determined by the experience of the expression of the word itself and its contextual meaning within the text.
In order to allow for this expression, the One Voice, as Partch deemed it, I found it important to develop the neumes of Sicut in Prologo, which did not possess the breadth of expression required, only revealing the relative tone, not necessarily the inflection of the words. Thus, I put it upon myself, while re-writing The Consolation of Poverty, to study the disparate forms of liturgical chant and singing to find the manners in which each tradition expressed the text; thus, I studied not the melodies of the chants, but the diacritical marks and performance practices that modified the neumes, finding a great deal of value in how the various forms of chant express the aspects of the voice that Partch exemplifies: rhythm, phonetics, meaning, and drama.
When one views these other forms of chant in notation, whether they be Zema, Znamenny, or Ðọc Kinh, one takes note of how the words influence the musical experience in more than just meaning through physical expression; therefore, the meaning, phonetics, and drama of speaking a word or phrase exists within it, and those all factor into the way in which it is intoned.
This must be applied to right-handed texts to avoid the problems of vocal vanity, or rather, undue melismatic or melodic lines that do not express the meaning or textual importance of the words, one which disturbed Partch, who wrote:
It would appear that Gregory’s annoyance was entirely on the score of vocal vanity, not of word integrity. This was natural, for the ascendancy of words in music had already ended. Words, those constituent units of idea which are by nature the antithesis of what is called absolute, were forced by precept to assume the cloak of the absolute! Doubtless some realistically minded man asked: “what were the words of the music? What did they say? What meaning did they carry that is of value to me?” But there was no answer, because one realistic minded man among so many dark-age minds was relegated to limbo.
That man might also have wondered at the inordinate sustaining of the vowel of a syllable in certain words. A word has four properties: (1) a rhythm (that is, its natural pattern of dynamics, and a reasonable length of time for its speaking to cover); (2) phonics; (3) an intrinsic meaning; and (4) drama (the obligation along with its fellow words to hold the interest). Our realistically minded man might have drawn four conclusions: to the extent that the vowel of a syllable is inordinately sustained (1) its rhythm is damaged; (2) its phonetics is distorted; (3) its meaning is dissipated; and (4) its drama is demoralized. In fact, it would seem to him that after the words had been accepted as an inspiration they were dismissed without a thought3.
To express more fully the phonetic qualities of words, as well as illustrate their meanings, I repurposed the initial five neumes of Sicut in Prologo—tone, a tone up, a tone down, and these combined into a tone up a tone down and a tone down a tone up—by adding diacritical or modifying marks in red, reminiscent of the cinnabar kinovarnye znaki, to express effects like vibrato and portamento scoops, as well as to modify the tone of a neume, e.g. rising or falling more or less than a tone.
And these all come together in elegant ligatures—which I have been told appear as if Arabic calligraphy, though I see something similar to the hooks of the Armenian script in them more than Arabic—expressing melisma in words that are important to the meaning of the text, a reflection on the wonderfully florid lines of liturgical chant without the excess that might sour one’s appreciation of the words, instead allowing one to savor them.
In the interpretation of these ligatures, I wish for the interpreter to understand these as we understand forms of adiastematic neumes in the pre-Solesmes codices of Medieval Europe or in Ethiopian chant: a guide to contour, not a definite expression of pitch. The true result, the actual pitches, ornamentations, and rate at which the melisma is sung is unlike the traditional knowledge of memorized melodic patterns; instead, it is one's understanding of the text and how they express it.
Thus, my affirmation of Partch's notion of the four properties of the word is important, for without these properties music is without rhythm and drama, thus, its duration becomes unknown or immaterial. This is why my neumatic notation for left-handed singers and instruments has developed values of unknown duration, only based upon the knowledge that one represents something shorter or longer than another, or the indeterminacy of a completely proportional modification based on its relationship with other neumes or the assumed meaning of its length.
I must stress that, because I, in my observance of the liturgical traditions of chant, betray myself as a not a rhetorical composer, but one phonetic; therefore, all rhythms and durations without any phonetic quality have no real basis in my music, being things that we must define ourselves as opposed to having a natural rhythm and duration, as in making sounds; thus, I deliberately deny the properties of words to that which does not possess words, which is why my music, especially in the case of instrumental music, will most likely tend to float, and the performers will be uneven and out of sync. This is intended, of course, as I want music to be subservient to the text in such a way that it is formless or incomplete without it; that is, without the physicality driven from the four properties of the word, there is nothing to determine the qualities of the tones.
This is so, for the text itself, the phonetic qualities of the words, has a meaning parsed according to how it sounds: doloroso is not a word with a positive phonetic quality, there is a something in speaking it that promotes a depressive rhythm, and this is not something that I express with my own background in Latin; instead, to speak the word phonetically, doʊ ləˈroʊ soʊ, evokes this sense of sadness in the contour of the word itself: a shift up at lo, only to fall doubly so in speaking ro so. The expression of the word invites its rate as well: one does not speak of sadness with energy, instead it lacks any exuberance, an elongation, not a rapid succession, of vowels. In some sense, and this is true of traditional liturgical approaches, exterior, programmatic expression is unnecessary, for the word itself is plaintive.
There might seem to be a casualty in this, as the left-handed singers have a dual layer of meaning: I give them a text, yet, unlike the right-handed singers, I assign that music durations instead of allowing the text to define duration. This unique problem represents the abstraction of polyphony, which draws away the focus on the word toward a pure sound augmented by the word. This entire idea appeared quietly: in the Mesonyctycon I made a note that the singers do not necessarily sing together, as if the scores are lined up, but at their own rate, which will eventually regulate itself. This might mean they sing together, as how those who sing chant end up as one group, or that they move at different speeds and understand different durations in such a way that the total harmonic sound is only a consequence of their individual linearities; thus, there is no true duration, for, through abstraction, one can only be certain of what they put their faith in.
Consequently, what I am after in this development, and simplification, of liturgical chant is to remove the necessity of the burden of memorization of melody types often found in Byzantine, Ethiopian, Coptic, and Medieval Latin chant, an idea influenced by the 20th century Gagaku that did away with the complicated logogram based notation of Togaku, revealing that gagaku notated according to modern notation still retained the essence of the old compositions; likewise, I wish to express that this simpler way of expressing chant still can retain the qualities found in those ancient traditions, as it is not the sound of music that is important, but the intention and purpose of it.
In the juxtaposition of the left-handed and right-handed groups, two styles diametrically opposed to one another, there is the dialectic—the truth of the ancient society and the aesthetic artifice of the modern—that Partch could not find a synthesis of in music; to reconcile the two was impossible to him, and he could only turn his back on one for the other. Yet, he was right: one cannot reconcile two forms that possess a difference of intention as they can reconcile a difference of aesthetic just as much as one cannot reconcile a difference of timbre and performance.
My answer to this irreconcilable difference can be expressed through my favorite works of Toru Takemitsu from his modernist era spanning November Steps (1967) and A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden (1977), for in this time period he dealt with the problem of the reconciliation and communion of Western and Eastern music, something very few composers could do so effectively (Lou Harrison being a noted exception). I find this especially so in Distance (1972), because he effectively communicated the problem not being timbre or sound, but in the gap between musical cultures, and how those cultures altered the physical nature of the instruments and their playing styles, rendering them incapable of closing the gap and finding any mutual ground: if the oboe wished to be harmonic to blend with the sho, its multiphonics are too harsh to meld with the shimmer of the sho; likewise, the sho, if it were to play a single pitch, would be too weak to coexist with the oboe as equals. Takemitsu allows them to play together, but does not try to turn them into one harmonious organism, rather, he highlights their differences.
It is of greater value to highlight the inability to physically bridge the gap between things than to blend them into a conglomerate; to express that they are unique, not things that can be subsumed within a melting pot; for, the more we try to force them into a homogenous form, the more we realize how futile it is. This dialectic is an irrational merging of two things that possess no common factor.
The cantor, in mixing the two traits found in the left-hand and right-hand groups—line in melody and harmony, and line in the inflection of the spoken word—makes this attempt at uniting them into a singular entity; however, as the cantor cannot bridge the physical distance of technique and sonority, because the cantor cannot sing and intone at the same time, and thus must make a decision which way to express something musically, its role is not that of synthesizer; rather, it becomes the leader of a collection of heterogeneous bodies that represent a singular body, as if the captain of a ship that contains many souls.
And there is much more to the distance of the left-handed and right-handed groups beyond sound. It has a great deal to do with the distance between polyphonic tradition and the traditions of chant; that is, the distance between the course of development in the Roman Catholic Church, the carefully preserved ancient liturgical traditions of the Oriental Orthodox churches, and the struggle in the Eastern Orthodox church between reflecting the West or retaining its own traditions. In this, the right-handed group's notation is influenced by notational attributes of liturgical chant in the neume and things that modify it, whereas in left-handed music the structural attributes of polyphony are more important than the notational aspects, which are merely the means to polyphonic expression.
However, the left-handed and right-handed music approaches the practice and ethos of the two divided traditions without superficial melodic traits, as opposed to others who might take note of something such as an Arabic sound in Coptic chant, or the sound of perfect fourths and open fifths in Machaut, and appropriate it without taking note of how the manner in which it is traditionally developed determines it. This technique instead works in the opposite manner, one in which the sound appears through the means it is conveyed, an emphasis on the spirit of the music, not on its skin; for, it is correct to question, as Ives’ father once did, what does sound have to do with music?
Yet, there is also in this distance a reflection that, though they are, in some sense, incompatible, they are still equivalent. What does bridge this distance is the intention of these groups, despite being irreconcilable, being equal, as if a web of autocephalous churches. There is no possibility for a totally superficial unification of the Catholic Church; the unification must be made apparent through the similarities in intention, that each church understands that Rite and Liturgy as secondary to the meaning they convey, something structural that all churches hold in common; that is, it is the belief, not the manner in which it is conveyed, that is of value; or, in other words, the intention of the actions, not the sounds that result.
1. PARTCH, HARRY. "Lecture." In Source: Music of the Avant-garde, 1966–1973, edited by AUSTIN LARRY, KAHN DOUGLAS, and Gurusinghe Nilendra, 35-37. University of California Press, 2011.
2. Dunn, D. (Ed.). (2000). Harry Partch. London: Routledge
3. Partch, Harry. Genesis of a Music. Da Capo. 1974.
Copyright © Sean Tartaglia 2020