On my Notational Techniques

Quodcumque facere potest manus tua, instanter operare

A musician is like one who lives in a house with music

It is the same, and it rests in the self-same place, abiding in itself. And thus it remaineth constant in its place


Sicut in Prologo Evangelium Ioannes

On My Notational Techniques

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.


Quodcumque facere potest manus tua, instanter operare

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”


A musician is like one who lives in a house with music

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.


It is the same, and it rests in the self-same place, abiding in itself. And thus it remaineth constant in its place

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.


Sicut in Prologo Evangelium Ioannes

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.