Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Questioning the Goodness of Fitting the Page

Composerly self-criticism, Nr. 353b:  I've noticed that I've been falling into the habit of making scores which fit on whole pages, and within pages filling up — neither exceeding nor coming up short of — whole lines. This has been happening in both (more-or-less) conventionally notated scores and in prose score.  (I suppose that the single page as a unit of compositional attention first really came into consciousness with Earle Brown's early graphic scores, but continued to charge many other composers, from Feldman's pre-ruled staves to Crumb's iconic pages to some of the complexists, working line-by-line.) It does look good to see music laid-out well, and some music might just happen to come to a happy coincidence in which musical density and duration and the consumption notated page-space correspond so neatly (a recently piece I made for a friend's 80th birthday fit 80 measures over 8 rows of 10 single-staved measures on a large (A3, landscape) page), but matters like visible phrases and convenient places for breathing and page turns are more important in practical terms and it's probably a bad sign when this is consistently the case.  This critique does not exclude the use of the physical dimensions of a piece of paper as an arbitrary constraint through which invention is forced into action, nor does it exclude the secondary aesthetic pleasure of a well-laid-out score, it's just an observation that if things are consistently one way, then there are probably opportunities lost in doing things differently.

1 comment:

Bob Gilmore said...

Very good post, Dan. I must say in my role as player I'm always suspicious of pieces that look too neat on the page. I suspect the composer has surrendered listening and feeling the best length for things in favour of pleasing the eye. (This is not always the case, of course.)