thank you for this great subject.
As a musician/composer I am studying new digital forms of notation and
especially the replacement of oral instructions and oral transmissions by
what I call "encapsulated traditions" which can be likened to software
Notations are interesting entities, because they usually are not artworks
themselves but invite actions that produce artworks.
Usually, throughout different musical cultures, notations constitute that
part of a performative action that someone (author, cultural environment
etc.) considers non-contingent on the performance context i.e. the essence
of the work.
E.g. western music notation has struggled over centuries to define pitch
(vulgo: melody) and durations (vulgo: rhythm) in notationally unambiguous
ways, where chinese music notation was more concentrated on pitch and timbre
(e.g. how to play a note).
Indian tabla notation (an oral notation, incidentally) stresses the fact
that rhythm and timbre are considered as one intertwined parameter, whereas
in many other music cultures they are separate parameters etc.
So notation is a code that conveys the "essential", non-contingent aspects
of a performative artwork:
but there always needs to be an accompanying oral tradition that transports
the knowledge bases necessary for decoding.
This decoding is not as linear as in written language, because the
relationships between notation and performance depend not only on correct
decoding but also on a decoding process that is
a) recursive (structures on several different levels and timescales directly
influence each other in every direction),
b) time-sensitive (uneven decoding speed destroys vital information e.g.
c) interactive (new "decoder settings" change the meaning of the performance
and spawn new decoder settings a process usually called "interpretation")
d) draws on a vast knowledge base of other instances of notation, cultural
conventions, historical connotations etc.
It has been said that music is something like a second reality that is
closely correlated with the first reality in many surprising ways, but that
making it needs to be learned as intensely if one adopted a new and alien
culture. Almost all of this learning must be done through oral transmission
(music teachers), as notation already belongs to the second reality. (I do
not want to presume that this relationship is the same for the sciences and
mathematics, but I strongly suspect so...)
Surprisingly, and in spite of being the one of the two arts that have for
millenia been co-evolving with technology (architecture being the other),
music technologies have never really adressed the complex relationships
between notation and oral transmission. Most developers of music technology
(digital or otherwise) assume that this relationship somehow will remain
Even softwares like Garage Band, whose declared purpose is to let the
musically uneducated create great songs, uses a notational system that is a
code and needs oral instructions to realize music.
I am currently experimenting with digital notations that are sensitive to
the performance and thus introduce a new factor to the dynamic. The great
inspiration I got from the digital realm are interactive software manuals.
These are attempts at encapsulating oral instructions within the environment
they act upon. I call these entities "encapsulated traditions", because -
like the old oral transmission techniques - they offer reliable and
preferential decoding techniques and, ideally, correct transmission errors
interactively, in order to produce meaningful performance results.
In this way I hope to find not only "new instances of made music but new
ways of making music" (Jacques Attali in "Bruits", quickly quoted from
memory) where oral transmission and notation become not two interrelated but
distinct processes but can be co-evolving.
Canada Research Chair Inter-X Art
Concordia University Montreal
2009/5/2 roger malina <email@example.com>
> In response to our call for discussion topics, one per week
> in May, Cynthia Rubin sends us this question
> Hi Yasminers
> I have been thinking (as you know) about how we remember from
> generation to generation, and what knowledge different cultures value
> In Senegal, there is the tradition of Griots who tell ancestors
> Oral Tradition, emphasis on ancestors as identity
> In the Jewish tradition we just had Passover (Pesach), where we tell
> the story of the liberation from slavery in Egypt
> Written Tradition, emphasis on collective shared history, as lesson
> for present and future
> Since YASMIN is cross-cultural, I would like to hear about other
> traditions and the how artists feel that these traditions influence
> their ways of thinking in general, and then how it affects art
> making, if at all.
> Cynthia Rubin
> PS from roger: we should try to respond to this in the context
> of the arts and new technologies or art and science since this
> is the focus of YASMIN
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HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: click on the link to the list you wish to subscribe to. In the page that will appear ("info page"), enter e-mail address, name, and password in the fields found further down the page.
HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE: on the info page, scroll all the way down and enter your e-mail address in the last field. Enter password if asked. Click on the unsubscribe button on the page that will appear ("options page").
HOW TO ENABLE / DISABLE DIGEST MODE: in the options page, find the "Set Digest Mode" option and set it to either on or off.