Scoring Sound: Explicating the Role of Musical Notation


Scoring Sound: Explicating the Role of Musical Notation




While art, entertainment, and technology trend towards the audiovisual, towards the synesthetic, it remains difficult to encompass multi-sensory media in any single analytical framework. Sound studies has always grappled with sound’s apparent subjugation to image. Eidsheim's “music as vibrational practice” accounts for music as a “thick event,” thereby bridging some gaps between the senses, but she declines to incorporate musical notation into her model.


Drawing on Helmreich's theory of transduction and on focused studies on composition, notation, and interpretation, I examine the role of notation in the composition and performance of Western art music in order to revise the model of music as a thick event to encompass notation.


As a transformation of temporal sound into fixed image, notation is naturally limited. It also carries the baggage of colonialist attitudes in early ethnomusicology. However, in Western art music, notation is essential to the process of composition and therefore to the act of music making. The cultural weight of the score creates an illusion of objective representation which is emblematic of Western art music’s problematic belief in the werktreue – an original, ideal form of a musical work accessible to a performer with sufficient historical knowledge – and a wider culture of naïve listening. By positioning notation as the means of composition (rather than transmission), we can untether ourselves from the idea of a work existing prior to the score.


For musical analysis, this model implies a focus on how the cultural context of a performance shapes the work.


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Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature

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VCU Graduate Research Posters

Scoring Sound: Explicating the Role of Musical Notation