Knowledge-based cooperation between art music composers and musicians

The importance of conventions as well as the anticipation of possible reactions becomes especially clear when the notational system cannot express particular intentions of the composer. Because even if conventions are a kind of aid, this does not guarantee that they offer easy or established solutions to problems in any given situation. A score, although it is based on conventional symbols, can express many things, but it also constantly comes up against its limitations. In many cases, regardless whether it is precise or not, the notation gives rise to questions concerning details about timbre, tone length or play. In such cases, composers can refer to three different practices of representation to answer questions or to avoid misunderstandings, as the following examples illustrate.

Some composers use verbal explanations via analogies such as metaphors. As one composer explains, he tries to avoid extensive notation in favour of a simple explanation to his piano player:

“I would tell him: listen, that has to sound like perfumed bar music. As if someone smiles and then plays ‘I Did It My Way’. This has its own sound. I can suck that out of my fingernails, as we say in Austria, to write that and research how the voicings go. Or I tell him: you know – a bar piano in a five-star hotel, but not the highest class. Imagine you have pomade in your hair and a white dinner jacket and you smile across and know that you’re not really allowed to talk to anyone, because you’re an employee here.”

The composer and the musician have a shared cultural knowledge that is rooted in a musical practice in which both of them participate. The metaphor of “a bar piano in a five-star hotel” serves as a common point of reference to obtain the desired result easily. Known associations and pictures are self-explanatory and function as a communication aid.

Being confronted with these limits of symbolic representation or referring to verbal or mimetic explications cannot be interpreted as a lack of skill – either on the part of the composer or on the part of the musicians. Even musical experts with a profound knowledge of notation systems or ways of playing and with a substantial experience through years of making and creating music can come up against their limits in understanding scores. This can be illustrated through an interview in which a composer (who also teaches composition) explains one of his scores to a music analyst (who also teaches music analysis at university level). Despite their wide-ranging expertise, both of them have difficulties communicating about the score. When the music analyst asks the composer what musicians should know in order to understand the score and to play it adequately, he gives a verbal interpretation via metaphors, but also refers to sound imitations and physical gestures for explanation: “So, that way an area of rustling noise builds up, which moves around the room, yes. And then at that point the tremolo is slowly turned up from zero to a half, that is in eight seconds. This is a very precise instruction, yes. That is, it happens that this noise surface begins to tremble [makes a trembling noise and quivers with his hands].”

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The author acknowledges the original research project “Tacit Knowing in Musical Composition Process” which is based at the Institute for Music Sociology at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna and directed by Tasos Zembylas. The project has been generously funded by the Jubiläumsfonds der Stadt Wien (project number: J-2/12) as well as by the Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (project number: P27211-G22) from November 2013 to November 2015. All empirical data and analysis result from the collaboration between the author and the members of the project team, Andreas Holzer, Annegret Huber, Rosa Reitsamer and Tasos Zembylas.

In a following passage Schatzki criticises Becker for his concept of convention. Highlighting his own concept of art, understood as wide-ranging “bundles” linked to each other within “constellations”, Schatzki argues that interactions among the participants in an art world would not be as standardised as Becker suggested.

Martin Niederauer (2015): Knowledge-based cooperation between art music composers and musicians. In: p/art/icipate – Kultur aktiv gestalten #06 , https://www.p-art-icipate.net/knowledge-based-cooperation-between-art-music-composers-and-musicians/