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Complete Services for Music Engraving and Music Texts
Complete Services for Music Engraving and Music Texts

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“It worked yesterday - On (re-)performing electroacoustic music”

is the title of the fresh-off-the-digital-presses PhD of pianist +Sebastian Berweck. Its topic, the pitfalls that come with the performance of electroacustic compositions, is getting more and more important also for music engraving, since electronics are increasingly accepted and used on the concert stage and will often be operated today by the regular musicians instead of a technician. Therefore, the electronic aspects of a piece shouldn't be notated any longer as if they were accessible only to a very small number of experts.

And notation does, in the end, mean nothing more than writing down the right thing in the right way at the right spot. Depending on how important that right thing is for a piece of music, getting its notation wrong can be disastrous, regardless whether it is a wrong key signature, an ambiguous tempo indication, confusing articulation marks or a missing readme file – as told in the excerpt below from the PhD, about setting up for a performance of Enno Poppes Arbeit for virtual Hammond organ.

After installing the organ and running the patch error messages in Max/MSP appeared and an extremely tedious search for the origins of those errors began. About a dozen phone calls between Ernst Surberg and me soon focused on the differing operating systems. Ernst coded several versions of the patch to make it work as an executable patch, to set the search path for the organ plugin and to make it run on a Windows computer. After two weeks trying to run the program on the Windows computer, a test installation on the Mac computer stalled as well. This meant that about a week before the planned concert at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival there was still no working set-up.
On arrival in Huddersfield, another round to tackle the problem began. Several fellow PhD students looked at the patch and several MIDI drivers were tested. The organ was installed on two more computers.

[...]

The problem was eventually found and it turned out to be a single missing space character: the organ plugin installs itself as ‘B4 II’, which is unreadable in Max/MSP because the program does not accept space characters in the search paths. To solve this problem Ernst Surberg had simply renamed the plugin to ‘B4_II’, but this was not mentioned in the performance instructions in the score nor in a readme file. It was briefly mentioned in one of the many telephone conversations between Ernst and me but got overlooked because the focus was on the different operating systems. Renaming the plugin immediately solved all the problems and the patch even ran on the Windows computer. With three more days to practise with the sounds as intended, the performance at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival went smoothly.

You can download the whole PhD at eprints.hud.ac.uk/17540/
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It's big, it's black, it cuts through a more or less fine bar for who knows why...

I have a strict-ish policy of not posting about particular bad notations in contemporary composers' scores, even though that deprives me of a sure way to have enough material for posting at least once a day. But since it is a sad fact that most musicians (professional ones included) will be taught how to read music early on, but almost never ever how to properly write it down (and why that might be a good skill to have), I think that pointing out these shortcomings would be unfair in most cases.

However, sometimes there comes along an example of contemporary score writing that makes even the most indulgent engraver's mind boggle:
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Surely you are the kind of person who...

...enjoys reading ridiculously long tutorials about how to use the more unknown features of a notation software for doing something that, albeit being somewhat interesting, is probably also of no practical relevance for you at all. Right?

Well. Do I have a treat for you!

Head over to the Sibelius Blog and take four-and-a-half pages of time to read my guest post on creating flexible, sophisticated click-tracks right from your Sibelius score. 

There is no need to hurry, though. Unless, of course, you have a click-track-dependant piece, the need to to change its score frequently even during the rehearsal phase, only a lousy one-channel setup at your disposal, and a disturbingly close deadline until performance. In that case you don't have a second to lose.
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And I always thought that it is a Tic Tac Toe grid. 

(via +Odd Quartet Comics
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Say, are you sure you're using this right?

I recently did some internet research for a paper about the Why-And-Wherefore of Proportional Notation (or, as it is often known in German-speaking countries, Space Notation) that I am currently writing as a side project. And while I set out to strictly concentrate on examples for that kind of notation which are... well... examplary, the following one is just too silly to not show it here. Oh, and it is by Erhard “Notation of New Music” Karkoschka, of all people. He explains that in "the organ piece desideratio mortis the note-values of concurrent pulsation must be estimated from their position on paper. Since it requires the difficult task of uniform and independent acceleration-deceleration in both hands at once, I spelled this out in a practice score".

(Bonus punchline: I am pretty sure that he means a practice score that the organist is meant to put away before an actual performance in exchange for the doubtful pleasure of then using the original score, which will be missing those painstakingly practiced rhythms.)
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New series: Misprints 
(giving me an excuse for once again putting off to write those more text heavy postings waiting in the queue)

The misprints to be featured here are mainly the kind where two perfectly fine images get accidentally printed onto each other, thereby (depending on your personal outlook on such things) either wasting paper, toner and time or creating a serendipitous, ready-to-get-framed artwork.

In later installments I will regularly include detail images to point out the fascinating ‘fantasy notations’ that occur when sign systems collide. However, the starting entry's two sources* play so well together on every level that you can literally zoom in anywhere on these three pages to be treated to beautifully balanced juxtapositions.


Next time on Misprints: a contemporary chamber music score meets a recipe from cooking blog smitten kitchen.

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* a scan of a 19th century engraving of Sir Arthur Sullivan's "The Lost Chord" / a proofing print of a piano duo
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Misprints 01
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If you ever asked yourself if the publishing house G. Henle can possibly produce sheet music of even more clarity than they already do for decades now, you will be pleased to learn that – today more than ever – these guys are clearly pushing the envelope.
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xkcd's strip today (http://xkcd.com/1192/) is rather a disappointment in comparison to this sublime classic.
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Recently Engraved – also: once again proof that John Cage was right in saying that “an error is simply a failure to adjust immediately from a preconception to an actuality”.

I had the pleasure of editing and engraving another piece by +Guy Bacos, a harp duo titled Caresses of Wind. Editing meant mainly two things in this case and both have to do with the fact that Guy composes almost exclusively with sequencer software. 

The first one of those two tasks was to make sure that the piece is idomatic for harp. It is important to note that Guy actually composes for virtual instruments – as opposed to many composers who use sample libraries as a (most often deficient) surrogate for “real” instruments. So the question whether his music will be comfortable (or possible) to play on conventional instruments really only ever arises once he decides to publish sheet music for “human-aided performance”.
Guy writes his pieces using the top notch virtual instruments from Vienna Symphonic Libraries (in fact, he is one of their few official demo composers), so there is little doubt that the individual musical building blocks the piece is made from are in fact playable, since some of Vienna's finest harpist recorded them. Yet, the harp is a tricky instrument, and while any sample is idiomatic in itself, not all of those sounds would be possible on an actual harp if required simultanously. This is the reason behind the biggest difference between the score in the video and the audio track: if you have perfect pitch you will regognize that the sheet music is a minor third lower than the audio. The fundamentally diatonic nature of the harp brings about that certain things that are just impossible in the original version become very well executable if just transposed by a few steps.
Another difference between a virtual harp and a real one is that with the former you don't have to concern yourself with pedal changes. No such luck when writing the same piece for actual harps. With this piece this meant that certain passages were possible only by way of some creative enharmonic respelling – if you are in need of sight-reading exercise, try to figure out the actual harmonies the second harp is playing between rehearsal marks I and J (1:56).
There have been a few other changes between the original composition for virtual harps and the version for actual harps, many of them suggested by +Chicago harpist Barbara Ann Fackler, who's input has been invaluable in preparing this piece and in making it as comfortable to play for harpists as possible.

The other one of the two editing tasks mentioned above starts even before such more practical considerations: as there is no composer's manuscript for Guy's pieces (just a MIDI file and an audio track), many important details of the notation have to be transcribed first. This is not so complicated with passages like the one at the start of the piece, since the MIDI more or less corresponds with how the music would be written down. But once there are more free sections, like the one starting at 2:57, there are many different ways how to notate what Guy has composed, and the challenge is to arrive at a version that is comfortable to read and interpret while not losing the many nuances that make Guy's compositions for virtual instruments stand out from the many examples of badly synthesized music; in addition to the mere notes it is also necessary that the composer's performance is captured closely by the sheet music.
However, transcribing sequencer-based music comes with its idiosyncratic pitfalls, since at many times the transcriber is in a way seperated from the essence of the music by several layers of technology (unless the taken approach is to do everything by ear, which comes with its own set of pits to fall into). During the work on Caresses of Wind one such technological detachment changed the outcome of the piece itself: I had asked Guy to provide me with separate tracks for the two harps, since hearing each instrument for itself helped a great deal with the transcription. What neither he nor I noticed right away was that in those new tracks some tempo data had been accidentally changed, resulting (besides a few very subtle agogic differences) in a whole bar being suddenly played back at one third of its original tempo, which I of course faithfully transcribed. Though mistakes of this sort are generally rather unpleasant, I find this case to be an interesting example of how technology influences creativity – instead of just having the passage corrected, Guy decided that this “new version” was a valuable addition to his piece and he let it stand as it was. The concept of incorporating serendipitous mistakes into an artwork instead of correcting them is of course quite old; but it is a comfortable thought just how many brand new ways of making such mistakes are now available with digital technology.
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