Notation, improvisation, writing: The early music of Roger Redgate.

Exarchos, Dimitris. 2010. Notation, improvisation, writing: The early music of Roger Redgate. Beyond the Centres: Musical Avant-gardes since 1950, [Article]

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This paper examines Roger Redgate"s music of the 1980s and early 1990s and its starting point relates to the composer"s approach to musical notation. Due to the complex notation of his music, Redgate has been categorised in the "New Complexity" school, a term that no associated composer feels comfortable with, since notational complexity does not imply a certain kind of music. Redgate"s approach is preoccupied with the (im)possibilities of notation, whose level of detail does not aim at precision (like John Cage, he is not interested in transcribing music already heard in the mind); rather, notation is part of a broader approach to compositional systematisation and improvisational techniques. Redgate"s compositional procedures, as he comments, include systems derived from notated fragments and serve to provoke a certain reaction on the composer"s part. In the same way that an improviser creates a form of notation (tablature) by developing their array of performance techniques, the composer uses notation by way of creating structures that engender processes. Redgate"s titles are frequently direct references to writing (Graffiti, Scribble) or point indirectly to the thought of philosopher Jacques Derrida (trace, +R, Pas au-delà – a deconstructive reading of the earlier Genoi Hoios Essi). For Derrida the question of writing (which is no longer subordinate in the binary opposition with speech) precedes, or merges with, the question of technique. The latter is thus situated between life (logos, presence) and death (writing, absence) due to the deconstructive processes and supplementarity within the binary opposition. In a similar way that the technology of the instrument is a form of writing for the improviser, notation (as the composer"s instrument) informs compositional technique. Roger Redgate"s early solo music sounds as if it was improvised. But although he is also an improviser himself, his compositions of the 1980s and 90s are always precisely notated. i This invites us to explore the problematics of notation in relation to improvisation. By this, we do not intend to recall the idea and practice of the open work, or that of the "freedom of the performer" -complex issues on their own. Redgate was a member of the Composers Forum at the Darmstadt summer school for a decade, from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, which is the period when Brian Ferneyhough was the artistic director; his style was formed in these years. The relation of his work with improvisation though, is not typical among the composers he is usually associated with. For Redgate, the problematics of notation and improvisation have also to do with his own references to philosophy and literature, especially a certain Francogerman tradition. In particular, but not only, Derrida"s early work: deconstruction, differance, trace. How does deconstruction work in music? I will start with a connection to music (of the numerous, and in many texts) that Derrida points out in Truth in Painting; in particular, when he analyses Immanuel Kant"s Third Critique and the widely known discussion about "free beauty", that which is "not signifying anything, not representing anything, deprived of theme and text". Music without theme and without text: this detachment from a concept of what the object must be, this finality without end, is what Derrida would later call "the without of the pure cut" (Derrida 1987, 97).

Notation, improvisation, writing: The early music of Roger Redgate. Available from: [accessed Dec 15, 2015].

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Music > Contemporary Music Research Unit



Event Location:

Thessaloniki, Greece

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Date Deposited:

15 Dec 2015 21:15

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:14

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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