Complexity: The Precise Articulation of the Imprecise

Redgate, Roger. 2020. 'Complexity: The Precise Articulation of the Imprecise'. In: Imperfection as an Aesthetic Idea in Music. Institute for Music Aesthetics and the Artistic Research Doctoral School of the University for Music and Performing Arts Graz, Austria, Austria 19 – 21 November 2020. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

We seldom question the functionally of notation as means of transmitting a musical idea. In fact invariably a score is understood to represent the intentions of the composer, as a one to one mapping, leaving aside various degrees of performative latitude defined by style and interpretation.

The 1950s saw the rise of various complex parametric compositional systems where pitch, rhythm, dynamics and articulation were considered as functional aspects of material, the complex interaction of which redefined the gestural nature of music. However, this further gave rise to questions of performability in terms of accuracy, leading some critics to suggest such scores are ‘eye music’ requiring computer-like responses from performers, and that time-space notation would better serve the rhythmic interest of the composer.

However, an interesting by-product of such complex notations would be ‘emergent properties’, a term borrowed from complexity theory, where the interaction among constituents of a system are such that the system as a whole cannot be fully understood by analysing its components. This has an interesting correlation to the functionality of musical notation, which exhibits inherent properties as material, not always explicit in the notation per se, which might otherwise be considered imperfections in performance. In the introduction to the score of Cassandra’s Dream Song (1970), for example, Brian Ferneyhough indicated how certain performative ‘divergences and impurities’ may be taken as the intentions of the composer. Other works such as Lachenmann’s Pression notate the actions to be executed by the performer and not the sounding result, which might vary from one performance to another.

My own research as a composer has explored such notational potential as material. What might be considered a meaningful degree of inexactitude in performance? What are the boundaries of notation in relation to improvisation and performative freedom? How does a performer assess the correct interpretation and learning strategies for such music? This paper will discuss the ontology of the work in relation to this creative discourse with specific reference to my own compositional practice.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Music > Contemporary Music Research Unit


20 November 2020Completed

Event Location:

Institute for Music Aesthetics and the Artistic Research Doctoral School of the University for Music and Performing Arts Graz, Austria, Austria

Date range:

19 – 21 November 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

19 Nov 2020 09:52

Last Modified:

04 May 2021 10:45


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