Over the summer, the Miguel Abreu Gallery mounted an exhibition called Agape featuring musical scores and performances. Now comes Between Thought and Sound: Graphic Notation in Contemporary Music at The Kitchen—seems a trend might be starting here. Of course this isn’t the first time music notation has been exposed to gallery lighting; I remember a John Cage score opening MOCA’s Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979 over a decade ago. I even curated a show which included scores by Cage, Randy Hostetler, and Jean-François Laporte. It’s great to see that notation continues to intrigue our visual art counterparts.
Those who know my music also know that I notate everything by hand. I know how silly that must sound these days, but it’s my thing and I’m sticking with it. Besides, every single score I’ve encountered in a museum or gallery environment has one thing in common: All were hand drawn. I know firsthand that compelling art can be created using computers. The question I have is this: Can a score worthy of gallery wall space be created with notation software?
I have no doubt that a computer-generated score can be as aesthetically beautiful as something done by hand, but not by clicking around with all the presets and limited options that software provides. Artist Chris Finley used to make some compelling paintings utilizing the restraints of image manipulation offered by old versions of PhotoShop, but I doubt this approach to creating a musical score would be very successful. Just as in classical music, every now and then a wave of painting-is-dead sweeps through the art world, which of course inevitably passes. But without the rally cries and flashing alarms sounding, could music notation be in dire need of a defibrillator? Well, it seems to me that Finale and Sibelius aren’t doing it any favors.