Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Paradigm

Earle Brown’s seminal masterpiece “December 1952”

Nowadays, many composers write music using sequencers. One of the paradigms of the sequencer is the ‘piano roll’ view, where one can ‘see’ the music in space and time. Lines represent notes and their durations, and pitch is based on a high or low placement. Other parameters, such as loudness, are viewed numerically or with a separate graphic. Earle’s scores in graphic notation from the 1950s saw the future and at the same time built off the past. They also went one step further than the ‘piano roll’ window of modern sequencers, as the thickness of a line could be interpreted to mean loudness, relative to lines that were thinner. His graphic scores allow the musician to interpret a soundworld with freedom and discipline simultaneously.

When I compose, I often view and edit my music in the ‘piano roll’ window (using either LOGIC or Digital Performer) because of its ease in interpreting and editing patterns. (Many years ago, I first discovered this “piano roll” view in the book Sonic Design (1981) by Cogan and Escot and found it to be a revelation. In 1982, I analyzed and graphed in color a movement from Boulez’ Le Marteau sans Maître.)

In the same spirit, Xenakis’ UPIC system, a graphic computer music program from the late 1970s, allows the musician to draw patterns on a tablet that are then interpreted by the computer and converted into sound. In the 1950s, when Earle had these scores performed, there was David Tudor.

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

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