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In the spring of 1989, the late, great Umberto Eco published his highly influential book 'Opera Aperta', later translated into English as 'The Open Work'. Within the text Eco constructs his powerful and influential concept of semiotic 'openness', in order to analyse how artists, composers and writers incorporate chance, ambiguity and multiplicity of meaning in to their work which, Eco argues, marks a distinct boundary between pre-modern and modern eras within each genre.
In the words of Eco, "... a classical composition, whether it be a Bach fugue, Verdi's Aida, or Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, posits an assemblage of sound units which the composer arranged in a closed, well-defined manner before presenting it to the listener. He converted his idea into conventional symbols which more or less oblige the eventual performer to reproduce the format devised by the composer himself, whereas the new musical works referred to above reject the definitive, concluded message and multiply the formal possibilities of the distribution of their elements." (1)
in the established musical notation of the time
Eco starts by using several pieces of modern music as an exemplars of his theory, choosing important instrumental works by the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), the Italian composer Luciano Berio (1925-2003), and Belgian and French composers Henri Pousseur (1929-2009) and Pierre Boulez (1925-2016).
Such composers, he argues, have chosen to leave the arrangement of certain aspects of their music to chance and alteration by others, and this highlights and incorporates the creative roles played by conductors and musicians as translators of musical codes, as well as the role of individual audience members as interpreters of the work in their own right.
Rather than relying upon standard, dictionary like, 'one-to-one' symbolic systems of traditional musical scores, the goal of which is an exact reproduction of a piece of music, these composers were starting to create musical scores which acted more like encyclopedias. As opposed to a formal left-right, top-bottom reading of a musical manuscript, these new scores act as rhizomatic, emergent systems of interconnected information.
In order to escape from the rigid predictability of the established techniques of musical notation, composers turned to the diagrammatic format, and in doing so, created an incredible array of ingenious and aesthetically considered instructional formats.
Courtesy of the Iannis Xenakis Archives, Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Cardew had worked as an assistant for Karlheinz Stockhausen for three years, as well as assisting at concerts by John Cage and David Tudor where he was introduced to concepts of indeterminacy. Treatise exists as 193 pages of beautifully crafted diagrammatic forms with no instruction as to how they are to be interpreted by performers, how many performers there should be or even what instruments they should use. Cardew does suggests however that there should be a pre-emptive collaborative meeting before each performance.
The diagrammatic format allowed musicians to expand our very notions of what music is, how it is created, transcribed, interpreted and experienced. The following Gallery contains a selection of graphic, diagrammatic manuscripts from a variety of composers, in order to give some idea as to the incredible range of such scores, and the creative power of the diagrammatic medium.
Try and spot the odd one out - One of these diagrams predates the others by over 600 years.
1) Umberto Eco, The open work, Translated by Anna Cancogni, Harvard University Press, 1989. p.19.
2) Umberto Eco, Ibid. p.1.