Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in—noteheads and stems, that is. No sooner, it seems, do I proclaim my intent to vacation away from standard staff-and-measure notation than I start a new piece making use of that very notation.
What draws us to the dots and lines, people? They tell performers what notes to play when, a task that would direly encumber a verbal instruction, of course—that’s obvious. They enable us to visualize particular conceptions of time and pitch-space. They situate us in a historical context. But for us, in the moment of composition, they have an extra feature: They let us eff around with notes.
Effing around with notes is what cut short my peregrination to the world of verbal scores. It’s a game, naturally, that years of music theory and composition training will equip you well to play. I won’t speak for all composers ever, but effing around with notes is something that I do for reasons that are only tangentially related to art. Arranging pitches and durations in the most satisfying way is an endlessly gratifying diversion that we can engage in while composing, while negotiating the time for which we’re nominally responsible, but effing around with notes is not a musical activity. It’s a fetish. It’s fantasy baseball. It masquerades as composition. Nevertheless, it seems I don’t have the willpower to divest myself of it just yet.