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Symbols - Sign - Sounds

Chapter in book
Authors Per Anders Nilsson
Published in SYNCHRESIS – Audio Vision Tales
Pages 154-164
ISBN 978-972-789-591-5
Place of publication Aveiro
Publication year 2019
Published at Academy of Music and Drama
Pages 154-164
Language en
Keywords Improvisation, Music, Sign, Symbols, Semiotics,
Subject categories Music


In this paper the author addresses questions about relations between visual signs and symbols, and sounds. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote: “All that a symbol CAN express, it MAY express” (Monk, 1990, p. 151). meaning, e.g. that the standard musical notation symbols are a convention. They are symbols that might be interpreted in many ways. Is there an obvious relation between symbols and signs on the one hand, and sounds on the other? Can be but must not. Humans tend to interpret higher up on an image equals higher pitch, and that bigger means louder. Cornelius Cardew’s seminal piece Treatise (Cardew, 1967) takes Wittgenstein’s works as a as point of departure. The score consists of abstract graphics, and at the outset he gave no instructions how to interpret and play the piece. One composer that is linked to graphical scores is John Cage. One example is Imaginary Landscape no 5 (Cage, 1952), were performers are asked to bring a number of favorite jazz records as sound sources. The score contains of a timeline with “channels” for each player, which instruct players to be silent or play. Cage’s score was outlined on a paper, which allowed participant players to prepare upcoming actions in advance. What happens if the score is replaced with a real time video score that ques sounds and silences in the same manner, with the difference that future information is hidden. The Bucket System (Dahlstedt, Nilsson, Robair 2015) is an open structure of optical signs in the form of LEDs that either light, blink or are black. It is up to the participating musicians to make up rules what the given signs means in each particular performance. In this system, a player receives a new instruction where (s)he is forced to halt or change whatever going on, and since the participant musicians are interrupted all the time, no one will be able to develop things as usual.

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