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Music notation as technology and material culture in the performances of the ICP Orchestra

Colloquium Muziekwetenschap
Floris Schuiling

15 October, 15:30-17:00
Universiteitstheater, Nieuwe Doelenstraat 16, zaal 3.01

This talk presents some of the results of an ethnographic study of Amsterdam-based improvising collective the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra, taking their notated repertoire as inspiration for formulating a new approach to music notation after the performative turn in music scholarship. The ICP, founded in 1967 by Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink and Willem Breuker and still performing, is one of the longest consistently performing groups in improvised music. Influenced by free jazz, experimental music and performance art, founding member Mengelberg composed a diverse repertoire of pieces that construct different possibilities for improvisation and creative interaction in performance.

In such an improvised context, it seems pointless to approach these pieces as ‘representations’ of the music they play. Rather than such a binary relation between text and performance, I draw on the work of anthropologist Alfred Gell (1992, 1998) to describe them as technologies, mediating social and creative agency of performers in a wider network of mediating relations between musicians and their instruments. While a critical attitude to the centrality of the work in musicology has been vital for the performative turn, this formulation of the role of notation in a model of distributed creativity is intended to develop a positive understanding of notation and its role in the construction of musical cultures and socialities.