The compositions of Japanese composer and sound artist Ryoko Akama are featured in this third number of Bore, the publication of predominantly text-based new performance scores edited by Sarah Hughes and David Stent.
Akama, whose multi-dimensional background encompasses the study of traditional Japanese shamisen and vocal music as well as sound engineering and installation and performance art, creates sounds layered into significant tracts of empty space, often using electronics, objects and/or the VSC3 analogue synthesizer as her sound sources. Language plays an important role in her work, whether as an underlying concept for electronic sound art or, as the text-based work assembled here demonstrates, as a compositional medium.
Akama’s scores tend to be made up of sets of instructions couched in economical language. Although worded in a fairly direct manner, all of them embrace indeterminacy of some variety. Some of the instructions are unambiguous and only require the performers to set the values of certain parameters, such as duration or instrumentation. Others call for a greater leap of interpretation and ingenuity. For example, the score to Object Performance consists of verbs scattered across a page, each of which names a specific action to be taken in relation to the objects, but the types and the exact number of objects each performer should use are left open to the performers’ discretion. With a wry touch of humor, Akama also throws in the instruction “whatever” as a kind of open variable for the performer to fill in. Less ambiguously but still leaving choices up to the performers, Fade In consists of a single page of instructions for a twenty-five minute additive/subtractive performance in which four or five sine tones are faded in sequentially and then faded out in reverse order. The duration piece Con.de.structuring asks its three or more performers to select and play three sounds they consider soundless. Here Akama sets up a koan-like paradox in calling for a medium to represent something that by definition defies that medium. Akama’s taste for enigma is further displayed in tada no, a set of eighteen cards each of which contains a simple instruction for an action, a formula in need of creative decryption, or a description of a situation.
As with previous issues of Bore, the scores are printed on high quality paper and come ready for use.
This second number of Bore, the publication of predominantly text-based scores edited by Sarah Hughes and David Stent, arrives bearing a generous sampling of compositions by Tim Parkinson and James Saunders. As with the first number, this one puts its scores in a format designed to be used the composers intended—a welcome invitation to the reader to participate in the realization of the works included.
Parkinson, a London-based composer, curator and pianist whose works have been performed internationally by Apartment House, the London Sinfonietta, Rhodri Davies, Stefan Thut and Anton Lukoszevieze among others, is represented here by the scores to four Songs (2011) for two performers. The songs largely consist of texts drawn from a consumer survey which are spoken, chanted and shouted, and accompanied by clapping, drumming and other gestures. In addition, the performers are to strike, stir and drop objects at given times. The scores include verbal instructions specifying the conditions and durations of each song as well as pages of music notation showing the rhythms and phrasing to use for the texts’ delivery. The texts make for a droll narrative of prosaic preoccupations both essential and trivial—and sometimes both at the same time. Delivered under the conditions of controlled chaos that the instructions seem to want to create, the Songs stand as a dramatically heightened articulation of things we do or feel, without ordinarily giving them voice or thought.
James Saunders—whom we recently interviewed—contributes two sets of scores, one set verbal and one set graphic. The verbal scores—formatted, in a nice touch, as recipe cards—are sets of instructions for large ensembles of players using sound-generating objects and percussion instruments. The instructions specify sound durations and qualities, as well as rules for interactions among the ensemble’s members. The compositions’ major formal elements would appear to be timbre and density, to be shaped through phrasing and layering. The graphic scores consist of two iterations of Object Network, a piece for ten objects of the performer’s choice which are to be moved around the scores’ surfaces according to rules given in an accompanying sheet. The resulting sounds will be a function of the objects’ weight, material composition, surfaces, etc., and of the pressure used to move them. Although the instructions don’t call for contact microphones, amplification could add an interesting layer of variables to those already present.
Even with the ready availability of exploratory scores on such sites as UploadDownloadPerform.net, there’s still nothing like being able to hold and use scores produced with such careful attention to quality.