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The Sound Barrier spotlights Cornelius Cardew's 'Treatise', performed by Geräuschhersteller!

The Sound Barrier for Sunday 10 February 2019

Treatise Page 1.jpg

Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) composed his 193-page graphic score Treatise from 1963-1967. Even all these years after it is still one of the most fascinating, beautiful, and often-performed pieces of graphically-notated music. 193 pages of circles, lines, shapes, numbers, symbols, each page flowing into the next like a cryptic story through a strange world of unknown signs, Cardew left its interpretation up to its performers. It is difficult to look at even one page of the score without beginning to let your imagination fly into ideas about how you might hear it as sound.

Inspired initially by Cardew's reading of Ludwig Wittgenstein's seminal work of linguistic philosophy Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the score of Treatise raises a whole world of possibilities about what all those magnificent squiggles and lines might 'mean'. Does each type of symbol correspond to a different type of sound? Or to a different musical parameter perhaps? What is the difference between a big circle and a little one, and what does it matter where it is placed on the page? Or do you just look at it and let it bounce you off into wherever your fancy takes you, a 'springboard for improvisation'?

This weekend on The Sound Barrier, as well as telling you a little about how Treatise is written and looks, I will be bringing you some large excerpts from one of the newest interpretations of the complete score, from UK-based experimental music ensemble, Geräuschhersteller, released last year on 5 CDs. It's an extraordinary performance and, so far, the longest recording of the entire score. The length allows the music's incredible sense of structure and flow to blossom out as few others have been able to achieve. Just like some of the other extended works that I have featured recently on the show, it is a pity that I cannot bring you the whole thing.

But, by way of brief introduction, I will also be playing very small excerpts from some other recordings, showing the different approaches to the opening of Treatise: a score that begins with perhaps its greatest challenge of all – the number '34'. What are performers to make of that? 34 repetitions of something? 34 seconds of silence? A reference to the harmonic series even? Or maybe a value to be applied to the signs that follow it? It's the first of many questions performers have to confront when they begin to play Treatise.

I hope you can listen in this Sunday night at 10.00 PM (AEDT), or whatever time that is wherever you are, for this unique chance to delve into this absorbing work of 20th-century graphic notation and musical indeterminacy, in one of its most dynamic and musically creative performances yet. As well as tuning in locally at 106.7 on Melbourne's FM band, and on PBS digital radio, you can also listen live all over the world via the PBS app or online. The show will also be available to listen back to, here on the website, shortly after it has gone live to air.

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