Friday, September 29, 2023

The Power of Visual Representation: An Investigation into Non-Traditional Music Scores


Piece for Tuba

As the sphere of music composition continues to evolve, we find ourselves at a crossroads of sorts, with emerging technologies and approaches vying for our attention and allegiance. One such approach that has recently captured the imagination of composers and theorists alike is that of hyper-complex visualized scores. These scores, which combine intricate musical notation with highly abstract visual elements, offer a new way of understanding and engaging with musical composition, one that draws heavily on the work of thinkers such as Wilhelm Reich and Roland Barthes.
At its core, these radical scores represent a departure from traditional methods of musical notation. Rather than relying solely on written symbols and conventions, these scores incorporate a wide range of graphic elements, from abstract shapes and patterns to representational imagery and text. The result is a kind of synesthetic experience, where the visual and auditory elements of the music are intertwined in a complex and dynamic relationship.

But what are the implications of this new approach to music composition? For one thing, it raises questions about the role of notation in the creative process. Traditionally, musical notation has been seen as a kind of neutral medium, a way of encoding musical ideas in a way that can be easily shared and communicated. But with hyper-complex visualized scores, the notation becomes an integral part of the creative act, shaping the music itself in profound ways.

This shift in emphasis also has implications for the way we think about musical interpretation. In a traditional score, the written notation provides a kind of roadmap for performers, guiding them through the various elements of the music and helping them to bring it to life. But with hyper-complex visualized scores, the relationship between notation and performance becomes much more complex. Rather than simply following the written instructions, performers must engage with the visual elements of the score, interpreting them in a way that is both creative and responsive to the musical ideas being presented.

This brings us to the work of Wilhelm Reich, who saw the human body as a kind of musical instrument, capable of expressing and responding to the subtle nuances of sound and vibration. For Reich, music was a way of accessing the deep emotional and psychological energies that underlie our experience of the world. In a sense, hyper-complex visualized scores represent an extension of Reich's vision, offering a new way of accessing and expressing these energies through the medium of musical notation.

At the same time, hyper-complex visualized scores also draw heavily on the work of Roland Barthes, who famously wrote about the "death of the author" and the ways in which the meaning of a text is constructed by the reader, rather than by the author. This idea of the text as a kind of open, generative space is key to understanding the possibilities of hyper-complex visualized scoring. By creating scores that are at once highly structured and highly abstract, composers are opening up a space for interpretation and engagement that is far more expansive than traditional methods of notation.

But what are the challenges of working with hyper-complex visualized scores? For one thing, they require a high degree of technical skill and visual literacy on the part of both composer and performer. Unlike traditional scores, which can be read and understood by musicians with a relatively limited set of skills, hyper-complex visualized scores require a deep engagement with the visual elements of the music, as well as a willingness to experiment and take risks in the performance of the music.

At its core, hyper-complex visualized scoring can be understood as a fundamentally liberatory practice, one that seeks to subvert the hierarchical power structures that have long governed the creation and reception of musical works. In Reich's theory of orgonomy, for example, the human body is understood to be the primary locus of creative energy, with the production of musical works seen as a manifestation of this innate biological process. By extension, the role of the composer is not to impose their will upon the material, but rather to act as a facilitator, channeling the energy of the body into a coherent sonic form.

Similarly, Barthes' semiotic theory posits that meaning is not fixed or stable, but rather arises out of the complex interplay between signifiers and signifieds. In this sense, musical scores can be seen as a kind of language, with each note or symbol carrying its own unique set of associations and connotations. By embracing the inherent ambiguity and multiplicity of the musical language, hyper-complex visualized scores have the potential to create new forms of meaning that challenge conventional modes of interpretation and understanding.

Of course, the use of hyper-complex visualized scores also raises a number of significant challenges and questions. One of the primary concerns is the potential for these scores to become overly insular and elitist, catering only to a select group of highly trained musicians and scholars. This danger is particularly acute given the highly specialized vocabulary and notation systems that often accompany hyper-complex scoring, which can make it difficult for newcomers to access and engage with the works.

Another potential issue is the risk of over-reliance on technology, with composers and performers becoming too reliant on digital tools and software to generate and interpret the scores. This not only raises questions about the authenticity and originality of the works themselves, but also runs the risk of further entrenching existing power structures within the music industry, particularly with regard to the distribution and consumption of musical works.

Ultimately, however, the potential benefits of these scores far outweigh these challenges, particularly in terms of the ways in which it can disrupt traditional notions of musical authorship and interpretation. By foregrounding the role of the body, and by embracing the inherent ambiguity and multiplicity of the musical language, hyper-complex visualized scores offer a radical alternative to the hierarchical power structures that have long dominated the music industry. In so doing, they provide a powerful tool for artists and audiences alike to explore the myriad possibilities of musical creation, and to imagine new futures for the art form as a whole.

Follicle Design Explained" for B Flat Trumpet


"Follicle Design Explained"

For B Flat Trumpet

Bil Smith Composer

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Sunday, September 17, 2023

NEW PAGES TO SCORE: "The Magnesium Device Whose Undulations Lulled Me Into the Illusion" for 'Maroon' (A Newly Designed Brass Instrument from Thomas Inderbinen)

for 'Maroon' (A Newly Designed Brass/Trumpet Variation from Thomas Inderbinen)

Bil Smith Composer

Published by LNM Editions

About 'Maroon':

"Maroon" is a newly developed instrument from Thomas Inderbinen. It is played with a trumpet mouthpiece but the construction is more like a flugelhorn. The Maroon is characterized by a very big, warm sound which can nevertheless be centered in the direction of a trumpet. It has an unbelievably easy response in the low as well as in the high register. In the words of Inderbinen "The barriers between trumpet and flugelhorn have fallen, and a new dimension in the sound of wind instruments has been created."

The first three pages of the score with inspiration from Lucio Fontana, Mimmo Totaro, Cage's Fontana Mix and Neville Brody.  
Published by LNM Editions

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Constant Marble SlitBreaker for Alto Flute

"Constant Marble SlitBreaker"

 for Kingma System Alto Flute

Bil Smith Composer

Published by LNM Editions

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Spatial Constructivism


Spatial Constructivism is a term I use to define an unconventional notation that is complex and requires a virtuoso with exceptional musical and cognitive abilities to execute. This system is based on the principles of paratactic and dissipative structures, as well as on the principles of Constructivism in art and architecture.

It is deliberately difficult to interpret and execute.

It is paratactic in structure, meaning that it is composed of a series of distinct and independent units that are juxtaposed with each other in order to create a larger whole. These units may be individual notes or compound diagrammatic notes, or they could be more complex musical phrases or sections.

Each unit is represented in the notation system by a unique symbol or graphic element, and the performer is required to interpret and execute each unit individually, while also integrating it into the larger context of the piece.

At the same time, the notation system is dissipative in nature, meaning that the performer would need to constantly adapt and respond to changing musical and cognitive contexts. The system might involve elements of chance, forcing the performer to react spontaneously to unexpected events or stimuli.

Additionally, the notation incorporates elements of feedback or self-correction, allowing the performer to modify their approach based on the results of previous performances or on real-time sensory input.

There is a clear emphasis on the use of geometric forms and patterns, as well as the manipulation of space and perspective, in order to create a sense of depth, dynamism, and interactivity within the notation system. This system incorporates elements of visual art, such as colors, textures, or shading, in order to convey information about tempo, dynamics, or other musical parameters.

The score is developed based on the idea that music can be thought of as a physical construct that exists in space and time. This construct can be visualized as a three-dimensional object with multiple dimensions, each representing a different aspect of the music, such as pitch, duration, volume, and timbre. These dimensions can be manipulated in space, creating a complex interplay between the various elements of the music.

"An Air of Eerie Exoticism" For Clarinet and Flute. For Hanan Hadzajlic, Flute and Vasa Vučković, Clarinet

"An Air Of Eerie Exoticism"

Flute and Clarinet

Bil Smith Composer

For Hanan Hadzajlic, Flute and Vasa Vučković, Clarinet

World Premiere, June, 2017

Link to Full Score:

"Stellum" for Oboe. The score. A Commission from BAE Systems

"Stellum" for Oboe.

Analysis and Commentary by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Upon perusal of the score, one is immediately confronted with a paradoxical directive. The oboist is thrust into a world where the conventional techniques and structures of music are abandoned in favor of uncharted sonic territories. This is a realm inhabited by what are colloquially known as "twentieth-century techniques," a lexicon of sounds that defy tradition and convention.

These techniques encompass a myriad of unorthodox methods for coaxing sounds from the oboe's wooden form. Alternate fingerings dance alongside harmonics, multiphonics harmonize with double trills, and trills with microintervals beckon the performer to tread perilously close to the edge of musical convention. Among these techniques is a peculiar effect known as "over-blowing," a technique shrouded in mystery, entailing alternate fingerings and heightened air pressure. But here's the Kafkaesque twist—Smith, the composer, refuses to provide explicit instructions for these avant-garde effects within the score.

Much like Kafka's protagonists who find themselves navigating bureaucratic mazes, Smith thrusts the performer into a realm of ambiguity and uncertainty. The oboist is left to navigate the score's labyrinthine passages without a map, guided only by intuition and collaboration. This act of collaboration is itself a Kafkaesque metaphor—a reflection of the interconnectedness and shared responsibility inherent in the creative process.

Yet, "Stellum" for Oboe is more than just a collection of avant-garde techniques; it's a manifestation of the Freudian subconscious through sound. Smith's score transcends mere notation; it plunges into the depths of the oboe's voice, merging content and form into a hypnotic continuum. The oboist's breath becomes a medium for prosaic utterances that lull the listener into a state of eerie clarity, only to thrust them into the surreal landscapes of the mind through free-form associative patterns.

As the oboist embarks on this auditory odyssey, the score blurs into uncannily vivid scenarios. It's as though the performer's very eyes are fed with imagery—a Freudian-style shopping list of the subconscious. The oboist's breath becomes a vessel for the surreal, a conduit for the uncanny, and a portal into the depths of human cognition.

"Telustra" for Bass Flute


"Telustra" for Bass Flute

Bil Smith Composer

At the heart of "Telustra" lies an approach known as "infinite proliferation," a concept that defines a penchant for probing the infinite complexities of the human psyche. In this composition, a tapestry of musical material seems to spiral outward endlessly. Each note, each phrase, and each gesture spawns new iterations, creating a sense of perpetuity within the confines of a single page. It is as if the Bass Flute itself is engaged in an unending conversation, a dialogue that defies resolution.

Integral to "Telustra" is the notion of "harmonic fields," a term that grapples with the fluidity of identity and purpose. These fields are not static entities but fluid zones where notational archetypes converge and diverge. The bass flute defies its limitations to conjure a sense of polyphony capable of voicing multiple narratives simultaneously.
Throughout "Telustra," specific pitch cells recur that serve as signposts in a sonic landscape, guiding the listener through the intricate labyrinth of the composition; iconic phrases and recurring themes—anchors of familiarity within a sea of complexity.

Tension, that elusive force that propels the compositional narrative forward, also plays a pivotal role in. In navigating the complex notation prsnted in this one page score, the Bass Flute weaves a delicate balance of anticipation and release, keeping the listener engaged in a state of perpetual curiosity.
In a domain where improvisation is often seen as a departure from responsibility, "Telustra" dares to take liberties.

Much like Berio's Sequenzas this work suggests that within the realm of music, improvisation is a legitimate avenue for realizing a composer's intentions. It is a reminder that the creative process is not bound by rigid rules but is an ever-evolving, organic dialogue between composer and performer.

"Membrane of Separation". For Two Bass Clarinets

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Monday, September 4, 2023

"The Black Flame Rinses The Second Sky". The Recording on SoundCloud

Pharmacists, Ventriloquist and Modulators  

"The Black Flame Rinses The Second Sky"
Double String Quartet, Orchestra, Pharmacist, Bally's Code Red, Spectral Ventriloquist, Micro-Gestural Half Life Timbre Polymodulation and Regulated Pulsaret-Width Modulation


"...the complex score offers a language for Smith's negotiation. From the outset, a low-slung envelope snakes through and around existing obstacles, then lifts up off the ground to allow listeners to enter before twisting and turning away, pulling the ear along rather than asking the audience to stand and stare.
Lexical Parliament 

A dramatic vortex of spiraling ambiguities brings daylight down even into the submerged sonorities, while allowing these sonic spaces themselves to remain unflinchingly neutral, although varied in scale and dimension.
 “Temental,” as Smith calls the central passage, is as internally variegated, allowing it to perform as the binding agent rather than the hieratic center that holds all the other elements of this magnificent piece together. In other words, the surface of this music —outside and in—is not an abstract plane or a transcendent core but a site of exchange between competing concerns.

Smith confounds us with neologisms (his life's other work) to depict renderings of passages within his compositions. While others merely define their work with titles, Smith augments each piece with titles within titles...a lexical panacea; a syntacticon unrealized by any other composer in time.
...the dexterity with which the performance takes on its various roles renders it materially present but momentarily elusive: No wall can be said to guard the boundary between inside and outside. Smith’s ideal emerges as a new kind of composition, sent via special delivery to a place where negotiation is urgently needed and heroism inconceivable."
Kevin O'Hare - for "WWD"

"Nodal Blithe" For Two C Trumpets

Sunday, September 3, 2023

When Music Disappears... {La musique d'un certain terme}

'intuniv" for String Quartet and Chimes.  Recording on LNM (CD).  Formerly found on SoundCloud.  Recorded at Oktaven Recording Studios, NYC.

When music disappears... because the composer insists.  

Four works, Four recordings.

"Telephasio: Upside The Fandom" for Mezzo-Soprano, Bass Recorder, Valve Trombone, Viola I, Viola II, and Piano.  RECORDING on LNM (CD).  Formerly on SoundCloud.  Recorded at 25th Street Recording Studios, Oakland, CA.  DESTROYED.

This project was uniquely personal and I elected to photograph those people closest to me to exhibit.

I placed certain constraints and requirements as to precisely how each recording was to be presented  and how long each work should be available.

"Impact Tilting - Clumps of Dried Air Weed Spinning Against Its Terminal Pier and Covered with Gnomic Meaningless Graffiti" Bil Smith Composer; Recorded at The Parlor, NY, NY.  Recording on LNM Label (CD).

At first, it's there...on SoundCloud, on iTunes, on Amazon, on physical CD's and then it leaves us.

Some hear it...   Most never will.

In the case of these first four musical recordings, a total of 17 people heard them.  They were from Denton, TX, USA;  Nyasvizh, Belarus;  Antsirabe, Madagascar;  Hoboken, NJ, USA;   Kopenick, Germany....etc.

Yes, there are scores.  But no one will hear them again.  (Hear...not see:  that decision has not been made as of this writing)

It is a privilege as a composer, we control.  

"Contingent Archipelago" for Woodwind Quintet and Piano.  Recorded at Evolution Recording Studios, Oxford, England. Recording released on LNM Music.  Formerly found on SoundCloud.

In composition class, of which I foster confrontational views, this action was coined as "narcissistic, vain, self contained and crazed."

Students, then in an attempt to brand the concept of 'musical elimination' cited the general disdain of composers to be lumped into any group and with that consensus, moved to create a nomenclature; a moniker.  And a representative selection...

Destructural Narratology

Decontextualized Sonification


Blocked Discourse: (a polysyllogism)

Socratic Fallacy

Utopian Gestalt


Maybe I should find careers for them in the name development business.

- Bil Smith Composer