Treatise & Treatise Handbook, by Cornelius Cardew

Treatise (Cardew 1967) is a graphic score by Cornelius Cardew. It was written in stages over a period of four years and completed in 1967. As with many graphic scores I feel that interpretation of the score is best carried out by performance rather than by written critical analysis. Nevertheless I will continue to describe the pages of the score as a means of introducing Cardew’s interpretation of his score. At the bottom of each page Cardew has included a double staff, which implies that this is a linear musical score to be read from left to right. The work appears to be a collection of abstract markings and shapes that evolve over its 193 pages. Most of Cardew’s hand-drawn markings are, to a greater or lesser extent, visibly inspired by the musical symbols of western standard notation. Abstracted minims and crotchets appear, as do ties, slurs, dots, points, lines and numbers. Other forms also share the score; for example there is a very large black disc on page 133 and similar smaller discs and partial discs on surrounding pages. Towards the end of the score many thin lines divide and sub-divide giving tree-like appearances. The composition should be improvised by any number of performers on their choice of instruments or non-instruments and the score should be used as a guide to the performance. In writing this score, Cardew has taken great care to not suggest ways in which it should be read or interpreted by performers of the work.

The Treatise Handbook (Cardew 1971) brings together several texts and two scored compositions by Cornelius Cardew. The title indicates that the book is intended to accompany the score and the introduction announces Cardew’s apprehension at the publication of the notes that follow. He states the implicit contradiction in attempting to describe a piece of work that has been constructed in order to remain open to interpretation. However, some justification is made by the fact that Cardew has the opportunity to publish two scores within this book and the lecture Towards an ethic of improvisation.

The chapter entitled Treatise: Working notes is a chronologically arranged collection of personal notes made by Cardew during the years he spent writing the score from 1963 to 67. His thoughts resonate with a raw earthiness appropriate to the score. On 11th March 65 for example, Cardew was obviously thinking about the score while reflecting on the central black line that runs throughout the piece with only the occasional break;

Treatise: What is it? Well, it’s a vertebrate… (Cardew 1971 p.vii)

This suggests that the work is a living organism with a spine. As such, performances of this work will naturally reflect the interpretation of its performer(s) more than necessarily the score as a traditional composition. Some of the symbols in the score clearly echo western notation. However, Cardew allows resemblances to occur only as a reminder of the works musicality.

Interpreter! Remember that no meaning is yet attached to the symbols. They are however to be interpreted in the context of their role in the whole. Distinguish symbols that enclose space (circle, etc.); those that have a characteristic feature. What symbols are for sounding and what for orientation. Example: The horizontal central bar is the main and most constant orientation; what happens where it ceases (or bends)? Do you go out of tune (eg)? (Cardew 1971 p.iii)

In Treatise: Résumé of pre-publication performances Cardew has included a quote from the program notes of a performance given at Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, 1966. The program notes succinctly describe the score and it’s use.

Treatise is a long continuous drawing – in form rather similar to a novel. But it is composed according to musical principles and is intended to serve as a score for musicians to play from. However, indications of sounds, noises, and musical relationships do not figure in the score, which is purely graphic… Each player interprets the score according to his own acumen and sensibility. (Cardew 1971 p.xii)

Cardew’s lecture Towards an Ethic of Improvisation delves into some of the philosophical content of the Treatise score. He opens with reference to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1918) and Philosophical Investigations (1945) because of the texts application to music. He goes on to describe improvisation as a relationship between performer, audience and music that is lodged within the time-span of its performance. He describes his experimentation as a member of the improvisatory group AMM. During 1966 the instrumentation of the group expanded far beyond saxophone, piano, violin and guitar. They began using many other instruments and non-instruments, resonant objects made from glass, metal and wood. This period of experimentation seems to have allowed Cardew to consider the role of the improviser as a kind of athlete.

This kind of thing happens in improvisation. Two things running concurrently in haphazard fashion suddenly synchronise autonomously and sling you forcibly into a new phase. Rather like in the 6-day cycle race when you sling your partner into the next lap with a forcible handclasp. Yes improvisation is a sport too, and a spectator sport, where the subtlest interplay on the physical level can throw into high relief some of the mystery of being alive.
Connected with this is the proposition that improvisation cannot be rehearsed. Training is substituted for rehearsal, and a certain moral discipline is an essential part of this training. (Cardew 1971 p.xvii)

This emphasises the temporal immediacy of the presence of the improvised performance and, as Cardew goes on to say, renders the recording of an improvisation somewhat hollow by comparison. He compares music with and without notation and outlines advantages of notation and it’s absence. He suggests that a sudden absence of notation might leave a performer feeling abandoned. Alternatively it could allow forms of improvisation. Cardew has noticed that well trained musicians that can over-interpret the work Treatise in the sense that they might attempt to literally read the score in a method as close as possible to a reading of standard western notation. However, he says that graphic artists and mathematicians may be more prepared to creatively interpret the score although they may have less capability controlling a musical instrument and producing their desired sound.

Cardew refers to Wittgenstein again and quotes him equating the logical structure of recorded music to the logical structure of a score. Cardew draws the conclusion that an improvisation cannot be scored or recorded within out some loss occurring because of the absence of this structure.

Who can be interested purely in sound, however high its ‘fidelity’? Improvisation is a language spontaneously developed amongst the players and between players and listeners. Who can say in what consists the mode of operation of this language? Is it likely that it is reducible to electrical impulses on tapes and the oscillation of a loudspeaker membrane? (Cardew 1971 p.xx)

Cardew concludes the lecture with a list of Virtues that a musician can develop.
Simplicity is highlighted as the most appealing virtue. However, a simplistic musical expression must also subtly express how it was achieved.
Integrity is the importance of a performer remaining true to the concerns of the music. Cardew exemplifies a professional musician as making the sound and the improvisers in AMM as being the sound.
Selflessness is included to highlight the performers required concern for the work rather than the documentation of it.
Forbearance is the permissive characteristic required of an improviser in order to allow the music to exist.
Preparedness is defined as a delicate balance. The performer should be the music throughout it’s performance while simultaneously being prepared for the music to change unexpectedly.
Identification with nature is similar to preparedness. Cardew says the performer with this virtue will live;

…like a yachtsman to utilise the interplay of natural forces and currents to steer a course. My attitude is that the musical and the real worlds are one. Musicality is a dimension of perfectly ordinary reality. (Cardew 1971 p.xx)

Acceptance of death is ultimately vital to performers of improvisational music from Cardew’s perspective as it broadly represents the acceptance of the impermanence of music.

CARDEW, C. (1967). Treatise. Buffalo, New York, Gallery Upstairs Press.
CARDEW, C. (1971). Treatise handbook, including Bun no. 2 and Volo solo. London, Edition Peters.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this...very well done on much to be said about this score