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Saturday, February 8, 2020

Cornelius Cardew –Treatise- Gerauschhersteller (Noise Maker - NM1CD, 2018) *****

By Guido Montegrandi

Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise is a193 pages graphic score composed between 1963 and 1967, which appears as a flow of signs that goes on page after page guided by a double staff at the foot of each page. A text which is an underrated milestone in contemporary music and that offers many questions and many possibilities to the interpreter.

Cardew himself in his 1971 Treatise Handbook gave this definition: “Treatise is a long continuous drawing 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.”

The above lines can give a glimpse of what we are talking about; notes, observation and descriptions about Cardew, his tidings with Cage and then with Stockhausen, even the whole score, are available on the Net for those who love to have a deeper insight.

The Gerauschhersteller (noise maker) recording is a 5CDs box and, as far as I know, is the most complete attempt to record Cardew’s work. Being such a problematical piece of music, I asked the interpreters to tell me something about their approach to it and Stuart Riddle (Electronics, Harmonium, Little Instruments, Saxophone) was so kind to give me his point of view as well as many of the material the ensemble used to organise their performance: “Our recording of Treatise was the culmination of two or three years work on the score – it was a piece that we continued to return to in rehearsal. We gave a concert in Wimborne where we played two sections and we were very pleased with the results (…) I always wanted to record the whole piece – although shorter excerpts are valid, I thought that the lack of a recording of the whole piece was a real gap in the literature.”

Cardew suggested in its notes that “no meaning is yet attached to the symbols. They are however to be interpreted in the context of their role in the whole.” To this point Stuart Riddle said: “we spent a lot of time discussing the symbols and possible approaches (…) In the end, we reached the point where we had sufficient familiarity with the score, and a shared understanding of the ways to approach it. We deliberately did not have an approach where, for instance, a triangle is always a triad, and a square is always a four note chord. Each player’s approach to the symbols was private, but informed by the group’s history of discussion and involvement with the score.”

Certainly a relevant point in performing this score is the role of improvisation. Cornelius Cardew during the years of his writing moved from an academic position to a different and more open paradigm – he had joined the AMM (a seminal British free improvisation group) in the meanwhile, so improvisation is part of the game. Of course the role of improvisation in indeterminate pieces like this is quite complicated and certainly it is not possible to discuss it into a review, anyway The Gerauschhersteller decided to follow the path of interaction so that each player could react to what the other players were doing. This as opposed to the approach that Cage gave to his indeterminate pieces where musicians would play their part independently from each other.

The music that springs from these premises is challenging but rewarding even more rewarding if you have the score in front of you while you listen. Gerauschhersteller found a fine balance between sound and silence, noise and music so definitely something to dedicate time to and to meditate upon. A piece of music everyone should be aware of and a relevant performance.