A score is traditionally a way to write down or communicate a musical composition. The word most likely comes from the five lines used, ‘scoring’ the page. They have a graphic language of their own, with staves, notes, bars, timings, and many other instructions.
Graphic scores became more popular around the 1950s (even though earlier examples exists), and was closely connected the way composers like Cage, Stockhousen and Feldman started to experiment and push the boundaries of sound, music and scores themselves. Graphic scores can be anything from images, text instructions, graphic imagery, scribbles…. Unlike ‘regular’ scores, they are not standardised in any way, and the performance of a visual score depends mainly on the imagination of the performer – encouraging improvisations and personal interpretations. One of the most famous graphic scores is British composer Cardews ‘Treatsie’. Cardew was a composer and improviser, who was interested in breaking down the barriers of traditional music making. There shouldn’t be a need for anyone to spend years learning an instrument or to read ‘proper’ musical notation to be able to participate in music making. Graphic scores are a way to democratise the process of making sound and music – anyone can have a go at performing them, and no performance will be ‘better’ than any other.
For many composers working with graphic scores, the visual score itself often became an extension of the musical or sound work, important and interesting in its own right.