and manners serve
the behavior of our needs,
where Art remains the confessor
for artists who have something to say.
65, performance 1
Score 65, with audio link below image
65, performance 2
Score 65, with audio link below image
60, performance 2
Score 60, with audio link below image
Score 32, with audio link below image
with audio link below image
audio files are in Windows Media Audio, wma
(P) copyright 1998, Walton Mendelson & Stephen Aldrich
1934, Frederick Sommer visited Los Angeles. Walking through the
art museum one day, he noticed a display of musical scores. He
saw them not as music, but as graphics, and found in them an elegance
and grace that led him to a careful study of scores and notation.
found that the best music was visually more effective and attractive.
He assumed that there was a correlation between music as we hear
it and its notation; and he wondered if drawings that used notational
motifs and elements could be played. He made his first “drawings
in the manner of musical scores” that year. (After reviewing
this text, Fred asked that I refer to his scores “only”
in this way. When I suggested that it was perhaps too long to
be repeated throughout the text, he laughed and said, “Well,
use it at least once.”)
people knew of his scores, and occasionally brought musicians
to his house to play them, no one ever stayed with it for long.
In 1967, both Stephen Aldrich and I attended Prescott College,
Prescott, Arizona, where Sommer was on the faculty. We barely
knew of his reputation as a photographer, and nothing of the scores.
Towards the end of September he invited us to his house for dinner,
but we were to come early, and I was to bring my flute. “Can
you play that?” he asked, as we looked at one of the scores,
framed, and sitting atop his piano. With no guidance from him,
we tried. Nervous and unsure of what we were getting into, we
stopped midway through. I asked Stephen where he was in the score:
he pointed to where I had stopped. We knew then, mysterious though
they were, the scores could be played. On May 9, 1968, the first
public performance of the music of Frederick Sommer was given
at Prescott College.
had no musical training. He didn’t know one note from another
on his piano, nor could he read music. His record collection was
surprisingly broad for that time, and his familiarity with it
was thorough. What surprised me when I first met him were his
visual skills: he could identify many specific pieces and almost
any major composer by looking at the shapes of the notation on
a page of printed music. And being an eighteen-year-old, I did
Sommer’s known works, his drawings, glue-color on paper,
photographs, and writings, it is only these scores that have been
a part of his creative life throughout the entirety of his artistic
career. He was still drawing elegant scores in 1997. And like
his skip reading, they are the closest insight to his creative
process, thinking and aesthetic.
and thirty years of playing the scores have come together to allow
us to make a performance on CD. While the scores don’t have
specific notes, the graphic elements direct the improvised performance.
Every performance is different, but the score, through its visual
organization, guides us. There are two performances each of scores
5, 60 and 65.
example is of Score 66 (listen).
Pitch and duration are shown in a general, suggestive way; whereas
in the transcription of the wind instrument performance of the
highlighted section pitch and time are specifically defined.
our interpretation of the scores is idiosyncratic, and can’t
be considered definitive. I do not present the scores or our performances
as anything other than what they are; I do not offer them as my
idea of the avant-garde in music. Realistically, they are, as
with the musical compositions of photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn
done on piano rolls, an interesting footnote in the history of
photography and music.
score numbers are a convenience of mine. Sommer did not have a
system for numbering or titling them, nor is there any way to
determine when a particular score was drawn. I grouped the performances
into suites, repeating the opening piece at the end of each as
a kind of coda, and giving them titles.
instruments used are a Rowland RD-500, electronic keyboard, for
recording with a Kurzweil K2500R for mastering, and a Yamaha WX11
and WT-11 electronic wind instrument and sound module, for recording
and mastering. The electronic wind instrument is a clarinet-shaped
instrument having five octaves and the capability of simple polyphonic
playing, as heard on tracks 5, 13, and 56. Its sound was changed
from violin to “swamp-synth” on track 4, and to “whistle”
on track 20. The keyboard was changed on tracks 4, and 6 to strings,
and track 20 to “clavichord/koto”. We recorded every
practice session into a computer using Midiman Winman 2X2 MIDI
interface and Cakewalk Pro Audio recording software. The CD was
engineered and mastered at Sweetwater Sound, Inc., in Ft. Wayne,
Indiana, by Larry Pester. Over the entirety of the two suites,
nine notes were changed or deleted, most of which had been corrupted
either by’ the Yamaha sound module or in converting the
files from one format to another. Beyond adjusting the dynamics,
creating a feeling for where the music is being performed, and
whatever else is part of the arcane tools of the sound engineer,
these recordings are live performances: no performance has been
otherwise edited or spliced together—each is what we played,
as we played it.
musical tastes ran from early Christian chant well into the first
half of the twentieth century. When I first met him, his favorite
piece of music, and one which he insisted required a drink—most
often his version
of the Brasilian batidas: 1 part honey, 1 part lemon juice, and
3 parts tequila—was Wilhelm Friedemann Bach’s Sinfonia
d-moll. He loved Satie, and would show us how one
should dance to Satie, if one wanted to—this demonstration
usually occurred after the liquid preparation mentioned above
was too eagerly embraced. During his last few years, his musical
tastes move back to Palastrina, Josquin, and Tallis, to name a
his knowledge and taste, and, in the beginning, my asking, he
never gave me advice or made suggestions regarding the direction
the performances took or of what he might have had in mind when
he drew the scores. He would lay on his day bed, a few feet from
the piano, and listen to us. It was enough that we were playing
them. He often said, however, that “you must do no less
well than you can.” And that is itself remarkable advice.
Music of Frederick Sommer is dedicated to Fred and
Frances. And I would like to acknowledge and thank Chris Pichler,
Nazraeli Press, whose faith and support made it possible to see
the project through. An elegant, limited edition portfolio, approximately
10¼ X 12 inches, of this CD and the scores, is available
from Nazraeli Press, ISBN 3-923922-81-7, item #81-7, www.nazraeli.com,