in music
notation [selected projects]

Maria Rosaria Digregorio

_7_static notations
____8_Shape of Song

13_dinamic notations
___14_Music Animation Machine
___16_Visual Scratch
___18_Colours are Sounds / Melodies for the Plane
___20_Visual Score for Vermont Counterpoint
___22_Daft Punk | Around the World
___23_Chemical Broters | Stars Guitar

25_notation and interfaces
___26_Graphite Sequencer


Musical notation is any system which represents
music through symbols.
The standard notation for western music developed
over several centuries supported by the Catholic
Church. It’s based on the five lines staff and on a full
range of symbols that identify notes, rhythms, tempo,
dynamics. It reads in the same way as the prose of
European languages (left-to-right, top-to-bottom)
and it applies to any instrument.
Nevertheless, also after the consolidation of standard
notation, there have been numerous proposals over
times for new music notation systems, generally
when, for poetic or technological reasons,
the standard solution was felt as inadequate.
In 1969 John Cage and Alison knowles edited
Notations, a book that holds graphical scores by 269
composers, probably the most famous example
of non-standard notations in the pre-digital culture.
Now, with computers and Internet, new tools
are available for music and they are influencing
practice and thought. Together with music, also
its representation is answering with changes
to technological innovation, and new ways
of expression keep on coming out.
Not always new notations are already a strong
system that could replace the standard one,
sometimes they just point the attention to other
aspects that can’t be easily described with usual
means, sometimes they are designed for specific
aims, instruments or applications, anyway the aim
of this small investigation is not to find out new
standards, is to check on what is happening, trying
to find inspirations and thoughts to ruminate.

As for the staff, this kind
of notation has a fixed
surface, so a static
attitude; to follow the
music you have to
change from surface to
surface, both turning
the page of a paper score
or scrolling the window
of a website.
The medium is the screen
and the programming.

Shape of Song [2001]
by Martin Wattenberg

>The diagrams in the Shape of Song display musical
form as a sequence of translucent arches. Each
arch connects two repeated, identical passages
of a composition. By using repeated passages as
signposts, the diagram illustrates the deep structure
of the composition.<
The starting point for calculation are the notes
on the staff but, from the same kind of datas, the
Shape of Song shows a different kind of information:
the central point is the abstract structure in the
composition, that could be played also with different


Each arch connects two repeated, identical passages of a composition.

Johann Sebastian Bach, Goldberg Variations

Philip Glass, Candyman 2
by Jonatan Liljedahl

>AlgoScore is graphical environment for algorithmic
composition, where music is constructed directly
in an interactive graphical score.
Graphical objects are placed in a timeline and
connected together. Some objects are fully
dependent on user data, while some are generative
and reacts on input from other objects.
AlgoScore has a non-realtime perspective, where
the composer can relate freely to time and construct
the composition outside of time. This also means
that an object has the ability to access all data of
another object in a single moment, instead of being
limited to the streaming data of a current “now”.<


This kind of notation
has a real-time attitude;
music and notation
happen in the same
moment and flow
along all the whole
composition, that is
the only big surface.
The medium is the video
and the programming.

Music Animation Machine [1985]
by Stephen Malinowski

>Music moves, and can be understood just by
listening. But a conventional musical score stands
still, and can be understood only after years
of training. The Music Animation Machine bridges
this gap, with a score that moves , and can be
understood just by watching.
This animated score contains much of the
information in a conventional score, but shows
it in a way that can be understood intuitively
by anyone, including children.
The Music Animation Machine display is a score
without any measures or clefs, in which information
about the music’s structure is conveyed with bars
of color representing the notes. These bars scroll
across the screen as the music plays. Their position
on the screen tells you their pitch and their timing
in relation to each other. Different colors denote
different instruments or voices, thematic material,
or tonality. And each note lights up at the exact
moment it sounds, so you can’t lose your place.<


Johann Sebastian Bach,
Brandenburg Concerto #6, third movement

Frédéric Chopin,
Etude, opus 10, #8

Franz Liszt,
Hungarian Rhapsody #2

Eric Satie,
Gymnopedie #1
Visual Scratch
by Jesse Kriss

>The graphics are generated in Processing.
The y-axis position reflects the velocity of the
turntable, color is based on the frequency content
of the scratch audio, and the thickness of the line
is based on the volume.<
The notation is based on two levels, the one
of the abstract symbols that represent the scratch
an the one of the gesture of the performer that plays
that scratch. Combining both, the result is more
powerful and intuitive (a little bit like what happens
looking at the conductor in the life performance
of an orchestra).


Visual Scratch, Baby Scratch

Visual Scratch, Forwards
Colours are Sounds / Melodies for the Plane [2005]
by Pavel Karnaukhov and

>Music is developing in time, while image
is developing in space. However, both music and
image have beginning and end. […]
Diagonal corresponds to the beginning of music
bar, because it helps the human eye to orientate
when examining the image. Therefore, the first note
will be laid down on the diagonal. Diagonal, vertical
and horizontal intersections through the center
of rectangle correspond to the strong beats
of the bar and “time” coordinate.
Distance from the center to the edge of rectangle
is the second coordinate that reflects the pitch
of note.<

>The rectangle should be isosceles (square), as the
bars are equal by time. Distance from the center
to the edge corresponds to octave; lower notes are
located closer to the center, while high notes are
closer to the edge of square.
The notes are transferred to the plane to their
respective paths. There are 12 paths for the octave,
according to the number of semitones in the octave.<

Visual Score for Vermont Counterpoint [2007]
by Matt Gilbert

>Vermont Counterpoint was composed by Steve
Reich for 1 live flute and 11 tracks of prerecorded
flutes, alto flutes, and piccolo. […]
Each of the three groups of colored dots represent,
from left to right, the three piccolo, the three
flutes, and the three alto flutes. The larger blue
dot represents the live part as it participates in the
counterpoint. The three rings represent the canons
played by the three main groups of instruments,
and each loop on the rings represent one note.
The height, openness, and width of the loops are
determined by their volume, pitch, and duration. […]
The animations were generated in Processing.<


Daft Punk | Around the World [1997]
by Michel Gondry

>In the video literally each part of the song
is represented by a dancing quartet: the bass
by super-tall humans, the spry glissandos
by synchronized swimmers, the vocoderized “around
the world” by robots, etc. As the melodies progress,
each group’s performance evolves.<


Chemical Broters | Stars Guitar [2001]
by Michel Gondry

>The video describes a journey as seen from a train
window, only the disposition of each passing element
in the landscape is positioned exactly in sync with
the music.
Every sound from the track will be illustrated
by an element of the landscape that appears each
time that sound is heard. As the song becomes more
elaborate, there will be a more and more complex


Making of: Gondry’s graphic notation on paper and video mock up with objects.
When there’s a music
interface, often a specific
language is designed,
and it works as a
notation. Interfaces have
a real-time attitude and,
moreover, they can give
to the digital music a
more intuitive, interactive
and sometimes even
tangible quality.

Graphite Sequencer [2006]
by Caleb Coppock

Graphite Sequencer is an analogue interface that
works like a music box, but the matrix is modifiable
in any moment just drawing.
>Graphite conducts electricity. Two wires brush
against the surface of a paper disk as it spins.
The wires are connected to a simple electronic tone
generator. When a line of graphite is drawn across
the disk, connecting the two wires, a tone is heard.
The quality of the line affects the sound. For example,
if the line is thick, allowing more current to pass over
it, the pitch changes to a lower tone.<
The drawing produces directly the sound, so as for
the music boxes, it can be considered the display
of a musical information materialized in a physical

by David Krause, Volker Bertelmann, Fons Hickmann and Simon Gallus

Pianolina is a web project for the Grotrian piano
Piano notes are represented by colored squares
that you drag and drop into a rectangle, a sound
space affected by gravity.
The squares float in this space with different speeds,
according to the push they received when they where
dragged into the sound space.
They play their note – or chord, or musical pattern
– when they knock against the rectangle borders.
By combining notes and movements, a more or less
random melody comes out and modifies because
of the interaction of the squares that can collide
and change their direction and speed.


Scrapple [2005]
by Golan Levin

>Scrapple is an audiovisual installation in which
everyday objects placed on a table are interpreted
as sound-producing marks in an active score.
The Scrapple system scans a table surface as
if it were a kind of music notation, producing music
in real-time from any objects lying there.
The installation makes use of a variety of playful
forms; in particular, long flexible curves allow for the
creation of variable melodies, while an assemblage
of cloth shapes, small objects and wind-up toys yields
ever-changing rhythms.
Video projections on the Scrapple table transform
the surface into a simple augmented reality, in which
the objects placed by users are elaborated through
luminous and explanatory graphics.
The 3-meter long table produces a 4-second audio
loop, allowing participants to experiment freely with
tangible, interactive audiovisual composition.
In the Scrapple installation, the table is the score.<


ReacTable [2003]
by Pompeu Fabra University of Barcelona

>The ReacTable is a collaborative electronic music
instrument with a tabletop tangible multi-touch
interface. Several simultaneous performers share
complete control over the instrument by moving
and rotating physical objects on a luminous round
table surface. By moving and relating these objects,
representing components of a classic modular
synthesizer, users can create complex and dynamic
sonic topologies, with generators, filters and
modulators, in a kind of tangible modular synthesizer
or graspable flow-controlled programming language.
The reactable hardware is based on a translucent,
round multi-touch surface. A camera situated
beneath the table, continuously analyzes the surface,
tracking the player’s finger tips and the nature,
position and orientation of physical objects that are
distributed on its surface. These objects represent
the components of a classic modular synthesizer,
the players interact by moving these objects,
changing their distance, orientation and the relation
to each other. These actions directly control the
topological structure and parameters of the sound
synthesizer. A projector, also from underneath the
table, draws dynamic animations on its surface,
providing a visual feedback of the state, the activity
and the main characteristics of the sounds produced
by the audio synthesizer.<


ReacTable’s notational system
Tenori-On [2005]
by Toshio Iwai and Yamaha

Tenori-On is a digital musical instrument.
>The interface area of Tenori-On consists of a simple
square of 16x16 matrix of led switches sourrounded
by an alluminium frame. The upper part of the
aluminium frame has 2 high sound quality speakers,
the lower part of the aluminuim section has a dial
and a lcd, and on both sides of the alluminuim frame
there are four function switches that change sound
or image. […]
The back of Tenori-On has a 16x16 matrix of led
lights that copy the light display produced via the led
switches of the control sufrace. This facilitates
a beafutiful light display when Tenori-On is used
during stage performances.<


Tenori-On’s notational system

Information Design

Bertin, Jacques. 1967. La sémiologie graphique. Les diagrammes, les réseaux,
les cartes. Paris: Gauthier-Villars.
Tufte, Edward R. 1983. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire ct:
Graphics Press.
- 1990. Envisioning Information.
- 1997. Visual Explanations.
- 2006. Beautiful evidence.

Music and Notation

Cage, John. Knowles, Alison. 1969. Notations. New York ny: Something Else Press.
Möller, Torsten. Shim, Kunsu. Stäbler, Gerhard. 2005.
SoundVisions. Saarbrücken de: Pfau
Woolman, Mat. Sonic Graphics. Seeing sound. London: Thames and Hudson

Intuitive Music Homepage by Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsen
Experimental Improvisation Practise And Notation, detailed bibliography

Edward Tufte
information design and visualizations, related also to music

Visual Complexity
gallery of complex network visualizations, not only about music

Vispo by Jim Andrews
gallery of interactive audio projects for the web

ReacTable / Related
gallery of tangible musical interfaces

Galleries of scores
Nifty (in Japanese)
Notation 21
Pictures of music

Posts about scores and notation
Dark Roasted Blend
Typeface Decima, designed by Luciano Perondi in 2005 (