Morphological Notation

Mophological Notation is a system of interactive computer-music descriptive notation that links pictographic representations to the system of spectromorphologies suggested by Dennis Smalley. The Morphological Notation (MN) uses these morphologies and adds a z-plane to the well-established time-vs-pitch schema. Ideally, MN will not only represent the sound data of the moment, but also will be an intuitive picture of the musical possibilities of a composition’s electronic component.

Interactive electroacoustic music that alters or extends instrumental timbre, sam-ples it, or generates sound based upon data generated in real-time by the performer pre-sents a new set of challenges for the performing musician. Unlike tape music, interactive music can continuously vary its response, and, frequently, performers are unable are to predict how the computer will react. Many, if not most, scores include no visual represen-tation of how the computer may affect the sound of the instrument.

Providing performers with a readily accessible visual representation of the sonic possibilities of interactive computer music will provide a conceptual framework within which performers can understand a piece of music. Interpretation of this type of notation by the performer will provide a perspective on how his or her acoustic instrument relates to the digital instrument. This can be especially useful when improvised or aleatoric methods are called for.

There are two kinds of frequency information this system attempts to articulate. One is register or pitch space, the other spectral or timbral space. The Register Space of a sound object is a vertical assessment of its frequency—the perceived relationship to a fundamental pitch, like a note. This is the y-axis, as in conventional music notation. However, we can have the sense not only of a sound object’s height in the register space (pitch continuum), but also of its width. A finely tuned viola note with no vibrato may be repre-sented as a band of very thin width, where as a piano cluster or even an out of tune trom-bone section may be perceived to be wider. Register space is represented on the y-axis as in traditional notation. But rather than representing a discrete set of frequencies (or notes), the y-axis then represents a continuum of pitch. Noise textures can challenge the idea of a pitch continuum. But granular noise like the crinkling of paper, or the grind of a cello bow, also have register, if not pitch. We certainly can perceive sound objects below and above these sounds.

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