Performance Instructions

Performance Instructions

preceded by Description and Compositional Method


A Vocabulary for Peter Innisfree Moore

(February 1974-July 1975)

I. Description

A Vocabulary for Peter Innisfree Moore is a 22" x 14" drawing and performance score comprising 960 hand-printed words-the largest number of words appearing on a single surface in any of my Vocabularies. All of the words are spelled solely with letters that appear in the dedicatee's name. No letter appears in any single word more times than it does in the complete name. The words were printed by hand in India ink on a white background with pens having nibs of several different thicknesses, so that many sizes of letters appear in the drawing. The words are oriented in many different directions, their placements on the drawing and the directions in which they read having been determined by chance operations. Reading all of the words necessitates rotating the sheet of paper.

II. Compositional Method

The Vocabulary was composed in several stages:

1. It was conceived in a general way on 16-17 February 1974.

2. The 960 words were collected as a list in a notebook, partly with the aid of dictionaries, 17 November-20 December 1974.

3. The method of drawing was worked out on 20 December 1974. It comprised the following stages:

  1. The sheet of paper was divided into ten equal-sized sectors: two horizontal rows of five sectors each.
  1. A directional diagram was drawn: a circle with ten equally spaced radii, numbered from 0 to 9.
  1. Five random digits were used to select and place each word: three drew the word from the list; one determined the sector in which it was to be hand printed; and one, following the circular diagram, determined the direction in which the word should read. If a word couldn't fit entirely in the chance-determined sector, it had to begin in that sector and end in a neighboring one.
  1. Pen nibs were first chosen by "impulse chance," but as the paper became filled up, only the smaller nibs could be used.

4. The Vocabulary was executed, following the above method, largely from 20 December 1974 to sometime in February 1975, and completed on 9 July 1975.

5. The performance method was composed, though not described in the present form (the earlier description appears on the backs of the photo-offset copies of its first edition), 3-10 July 1975.

The Vocabulary was first performed, at the Studio for Creative Movement in New York City, by Neil Elliott, Spencer Hoist, Jill Kroesen, Marcia Lind, Jackson Mac Low, Mordecai-Mark Mac Low, Sharon Mattlin, Leonard Neufeld, Beate Wheeler, and other speakers and musicians, 11 July 1975.

III. Performance Method

Performers: The Vocabulary may be performed by any number of people, each of whom may speak, sing, and/or play a musical instrument producing all twelve tones of the chromatic scale in one or more registers. (The instruments may be tuned in either equal or just temperament, but all instruments in a performance should be tuned according to the same system, and singers should only produce pitches playable by instruments tuned according to that system.)

(1) Speakers must have clear diction and be able to project their voices, when necessary, without shouting or straining or sounding "dramatic." Their speech should always be intelligible, whether they are speaking softly, moderately, or relatively loudly, and they should often fall silent.

(2) Singers must be able to produce precisely all of the twelve tones within their vocal ranges, to achieve a variety of timbres, attacks, amplitudes, durations (both of sounds and silences), and rhythms, and to articulate the words they sing intelligibly.

(3) Instrumentalists must also be able to produce precisely all the tones within their instruments' ranges and achieve a variety of timbres, attacks, amplitudes, durations (both of sounds and silences), and rhythms.

(4) All Performers must be able and willing continually to listen with complete concentration and to modify their actions, sounds, and silences in accordance with the changes in the aural situation. All should often listen silently and only add new sonic elements when they feel the latter may add positively to the aural plenum. (Notions of what is "positive" will of course differ from individual to individual.)

Procedure: Each performer moves the eyes freely from any word to any other word, first looking at the entire word field, any side up, and then choosing a word or string of words to speak, sing, and/or play as a sequence of instrumental tones and/or one or more chords or other aggregates. Then the performer listens attentively, observing silence for a short, moderately long, or even very long time, eventually choosing another word or string from the field and realizing it as speech, song, and/or instrumental sound. Performers must partially rotate the score from time to time in order to bring as many words as possible into clear, readable view during the course of the performance.

(1) When speaking performers say words singly or concatenated into strings: phrases, clauses, other sentence fragments, complete sentences, or nonnormative word strings. Any word or string or any series of words and/or strings may be repeated any number of times. (Because their execution may involve moving the eyes from word to word in circles or other closed curves, such repetitions are often called "loops.") Performers should vary their loudness and reading tempo in accord with their perception of the total aural situation, but none should try to predominate over other performers or otherwise call special attention to themselves by "overexpressive" or "dramatic" delivery. Only complete words should be spoken: words should not be broken into syllables or phonemes, and no syllable or phoneme should be spoken separately from the word of which it is a segment. Speakers may fall silent at any time and may remain silent until they feel ready-as a result of concentrated listening and general perceptual attention-to add new words or strings to the total performance situation as they perceive it. Speakers should not sing words unless they are prepared to produce accurately tones corresponding to the words' letter sequences, as described below.

(2) When singing performers may either:

  1. vocalize a tone sequence corresponding to a chosen word's letter sequence, using vowel sounds or liquids-preferably ones occurring in the chosen word-or
  1. sing the word itself, using all of a tone sequence (translating a letter sequence) by allotting two or more tones to each syllable of the word.

(3) When either singing or playing instruments performers translate successive letters of the words into tones of the following specific pitch classes (in any register [s]):

E = E natural O = G flat/F sharp

F = F natural P = B natural

I = D flat/C sharp R = A flat/G sharp

M = G natural S = E flat/D sharp

N = C natural T = D natural


(4) Both instrumentalists and singers may play and/or sing either sequences or aggregates of pitches corresponding to the sequences of letters in Vocabulary words.

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  • Sequences may be melodies, widely separated tones, broken chords, or any other pitch sequences as well as ones combining various possibilities.
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  • Aggregates are produced by sounding simultaneously two or more tones corresponding to adjacent letters in a word. They may be intervals, chords (including chords produced by sustaining the tones of a broken chord, e.g., by means of the piano's "loud" pedal), or tone clusters (including clusters produced by sustaining a nonchordal sequence of tones). Any word's tone sequence may be rendered as a series of aggregates (or of aggregates and single tones) and series of two or more aggregates and/or tones may be sustained to produce larger aggregates.
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  • Any sequence or aggregate may be repeated any number of times.
  • Register (Octave Placement) of each of the tones in sequences or aggregates must be carefully chosen by each performer, keeping in mind the effective range and capabilities of the performer's particular voice or instrument. There are at least eight types of octave placement:

    (1) The uniqueness of a word's tone sequence may be rendered clearly perceptible in a pitch sequence or aggregate by Upward Placement: playing or singing each successive tone after the first (in the tone sequence) at a pitch higher than that of the one preceding it and going up into a higher octave whenever necessary. (Complete upward placement will often, of course, not be possible, due to the limits of the ranges of particular voices or instruments.)

    (2) In Close Placement all the tones of a sequence are placed within an octave or so, and all intervals, including major and minor seconds, are allowed. A tone may be played more than once at the same actual pitch, and the direction of a pitch sequence may be changed one or more times.

    (3) In Wide Placement major and minor seconds are avoided, thirds seldom occur, and usually no tone is placed more than once in the same octave.

    (4) In One-Directional Placement upward or downward, each successive tone, whether in a melody or other sequence or in a chord or other aggregate, is placed higher (or lower) than the one preceding it in the tone (corresponding to a letter) sequence, so that the latter occurs vertically as well as horizontally.

    (5) Upward Wide (One-Dimensional) Placement is highly recommended for instruments or voices with large ranges, especially pianos, harps, and other instruments having pedals that allow a sequence of tones produced separately to be held as a chord or other aggregate.

    (6) In Changing Placement the direction of the tones in a sequence changes from time to time.

    (7) In Chaotic Placement the direction changes at each successive tone.

    (8) In Chaotic Very Wide Placement large leaps, sometimes of several octaves, occur between tones, and the direction of each leap is different.

    (9) Musicians will probably discover and distinguish still other types of placement than the above, and various types may be combined within sequences, e.g., a sequence begun in Close Upward Placement might end in Chaotic Very Wide Placement. Making and observing these distinctions will allow musicians to make informed conscious choices in placing tones as well as in selecting words to "translate" into tone sequences and/or aggregates. One's instrument's or voice's capabilities as well as one's musical and other abilities and spontaneous or considered response to the immediate performance situation will help determine which placements are best at different moments in a performance.

    Amplitudes (Loudness): All performers choose amplitudes in relation to the total aural situation. However:

    (1) Voices should usually keep to amplitudes ranging from mp (moderately soft) to f (loud), with only occasional ff (very loud), p (soft), or pp (very soft) sounds. (While variety is desirable, intelligibility is imperative.)

    (2) Instruments should usually keep to amplitudes ranging from ppp (very very soft) to mf (moderately loud), with only occasional f (loud) or ff (very loud) sounds, and still fewer fff (very very loud) sounds. (Instruments should seldom if ever drown out the voices or lessen the intelligibility of words.)

    Performance Duration: A performance of the Vocabulary may be of any duration, but one lasting less than ten minutes will allow the realization of very few of the possibilities offered by the large number of words and their corresponding tone sequences. (Marathon performances lasting several hours or even several days are possible.) The duration of a performance may be determined in one of the following ways:

    (1) An open consensus process may be worked out by the performers, through which they decide among themselves, during performance, when to stop. This is the most flexible and democratic method of deciding performance duration and most accords with the spirit of the piece. (A clock visible to all performers is desirable if other works-and especially works by others-are to be performed on the same program.)

    (2) The duration may be preset the beginning and the end being signaled by a time keeper-usually one of the speakers, singers, and/or instrumentalists, but not necessarily-chosen by the members of the performance group.

    (3) The performers may select one among them to act as a leader who will signal the beginning and decide during a performance when to end it. This "leader" need not be much more than a modestly glorified timekeeper who decides, around the time when the performance should end anyway, given its context and circumstances, that some particular point is a good place to stop. (A clock or watch should be visible to the leader.) However, the members of the performance group may choose to give the leader greater latitude than this in determining the duration of a performance, so that the leader's decision may significantly affect the performance's duration.

    General Considerations ("style," "attitude," etc.): Since not only choices of words from the Vocabulary thus, too, for singers and instrumentalists, choices of tone sequences and aggregates-but also those within all other parameters are made by the performers at their own discretion, they must each exercise great care, tact, courtesy, attention, and concentration to make every detail of their performances contribute (as far as they can ascertain from where they are) toward a global sound sequence and aural plenum (including ambient, audience, and outer-environmental sounds) each of them would choose to hear. "Ego-tripping" without regard to what else is happening is the worst of "wrong notes" in performing this piece. However, the exercise of virtuosity is strongly encouraged when it is done with as much consciousness as possible of its place in the total sound, especially its relation to the contributions of the other performers. In short, performers must be both inventive and sensitive to other persons and sounds at all times.

    Preperformance Work: While spontaneity in performances is generally very desirable, the large number of words (and corresponding tone sequences) in the Vocabulary makes it also desirable that those performers who wish to do so should work out certain ways of speaking, singing, and/or playing some of the words and tone sequences and of bringing these previously worked out procedures into the performance from time to time, along with other procedures arrived at more spontaneously during the performance. For instance, speakers may wish to construct certain sentences or other word strings; singers and instrumentalists may wish to compose melodies, chords, or other tone sequences and aggregates; and performers of all kinds may wish to associate certain timbres, durations, rhythms, amplitudes, or ways of repetition with some words, strings, sequences, or aggregates. Having a repertoire of such procedures available may often add more (in richness and multiplicity) than it detracts from spontaneity, especially since the use of those procedures is subject to in-performance choices arising out of the immediate situation, including choices to modify some of the previously worked out procedures as the moment (and/or the performer's reaction to it) demands.

    Vocabulary conceived 16-17 February 1974

    960 words collected 17 November-20 December 1974

    Drawing executed 20 December 1974-February 1975

    First form of performance method composed 3-10 July 1975

    Present form of method: begun in 1987, revised 4 March 1988, completed 15 November 1988

    New York