Dave Riedstra

Musician and web developer living in Victoria, BC

Open Titles

I use open titles for a number of scores I’ve written. By open titles I mean titles which may be given differently in each usage. For instance, the title of the sextet I wrote to complete my MMus at UVic may be rendered ❙▲●▬■ or ●▲■▬❙ or ▲●❙■▬, or any other non-repetitive combination of those glyphs. In general though, the titles allow for repetition of elements, as in °0ºOoºoO00°oO°º°Oº or –—–—-–—–—–. ]                        [ uses square brackets to delimit mixed typographic white spaces, and ∥∥∥‖‖ǀ∥∥∥∣‖∥∥‖‖∥∥∣‖∥‖‖∥∥∥‖‖‖∣∥∥∥∣‖∥∣∥‖‖ǀ∥ǁ∥∥∥∥∣∥∥‖ tends to be on the longer side.

The usage of open titles was at first a simple imitation of the switchcraft open form technique I’ve been calling for in a number of my scores. To perform this technique, performers are asked to memorize some material, start at any point within it, and improvise switches to any other point within it. When anyone in the ensemble makes a switch, the other players must follow with them, attempting to always be performing a full system of material in time with each other. There are a number of things I really like about this technique, the description of which I’ll save for another article. Until then, I’ll just say that I borrow the term “switchcraft” from the brilliant researchers Nandita Biswas-Mellamphy and Dan Mellamphy, and there’s a paper of mine on switchcraft and other aspects of ❙▬■●▲ available on Academia.edu.

The jump from mobile musical sections to open titles was simple to make, but interesting linguistic effects have resulted. Since these titles are cumbersome to pronounce, they’re often elided or implied in verbal discussion of a score or performance. (A common question I get at performances is how to pronounce a piece’s title.) For example, instead of saying “lateral click lateral click parallel double vertical line lateral click dental click lateral click divides parallel parallel divides parallel double vertical line” (the full verbalization of ǁǁ∥‖ǁǀǁ∣∥∥∣∥‖), I’m more likely to say “the electric bass duet” or “the piece Annette and I performed at Woodstockhausen.” The effect of this for me is that it removes the semiotic baggage of the words used in the title from my recollection of the piece. As a comparison, consider the title of the score I wrote for any two like-timbred, four-or-more stringed instruments: Breach. The word is simple, monolithic, possibly even staunch, and bears particular ties to China Mieville’s the City & the City, where it was a “force to be reckoned with.” These colouring attributes are in place by authorial design: the choice of title was influenced by my desire for the piece’s performance to be remembered with and influenced by those affects. Conversely, by referring to a piece obliquely, one must call up details by which the name-users can identify the piece.

What I really like about what’s happened around some of my titles is the presentation of this opportunity to think about what we use to identify the piece, and then (in instances like this) to think about how we thought about that identification. It’s commonly discussed among musicians who I work with that in the Western art music practice a piece is synonymous with its score and effectively “belongs” to that score’s author. This perspective comes with its share of essentialization and it undervalues the work of performers, nevermind that it doesn’t actually say anything about the performance of the music. These faults become clear, for example, if I refer to ]                                [ as “my voice trio.” Hopefully, I’ll remember to use something more appropriate to a musical performance, something like “that time Cathy, Chris, and I un-sang the same pitch for like ten minutes.”