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Examples of Notational Systems

This collection should help us come to terms with the various notational possibilities with which we are confronted.

Gestural Notation for (Improv) Orchestras

Orchestras are coordinated and even controlled by a conductor. Improvising orchsteras need even mopre detailed realtime conduction, a gestural notration system to translate between the conductor's ideas of coordinated movement and the musicians' ideas of what they are doing.

Phil Minton and Feral Choir

Discused at some length in the 1.2 version of Turtles and Dragons.

Gigi Gratt and the GIS

An improvisational orchestra brought together in Upper Austria, mainly Linz, Wels and Ottensheim. Gigi Gratt has arranged a collection of control signals that has been shared explicitly with the musicians before the performance. There will be a small setup time, then a rehearsal to go through the signals. Then a performanmnce two hours later.

The signs:


is a piece of software developed by a French group based upon the compositional ideas of Iannis Xenakis. The layout is 2 or 3 dimensional, cursors move along a collection of curves, triggering events and passing on a variety of data streams by OSC. These data streams can be related to the position of the cursor in space either absolutely or relatively, the action of triggers, the speed. The triggers and other cursors can control the operation of the timeline as well.

A remarkably complex and intricate piece of software allowing a lot of interesting musical and other possibilities.

Link to the site:

Usage notes

We used Iannix to coordinate the various timings in the Wels "Im Tresor" exhibition in November 2011.

Paulus Gerdes Ethnomathemartics

Gerdes has done a lot of ethnomathematics, looking at the way that mathematical structures are used in "ethnic" art and cultural forms. There are interesting techniques that are used to embed stories in diagrams. [LuLu books]

Henry Cowell

Early 20th century composer, autodidact, who was apparently vital for Cage and others with prepared pianos, polyrhythm and many other innovations. He developed some particular forms of notations for rhythmic innovation. See e.g. page 17 in StallingsThesis (copy bei Tim or here).


Quite " This is why it took so long for Ives to get noticed – 'serious' orchestral musicians looked at his scores and thought they were nonsense" from an interview with Joel Peterson, [| here].

What were Ives notational innovations?

Visual Music

This seems to be the general expression for the use of purely visual accompaniment or notation of music. The [| Center for Visual Music] might be a generally interesting. It appears to have deep analysis of certain practitioners.

There is a connection to the [| interview chapter] with Andrei Smirnov about the early cinematographic sound experiments in Russia from the 1920s.

Wehinger on Ligeti

In the 1970s, Rainer Wehinger (exact date unknown) made a visual notation for the piece "Artikulation"(1958) by Gyorgy Ligeti. Watching the piece assembled with the music as a video (youtube the connections are clear, but reflecting upon this, we see only that the notation reflects the music, but would not enable a reproduction of the music in any detailed sense. Or am I mistaken in this - has there been a recreation of the piece from this (or another?) score?

Kaucilya Brooke

"Do you want me to draw you a diagram" is a [collection] of diagrams outlining her pieces in context.


Jugglers are trying to accurately explain to each other how to juggle. There are a number of notations, each of which has certain assumptions to help keep it simple.


Seems to be the basis. Assumes left-right alternating throws. Number indicate how many steps later a ball will land again. 333 is the standard 3 ball cascade.


Drawn like a ladder. edges show where an object goes. The distinction to causal notation lies in the way that every object describes a trace in the ladder diagram. See examples in the JugglingLab software that is linked below in JML.

Mills Mess State Transition

This is an attempt to extend Siteswap notation to include arms being crossed, to allow a description and analysis of the Mills Mess juggling pattern. There is a [tutorial] with several lessons.


seems to be similar, but shows how to react to a given entrance by throwing the thing already in your hand. Especially useful for multiperson juggling.

drawing a vertical line through the diagram gives a count of balls in the air, add two for each person (everyone's hands are always full) to get the number of balls altogether. Early article [here].

In contrast to their clean, orderly lines, passing clubs is a very physical thing, full of grimacing effort, plagued with fumbling and mistakes, and occasionally bone-whackingly painful. It's more like chopping wood than like doing math; it's more like pounding nails than like tying macrame, despite the nice braided look of the diagrams. But when things get cooking, when everyone is warmed up and throwing well, when the pattern grows and takes shape between our hands and fills the air with intricate, swirling, impossible motion, there's nothing else quite like it in the world.


A variation of siteswap, with the same expressive power, but seems to concentrate upon the objects themselves rather than the throws. [[1]] article.

Juggling Markup Language

[JML] is an attempt from the people from [| JuggleLab] to have a general notation that can express everything expressed in other juggling notations.

Information Visualisation

[2] video uses Information Visualisation aesthetics and ideas in order to re-tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood. While it is sexy and cool, it adds irrelevant detail (like the VW bus) - which probably contributes to its cool.

People talking about notation


There seem to be several videos like [[3]] that have him talking about writing, these diagrams are cute. "Computers can play chess, why can't they do this?"

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