The TENOR Network brings together researchers and institutions around Technologies of Notation and Representation (TENOR). Its activities focus on the two principal modes of tracing ephemeral art practices in a more durable medium: Notations provide performers with a set of instructions or framings that guide their performance; Representations, in turn, preserve ephemeral art events (interpretations, improvisations or emergent collective performances) for comparison, analysis and archiving. Both modes rely heavily on communication technologies: the prominent prototype for conventional music notation is the score, while representations of performances, especially those transcending scores and annotations, are often modeled on scientific data visualization paradigms. The international research- creation community around TENOR is dedicated to developing, exploring, charting, categorizing, but also critically examining these technologies and their potentials at the moment of their emergence – and, ultimately, contributing these insights to the evolution of novel forms in the ephemeral arts.

A short history of music notation

Of the ephemeral arts – which include but are not limited to music, dance, theatre, performance art, durational art etc. as well as their many hybrid formats – music has the longest and most complex history with regard to TENOR: the first musical scores date from the 9th century AD, while choreographic notation is barely 300 years old. Theater, familiar with scripts since antiquity, did not question or further develop this form of notation until late in the 20th century, when audiovisual technologies of representation came into use.

Music notation today is still mostly associated with a standard format that evolved  gradually over a millennium of eurological music making. This was suited to a musical praxis with a limited set of discrete pitches and durations, and was optimized to enable the repeatability of musical pitch and rhythm structures. Since the mid-20th century, however, musical practices have rapidly expanded. Notation faced serious problems in adapting to new approaches to structured improvisation, a de-canonization of musical dramaturgy, more complex rhythms, micro-tonal pitch structures, and compositional engagement with musical parameters such as timbre, articulation, playing technique, phrasing etc. Many composers resorted to inventing new types of notation that would better express their parametric preferences, or highlight the features of music making that they considered to be more salient than pitch or rhythm. This groundswell of novel notational devices and approaches led to a multitude of notations that were often attached to only one composer, group or practice. Musicians willing to engage with these compositions first had to familiarize themselves with their idiosyncratic notations before they could embark on making music.

Another factor contributing to the decline of the commonality of western common notation was an increased encounter and engagement with non-eurological, global art music traditions. Many of these traditions use systems of notation and representation that favour other parameters than the eurological predilection for notating pitch & duration (e.g. in Chinese silk-and-bamboo music: pitch & timbre, but not duration; in Indian tabla music: timbre & duration, but not pitch etc.). Or they use notation in different ways (e.g. as a purely archival/mnemonic device) – or, indeed, ‘notate’ in other media than the written page: using oral notation, gestural notation, iconic graphic notation (drawings), and aural notation (some instruments in an ensemble have no function other than to signal structural information). Indeed, many of these alternative ways of notating and representing music have given rise to a plethora of culturally hybrid notation systems.

Another limiting factor of almost all these notation systems was the fact that notating music was always an ‘offline’ activity: using paper and pencil, one could simply not notate ‘in the act.’ However, by the end of the 20th century, this gradually began changing with the development of notation and live analysis softwares. Three decades later, even conventional music notation has gone fully digital, while experimental musical practices have fostered the emergence of many new forms of notation (and thus, musicking) such as situative scores or generative scores – scores that inhabit the same time dimension as the musicians who perform them.

A short history of the TENOR Network

Artistic developments have, over the past 70 years, created rich, diverse – but also deeply fragmented practices of notation and representation. The individualization of notation relies on custom-made sign systems, not the scientific or administrative logic that favours standardizable codifications. As music notation and representation technologies evolved, they remained by necessity intimately intertwined with musical creation, with inevitable, strong and crucial connections to research. This situation, however, instead of leading to a convergence of notational methods and paradigms through research exchanges, only led to more profound divergences. Different national, cultural and financial infrastructures pertaining to the relationship between art and research further amplified the fragmentation, which was also compounded by the inevitable variety and mutual incompatibility of technological platforms, softwares and applications.

In 2013, a few researchers at music research institutions in Lyon and Paris decided to address these problems. They first arranged a special session called “The New Spaces of Music Notation” at the annual conference for “New Instruments for Musical Expression” (NIME July 2014 @ Goldsmiths College, University of London). The overwhelming response to and the academic quality of this session led to the establishment of the TENOR Conference, held for the first time in May 2015 and hosted by Paris-Sorbonne University and the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique IRCAM (Paris). The conference has since been repeated three times: 2016 in Cambridge, 2017 in La Coruña and in 2018 in Montreal. Researchers and Creators who presented at these conferences have already begin to establish links between their respective research programmes, and a core group of researchers from universities and research institutes in Australia, Germany, France, UK, USA and Canada agreed to move towards a more sustained and intensified multilateral research-creation partnership.