week 6:

The Art

excerpt (page 52) from “Treatise” by Cornelius Cardew
(1967), Buffalo, New York, Gallery Upstairs Press.


52nd page of Cardew's "Treatise" (196 page score in total)

52nd page of Cardew’s “Treatise” (196 page score in total)

“Treatise is a long continuous drawing – in form rather similar to a novel. … composed according to musical principles …  However, indications of sounds, noises, and musical relationships do not figure in the score, which is purely graphic… Each player interprets the score according to his own acumen and sensibility”. (Cardew 1971* p.xii)


The Music

“Page 52” © Helen Davey
(for prepared piano, voice, accordion, and other things)


The Artist

English experimental composer Cornelius Cardew (1936 – 1981) is regarded to be one of the most innovative and musicians of his generation who is “widely acknowledged as a pioneer of indeterminacy, graphic notation, free improvisation and performer involvement. As well as extending the boundaries of music in unprecedented directions, he enquired deeply into its social relevance and meaning. His passionate and untiring quest for wider social significance led him eventually to become a political activist” (http://www.pytheasmusic.org/cardew.html).



I recently came across this work through Ian Parsons, a radio presenter for PBS Melbourne (http://pbsfm.org.au/thesoundbarrier). What a goldmine of information!  Thank-you Ian.
It’s been fascinating learning about Cardew’s work and influences, with specific focus on his 196 page graphic score “Treatise”.

This work was inspired by Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” (1918) and “Philosphical Investigations” (1945). To that end, Cardew was interested in creating a score that would be interpreted by the performing musicians, who would develop their own systems to consistently interpret the symbols in the score. How fun is that?!

“Interpreter! Remember that no meaning is yet attached to the symbols. They are however to be interpreted in the context of their role in the whole”. (Cardew 1971 p.iii)

I decided not to listen to anybody else’s versions of this work until I’d attempted to improvise and record my version of “page 52” of the score.  I studied the whole score and looked for repeating graphic motifs so I could get a sense of the whole – part – whole regarding the page 52 I’d selected (for obvious reasons).


synching graphics with sound

I felt compelled to use the E-bow for the continuous dark horizontal line on a G.  Logically then  (referring to the G-line of the mini pseudo manuscripts) I assumed the mini manuscript was in treble clef. I wanted to span the low E-line and upper F-line in one bowing action, so I used ex-violin bow horsehair bundles, threaded through those specific piano strings – that way, the bowing embraced the lines in the graphic  (a little pedantic perhaps?).

black circles symbolised a clearly articulated attack to start sounds, whereas the circle filled with horizontal lines (more mini manuscript) indicated to me to “attack” the said notes rather than bowing them.

You’ll see in the phot above that I lined up a screen shot of the score page above my recording software to synchronise the duration of symbol for sound. The Y axis is for duration (underpinned by the E-bow) but I deviated from that rule just prior to the final digit “1” because I couldn’t simultaneously vocalise 5 different pitches vocally.

I chose to use the X axis for pitch except for the numerical indications; I felt the digits had to be stated somehow. Rather than verbally, I decided to use large mallets on the bass strings to refer to the numbers.

instrumentation cardew

sound-sources for “Page 52” of Cardew’s Treatise 


further links:

1. listen to Cardew’s trio:


2. view a vocal rendition of TREATISE (video of public performance): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gshUbpworc


3. view a video of TREATISE interpreted using sine waves, by Shawn Feeney: http://vimeo.com/24759329   (by the way, page 52 of “Treatise” occurs in Feeney’s wonderful work at approximately 4:27mins).

*CARDEW, C. (1971). Treatise handbook, including Bun no. 2 and Volo solo. London, Edition Peters.


My thanks again to Ian Parsons for introducing me to this massive work – 196 pages!!! No wonder it took 4 years to create it. Trust you enjoy the music and Cardew’s vision.

Please feel free to share this around with people you think may be interested and/or leave a comment below.


6 comments to week 6: “Page 52” of Cornelius Cardew’s “Treatise”

  • This really is an incredibly thoughtful and convincing realisation of this page of Treatise. It’s a work that provides massive but fascinating challenges to anyone approaching it and, in my experience, people approaching a single page rarely go to the trouble you have gone to here to have some sense of how that page can be understood as part of a bigger context. You have done this brilliantly. Greta work and congratulations on the project!

    • Helen

      Hey Ian, Thanks so much for your comments; coming from you, I take this as a big compliment. Thanks too for your engaging support and generosity for my project. I appreciate it very much.

  • Daryl

    Amazing work Helen! What a way to create a piece which can be interpreted by musicians in their own unique way…..brilliant! And I have just caught up with weeks 4,5 and 6 (due to the distractions of the silly season down under). I very much enjoy the connection you create between the visual and the aural.Looking forward to each installment! Cheers!

    • Helen

      Hi Daryl,

      I love getting your feedback on my works and value your opinions alot.
      Thanks so much for taking the time to listen.

      Twiddalee woo

    • Helen

      Hi Kathleen, Thank you! I just had another listen myself now – haven’t heard it for a couple of weeks. I enjoyed the unpredictability – specifically the lack of regular meter – and kept referring to the score in expectation for the exact “when-ness” of what would happen next.
      FUN 🙂

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