Keeping Score: Notation, Embodiment, and Liveness

I’m not skilled at letters but I will explain
the shapes and clear symbols to you.
There is a circle marked out as it were with
a compass and it has a clear sign in the middle.
The second one is first of all two strokes and
then another one keeping them apart in the middle.
The third is curly like a lock of hair
and the fourth is one line going straight up
and three crosswise ones attached to it.
The fifth is not easy to describe:
there are two strokes which run together
from separate points to one support.
And the last one is like the third.
—Euripides, Theseus1

Katalin Ladik, Selected Folk Songs 5 (1973–75), from the series “Selected Folk Songs,” collage on paper, 34 x 24 cm. Kontakt. The Art Collection of Erste Group and ERSTE Foundation

To approach a definition: the score is a notational device that connects the material of a ­discipline—ranging from music, dance, and performance to architecture, linguistics, mathematics, physics—and its systems of knowledge to a language that produces description, transmission, and signification, in order to be read, enacted, or executed in whatever form desir­able. The past decade has seen a growing interest in the subject of the score within contemporary art and performance. How does it produce meaning? What is the relationship between the score in music and forms of notation specific to visual art? What does the score represent? In what ways can it enact the live moment, and may the chronology traditionally embedded in that relationship be reversed, with the score preceding a moment of liveness? The documentation of live performances through audio, visual, or written material—or even the score as documentation itself—further complicates the chronology of the interlocking arrangement of score-performance-document(ation). As art historian Liz Kotz suggests, “The theoretical impasse currently confronting both musicology and theater studies regarding the relative status of the written score or script—long held to be the privileged locus of the ‘work’—and its various performances, seen as secondary, suggests the enormous difficulty of reading the relays among ‘author,’ ‘performer,’ text, reader, and audience.”2

Curators as well as art historians have been attuned to the evolving views of what the score might be. One of the more recent contemporary art exhibitions to provide a historical survey of graphic and experimental scores as visual as well as notational objects was Possibility of Action: The Life of the Score at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona Study Center in 2008. Scores from the field of musical composition (John Cage, Cornelius Cardew, Pauline Oliveros) were displayed and performed in conjunction with notational material from sound art, experimental noise, and drone practices, complemented by (event) scores and scripts from film, visual art, and performance practices (Robert Ashley, Eugènia Balcells, Yoko Ono). The show, curated by Barbara Held and Pilar Subirà, reversed the conventional understanding of a score as an abstract representation of tone, taking instead as their starting point Cage’s contrary notion of the score as a representation of action with a unique and unpredictable result. The score is a generator of an action, they wrote, “to be performed, the outcome of which is unknown, and an end result that can never be repeated.”3 This view adheres to a typical chronology in which the score precedes the live enactment, standing as a precursor for a future iteration. The “unknown outcome” indicates the importance of chance and singularity assigned to the enactment of the score (particularly with respect to Cage), claiming it as the site of origin and performance as the site of singular presence, effect, and changeability.

While the notion of origin, accepted implicitly or otherwise, is contestable, it should not be mistaken as implying semiotic stability. The complex and diverse iconographies of the scores featured in Possibility of Action, based on conventional musical notation but also text, graphic notation, poetry, and so on, demonstrate their status as objects of interpretation and improvisation. In this respect, special attention has been given in recent years to the composer Cornelius Cardew, who, unlike his contemporaries Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen had remained relatively obscure. The exhibitions Lonely at the Top: Sound Effects #3 at the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (2008)4 and Cornelius Cardew and the Freedom of Listening at the Centre d’art contemporain de Brétigny (2009)5 explored the performative and political radicality of his compositions, especially those involving his Scratch Orchestra (1969–74). Cardew’s method was premised on a dissolution of the hierarchies and boundaries between composer and interpreter, as well as between performers active in different fields of performance, from music to visual art. The Scratch Orchestra had no fixed leader or conductor; rather, everyone was equally involved and implicated in the enactment of the score. The orchestra consisted of both musicians and nonmusicians acting as one “assembly” in a collective state of continuous training and research. The name of the orchestra refers to each member notating their accompaniments (understood as “music that allows a solo”) in a musician’s scratch book, in whatever notational language they see fit: “verbal, graphic, musical, collage, etc.,” as Cardew put it in his “constitution” for the group.6 This deeply democratic state of collectivity is no doubt what poet Franck Leibovici refers to when he writes in a cross-disciplinary discussion of scores that “notation systems are never arbitrarily selected; they always participate in forming collectives.”7 In the case of the Scratch Orchestra, its political dimensions include the democratic way its members developed a language for the score, in which they took a written instruction by Cardew and each developed it into myriad methods and forms of notation. As was abundantly visible in the exhibitions at MUHKA and CAC Brétigny, the scores developed by the Scratch Orchestra members echo Cardew’s approach in some of his scores outside the group, where he sought to develop a new and often very pictorial language that introduced geometric and graphic symbols into the notation of music in unprecedented horizon­tal and vertical arrangements, his Treatise ­(1963–67) being the most famous example.

Similar radical experiments with music notation and the possibilities therein for collectivity can be found in the work of Greek composer Jani Christou, who died in 1970. The score for his late piece Epicycle (1968) includes both written instructions and drawn images that describe how to spatialize and time the performance, all of which lead to the execution of a “continuum”—that is, a continuous space for performance that participants could step in and out of and where, potentially, every observer could be cast as a performer. In his “continuum” scores, Christou sought the ultimate removal of the composer—himself—as author. Notably, both Cardew and Christou were influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), in which the philosopher distinguishes between language as clear and explicit signification (the word “tree” that directly relates to the “tree” object) and language that does not (the word “ethics,” for example). Consequentially, the latter type of language cannot be subjected to empirical knowledge, and, in fact, it is in this way that philosophy develops as an ongoing question­ing without verification or falsification. Wittgenstein’s inquiry into the nature of language and how we communicate provided Cardew and Christou (as well as Cage and many other postwar experimental composers) with a great deal of freedom to move away from known, stable systems of signification in music. They were able to revolutionize the language of scores, imagining them as freely evolving images, letters, lines, and graphics that envisioned performances and happenings of vari­able lengths, reoccurrence, and ensembles.

The notion of interpretation, key to such scores, is in keeping with certain insights of semiotic theory that apply whether the score is more pictorial or textual. In “From Work to Text” (1971), Roland Barthes highlights an important characteristic of scores: their scope is not limited to a moment of transmission, anticipating a future enactment; rather, they are transactional documents, in that their experiments with alphabetic or graphic language demand interpretation (or improvisation8) by a performer, reliant on factors of chance and context. Discussing the post-serial music of his day, Barthes writes that the music “has radically altered the role of the ‘interpreter,’ who is called on to be in some sort the co-author of the score, completing it rather than giving it ‘expression.’”9 The interpreter becomes as much the “author” of the score or composition as the composer, if not more so, and the prevalent dialectics of origin(al) and result should be abandoned. Through the transaction of interpretation and subsequent execution (or in the case of Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra, the fabrication of score within a ­collective), the score becomes part of its own iteration. Within the language systems that are produced, the relationship between score and performance evolves as interdependent, and meaning is produced through a process of transaction, iteration, and repetition, akin to the notion of iterability that Jacques Derrida discusses in “Signature Event Context.”10

The score as a device that “trans-acts” between (visual) language, enactment, the body, and space, yet also as something that can be read to enact in a variety of ways, is demonstrated beautifully by the Romanian artist Geta Brătescu, in a script developed for the performance film The Studio (1978). Brătescu began experimenting with film and photography in the early 1970s, in addition to her existing practice of drawing and collage. This period of experimentation had a lasting impact on the conceptualization of time- and process-based expansion of space that characterizes much of her performative film, ­photography, and installation work. In this period, Brătescu was deeply invested in making herself both an active protagonist in the work and a spectator, an observer of her own self-­portraits.11 We clearly see her commitment to blur the lines between subjectivity and objectivity in the photographic collage Censored Self-Portrait (1978), for example, which features three black-­and-white self-portraits of the artist with the eyes and mouth of each covered by the eyes and mouth of other self-portraits (with the top eye of the far right portrait slightly tilted so we can still see the one underneath), as well as the earlier Towards White (Self-Portrait in Seven Sequences) (1975), a series of seven photographs in which the artist slowly fades to white, her face covered by a partially transparent foil beneath which she disappears as the camera’s flash intensifies.

The complex relations between the subjective and the objective that meander through Brătescu’s entire oeuvre rise to the surface in her commitment to the artist’s studio, which she regards a point of connection between self-enactment and self-representation, the staging and the staged, the private and the public sphere—and, ultimately, between theatricality and realism.12 Seen against the backdrop of the regime of constant surveillance of National Communism in Romania from the 1960s until 1989, the private space of the studio becomes what sociologists Viktor Voronkov and Jan Wielgohs describe as a “secondary public space.”13 The studio is a mirror, as it were, that reflects both inwards and outwards.

The script for The Studio, which consists of written instructions accompanied by miniature drawings of Brătescu’s studio, invokes this space as a stage that is literally inscribed with the actions of the artist: lie down, wake up, walk around, sit, lie down, etc. In the film, the transition between the first two scenes (“The Sleep” and “The Awakening”) and the third sequence (“The Game”) marks the passage from Brătescu’s purely private experience—sleeping and awakening, unaware of any external presence—to a situation in which the artist is conscious of the camera’s gaze and starts to perform. Brătescu is both the subject that performs and the object that is observed by herself as the one operating the camera; her studio is both a private and a public space. The script for The Studio is an important interlocutor between the subjectivity and objectivity that is enacted in the simultaneously private and public atmo­sphere of the artist’s studio. The figures she draws to represent herself in the score, abstractions of her own body, constitute a rudimentary style of self-portraiture. The text that accompanies and is superimposed on these drawings, in turn, references the actions of her body that manifest in the space of the studio as well as on film. The score highlights Brătescu’s role as author, interpreter, actor, and spectator in her work as it moves between self-portraiture, auto-instruction, and enactment. It exists in the relationships between the textual and visual, between the time of live performance in the studio and the time of performance on film, with Brătescu’s body both the transactional subject and the object that interprets and enacts the languages of the score.


In contradistinction to its textual-semiotic aspects, it is inevitable that the score will also continue to be treated as a resident of the category of material object (however unstable that classification itself may be). In 2013–14, the Museum of Modern Art, New York staged There Will Never Be Silence: Scoring John Cage’s 4'33", on the occasion of its acquisition of the score of Cage’s landmark composition 4'33" (In Proportional Notation) (1952/53).14 The exhibition contextualized the famous work with regard to Cage’s influences and contemporaries (Josef Albers, Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, and Robert Rauschenberg, among others) as well as his champions in Minimalism, Conceptual Art, and Fluxus. The original score for 4'33" used traditional music notation to designate the three movements of silence, whereas the graphic score from 1953 that was acquired by MoMA consists of a series of vertical lines, the space between them measuring the duration of the movements. The difference between the two is significant: while the former revolutionized music notation by “showing the silence” on partitur sheets, the latter pushed notation into the realm of visual art and abstraction; its black vertical lines reference the mere starting points of the piece and the whiteness in between capturing time, sound, and chance.

Cornelius Cardew, Treatise (1963–67), EP 7560, musical score (excerpt), assigned 1970 to Peters Edition Limited, London

With Cage’s composition at the exhibition’s core, the show points toward operations of chance, the relationship between language (as score) and event, and what Lucy Lippard described as the “dematerialization of the art object” in the American art context of the 1960s and 1970s. The curators’ selections included Yoko Ono’s instructional scores, Ian Wilson and Robert Barry’s conversation pieces, and Lawrence Weiner’s instructions for wall drawings, to name a few examples. Lippard’s notion of the dematerialized encompasses a wide range of media in which “the idea is paramount and the material form is secondary” and that “stress the acceptively open-ended.”15 Akin to Liz Kotz’s intimation (in talking about the alphabetic “event scores” of La Monte Young and George Brecht) that language can present a model for “a different kind of materiality,” rather than constitute “the conceptual use of language as an artistic medium [that] propels something like a ‘withdrawal of visuality’ or ‘dematerial­ization’ of art,”16 an interesting tension emerges in There Will Never Be Silence. On the one hand, the score can easily remain within the autonomy of its own materiality, but it may also manifest as or lead to the production of another object or live enactment, sketched out by the parameters of the score’s language. In museol­ogical terms, such definitions place the score in either the realm of the archive or the museum’s collection, as an index or reference to liveness or a veritable object of display—both of which possibilities the MoMA exhibition investigated. Perhaps similar to the way that photographic, audio, and video reproductions of performances from the 1960s until the 1980s were later proposed as material instances of liveness and thus traded, acquired, and displayed as such, it seems necessary to question our current interest in scores as the site of material representation and reproduction of the ever-escaping ephemerality of the medium as well.

Which, in turn, raises the question: Does materialization equal commodification? This question surely demonstrates the particular relationship the score has to materiality or, better yet, the immateriality of performance. Following Peggy Phelan’s initial claim in Unmarked: The Politics of Performance that “performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations,” and once it does so, “it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology,” one could conclude that a performance cannot be sold as a commodity—in fact, this very notion is celebrated by her as the medium’s political, anticapitalist resistance.17 Sven Lütticken convincingly argues, however, that even if performance cannot already be regarded as a commodity in the service-oriented and immaterial economy of post-Fordist society, the resistance toward or even bans on performance’s reproduction through media have proven quite futile.18 Historical performance work owes much of its dissemination and lasting impact to photographic or video reproductions, to the point that the live reenactment of a work might even come across as a reproduction of its re­productions.19 Moreover, the refusal of the reproduction of performance as a critique of the capitalist and mediatized spectacle should be read against the backdrop of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (1967), which leads to the conclusion that the spectacle is situated not mainly in photography, video, film, etc., but instead in the fetish of the commodity, and in the process of a commodity becoming an image within the media.20 This argument loops us back to where we started: the reproduction of performance (as documentation) and the score as, arguably, a representation or material culmination of performance.

Yet, to reiterate, the score is not necessarily the site of documentation as representation. Granted, the score may change or adapt according to a live enactment and thus be considered as partially documentary to a moment of liveness. Also the language of the score, however (il)legible and/or abstract, does reference its live enactment. Yet it is never fully representative of the live event; as I will argue, its linguistic, temporal, and material qualities lie ­primarily within the moment of enactment. Nor is the score the site of originality from which to (re)enact. Its increasing status as a commodity, as a materialization of ephemerality, is thus essentially ironic: it does not represent the work, nor does it make the work static through notation. Rather, its merit seems to be the destabilization of both the notion of original and evidentiary documentation.


To wade into the muddy waters of the score as an “original,” it is key to look more closely at the score’s relationship to temporality and chronology. In the traditional musicological sense, the score acts as a precursor to an event. Each live enactment can be traced back to the score as a kind of “core material,” so that in the score future performances—and thus temporalities—are latent. Additionally, a score can emerge from a live iteration, or, at the least, may be adapted according to it. Though highly unstable in terms of representation, the score has a documentary aspect—and in turn becomes a forecast of future performances—thus further augmenting the complex multi-chronicities that the score conjures.

Jani Christou, Epicycle (1968), musical score (excerpt)

Two concepts help articulate the interdependence between the performance as a live enactment and the score, as well as the aforementioned temporalities that unfold in their relationship: “the contemporary” and, with it, “the present.” At the beginning of his brief essay “What Is the Contemporary?” Giorgio Agamben borrows from Friedrich Nietzsche’s classification of the contemporary as something “untimely” or a “dys-chrony”; in short, as being out of one’s own time. Rather than arguing in favor of nostalgia or escapism, Agamben defines the contemporary as a relationship with time that is both contiguous and distant, fully aware of the present time in an adherence through disjuncture and anachronism.21 A comparison to fashion provides an illuminating illustration as a phenomenon that is always (and quite ironically) out of fashion and thus outside of time. The “now” in fashion is not firmly identifiable in or between the conceptualization by the designer, the demonstration of the clothing by models on the runway, the production of the fabric for the designs, and even the moment when the fashion is worn by its consumers. When something is in the moment of being in fashion, it is either anticipated or already too late, between a “not yet” and “no more,” Agamben asserts. In combination with its quality of appropriation and citation—retro styles, for example—being in fashion requires a quality of being “out-of-phase.”22 This necessity bears on the status of the origin:

Contemporariness inscribes itself in the present by marking it above all as archaic. Only he who perceives the indices and signatures of the archaic in the most modern and recent can be contemporary. “Archaic” means close to the arkhē, that is to say, the origin. But the origin is not only situated in a chronological past: it is contemporary with historical becoming and does not cease to operate within it, just as the embryo continues to be active in the tissues of the mature organism, and the child in the psychic life of the adult. Both this distancing and nearness, which define contemporariness, have their foundation in this proximity to the origin that nowhere pulses with more force than in the present.23

Geta Brătescu, Atelierul—scenariul (The Studio—the film script) (1978), charcoal, colored pencil, and pastel on paper, 89.5 x 116.8 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York

Agamben does not only advocate an understanding of time as fundamentally heterogeneous in the insertions and fractures of both past and future that exist in the present, moving away from linearity, chronology, and even cyclical conceptions of time; he also proposes the contemporary as a construction of temporality that allows it to transform time and put it in relation to other times. Agamben centers his premise of time and contemporariness chiefly in historiography, a stance resonant with Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940) and Derrida’s claim that the present is intrin­sically corrupted by past and future. Rather than interpreting history as a “procession of presences,” Derrida writes, we must accept that there is always an absence (or distance, in Agamben’s words) at the heart of presence.24

The implications of this argument are of primary concern to performance, a medium that puts time at the very core of artistic expression. As theorized in Barthes’s writing and suggested by Cardew’s work, the score should be regarded outside of the dialectics of origin and effect. Any enactment of a score irrevocably invokes the status of the score as origin, but in a sense far closer to Agamben’s concept of arkhē—an origin that becomes and remains in time. With each enactment, the score morphs into the liveness of a performance, and, vice versa, the score holds the potentiality of all its future and past enactments. Within these moments of performance, or presence if you will, time is divided between the score as origin and the live moment, yet traces of the former linger in the latter, as if distant memories that inform one’s current behavior. The present in that moment is defined by both a distance and a nearness to that origin. Moreover, all future moments that materialize from the score look back at their origin through the sequence of previous performances. The score demands this de- and rematerialization of time, in that it always anticipates itself through its enactment, exists within that present moment, and looks back at itself. In this proximity and remoteness, it connects periods of time and reconfigures our understanding of chronology and linearity, again attesting to the severe limitations of observing the score as the original from which everything departs.

The reevaluation of the score as a musical apparatus based on the (European) tradition of linearity and chronology is key to the work of Filipino composer José Maceda. Trained as a concert pianist in the 1930s and later obtaining degrees in musicology, anthropology, and ethnomusicology in the United States, Maceda started composing his major works in the 1960s. In 1947, while performing a series of recitals featuring Beethoven’s Appassionata sonata for Manila’s predominantly Europe-oriented cosmopolitans, Maceda famously asked himself: “What has all of this got to do with coconuts and rice?”25 This question, epiphanic as it is, sums up the complexity of Maceda’s lifelong endeavor (he died in 2004): a dissimulation of the cultural hegemony of Occidental music and its core principles of logic and causality in favor of researching a set of values indigenous to the eco-social relations, oral and mystical traditions, production of musical instruments from natural materials, and concepts of time in Southeast Asian culture26—in short, a decolonization of Filipino music and its forms of notation in the context of Southeast Asia.

One of Maceda’s most ambitious works, entitled Ugnayan (Correlation, 1974), is a composition of Filipino village music that was scored and recorded on twenty channels that were then broadcast simultaneously on twenty of Manila’s radio stations. Hundreds of thousands of the city’s residents gathered in public spaces with portable transistor radios to listen to the different tracks created for each station, with the citizenry collectively assembling the composition in a massive public ritual of converging indigenous history, time, and space in the urban fabric.27 Maceda’s concept of time, derived from the relationship between musical time and Southeast Asian culture, is essential to grasping the work’s radicality. In “A Concept of Time in a Music of Southeast Asia (A Preliminary Account)” (1986), one of Maceda’s most comprehensive texts on temporality in music, he traces the bilateral relationship between repetition and pulse (or drone) on the one hand, and indefinite and unpredictable melody (or drone color) on the other, as unifying factors in the music of Southeast Asia.28 For Maceda, these musical forms are a testament to the “melodic ambiguity, repetition and diffusion,” and “fill time along notions of continuity, infinity and indefiniteness,” in contrast to the European tradition of causality, linearity, and closure in music.29 Such ideas resonate with his contention that, in many parts of Southeast Asia, time is something measured in natural events or seasons, social activity or human labor, rather than seconds, minutes, and hours. Maceda: “These measures of time are independent of each other and do not rely on a common clock. Time is regarded in separate entities related to man’s work and social activities.”30

The one-hundred-page score of Ugnayan exemplifies Maceda’s dense style of music notation, annotated with textual instructions and comments. Though perhaps one of the most traditional scores that we discuss here in terms of its relatively traditional form of music notation, the complex polyrhythmic relationships between the twenty separate channels, with all their divergent and convergent patterns, demonstrate quite clearly Maceda’s proposal to regard different temporalities as separate entities. Perhaps paradoxically, the score regulates the open and parallel structures that may or may not come together in the performance—the immateriality of time and the materiality of the score are as interdependent as the radio waves that they were carried across Manila in 1974. Moreover, the ambiguous if not ungraspable nature of the pitches that together arrange the melody of the rural village music of Ugnayan is difficult to capture in any form of notation. Ugnayan’s score sets up a conundrum: through a language that is inherently inadequate, it splits up time in parallel structures that can only be measured by the gathering of people. It is here that the thinking behind Maceda’s music becomes apparent: “Different combinations of drone and melody represent an expression of a group of people, perhaps a reflection of a social organization, a representation of values and a view of time.”31 The score of Ugnayan produces precisely what the title promises—correlation. Parallel relations of time, as well as different social and cultural spaces (from the indigenous sounds of village music to the urban space of Manila), are laid bare yet are never fully captured in notational language.


José Maceda, Ugnayan (1963), musical score (excerpt). José Maceda Collection, UP Center for Ethnomusicology, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City

Performance, as an act that exists momentarily, has been generally discussed within an archival logic that privileges materiality over immateriality, celebrating its ephemerality, impermanence, and ontological unicity—“performance’s being … becomes itself through disappearance,” as Peggy Phelan initially put it.32 In his catalogue essay for the 1998 exhibition Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949–1979 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Paul Schimmel even goes so far to say that performance is constituted by a drive towards destruction, marking an “underlying darkness” in performative work that is informed by a seemingly Freudian death drive.33 The definition of performance as that which cannot remain and thus “disappears” relies on a rationale that considers performance as antithetical to history, memory, and the archive, an unjust fate it shares with other immaterial practices, such as oral histories, storytelling, and gestural practices, that are also always incomplete, always reconstructive, and thus escape lineage to a singular original.

In her essay “Performance Remains,” Rebecca Schneider minutely unfolds the intricate relations between the archive and performance, laying bare the politics of the archive as patriarchal, Eurocentric, and culturally biased. Impor­tant for our discussion here is Schneider’s ­conception of performance as memory.34 Rather than disavow the archive altogether, Schneider seeks to expand its scope. The archive, she writes, forms the bones to which the remains of the flesh stick: “In the archive, flesh is given to be that which slips away. According to archive logic, flesh can house no memory of bone. In the archive, only bone speaks memory of flesh. Flesh is [the] blind spot.”35 By contrast, she characterizes Civil War reenactment and other forms of historical reenactment as “living history,” which is not isolated to document, object, or singular original—or the bones for that matter—but instead centers on the body as an archive and host to a collective memory and history.36 Indeed, in the oral and physical traditions of performance (in all its myriad forms), body-to-body transmission is a key tool to establish and perpetuate a genealogy of practice. As choreographer and critic Myriam Van Imschoot contends, the “incorporation” and “excorporation” of physical templates remains central to both the training of dancers and a creation process in which mirroring, imitation, and repetition are used to copy material.37

Katalin Ladik, UFO Party (1969), manuscript (fragment)

Under this new understanding of the archive as including the corporeal, the body is no longer the object on which a choreographic notational device is projected. The flesh becomes the score, the muscle, and the tissue—the languages through which a work is interpreted, transmitted, embodied, and then performed. This paradigm defies an understanding of the archive as an architecture of objects or documents and opens up ways to think about it anew, as reflecting movement and sound, bodies and waves, time and variations. Within this archive structure, the flesh is activated as a “physicalized relational field of interaction, intensities, techniques, histories, traces, and relicts of experienced information … with its own history and genealogy,” as Van Imschoot argues.38 This position paves the way for a different understanding of the score, away from the terms of a material object to something that can be held in the human body, or, at the very least, exists always in connection with embodiment through enactment.

The score as interlocutor between notation and physical enactment, and ultimately as the carrier of a language that is essentially corporeal, is perfectly expressed in the oeuvre of Hungarian artist Katalin Ladik, which relies on the interconnections between her poetry and her body.39 Ladik’s poems, her first and perhaps primary medium as an artist, flow through the extraordinary scope of her diverse output—performance, photography, collage, visual scores, film, and sound. Throughout, she makes her body and her written language speak. From the late 1960s on Ladik started to publish her poems and, subsequently, to perform and record them as speech acts. During these performances, which often included music and choreographed movement, she transformed the language of her written poetry, which necessarily adhered to a linguistic system of regulation. Vowel prolongation, repetition of consonants, words that seem to come from her gut, her throat, her mouth; such techniques became an early repertoire that was often performed as a shamanistic ritual, enacting the poems through the artist’s body, as an extension of her voice and her language. Sentences became embodiments, words produced their meaning through ritualized gestures, letters were spat out or swallowed—a corporeal manifestation of language.

For many of her sound and poetry performances Ladik created scores, UFO Party (1969) being one of the earliest examples. The transition from the language of a poem to the language of embodied enactment presents itself: letters are repeated, enlarged, and reduced, arranged in such an order that it almost naturally follows the flow of voice and movement. A work of concrete poetry in itself, the score for UFO Party—based on an eponymous poem by the artist—demonstrates the search for a visual language to denote the asemantic use of the artist’s voice in a highly ceremonial environment. Ladik’s collaborations with artist Bálint Szombathy and the Conceptualist collective Bosch + Bosch (collaborations concentrated in performance and stage work between 1973 and 1976) opened her practice to a new realm of visuality. These interactions resulted in Ladik producing a number of strikingly colorful collages and graphic scores to act as visual guides for her performances, as opposed to her previous scores, which were often based on alphabetic language.

In the scores for works such as Selected Folk Poems 4 (1973–75), Waltz (1973–75), Queen of Sheba (1973), and Spring Buzz (1977), the hybridity of Ladik’s visual language is evident, as it includes music partiturs, magazine and newspaper clippings that reference female stereotypes, sewing patterns, written language, maps, and (verbal) auto-instructions. The scores were intended to be read and performed, or were developed as visual responses to a live sound performance. As a consequence, the demarcation between score, performance, and documentation (as non-representation) is often ambiguous in Ladik’s work. When listening to the recording of Spring Buzz, we hear Ladik utter, repeat, and follow the movements and words on paper. She morphs the letters as indicators of phonemes as we know them into an arrangement of sonic actions that allows the schema in the score to speak as a work of poetry. The relationship between, on the one hand, her written poems, instructional scores, and visual scores, and, on the other, their ritualistic enactment, unfolds as a transformation of language. Ladik’s scores are the vehicles of this transformation from something that can be read in words or images into something that demands physical enunciation.

Euripides promised that he would explain the shapes and clear symbols of the alphabet to us: he invites us to read their angular and curved contours and look for meaning in the way they perform their shapes, like staged bodies. The ideas of language as a corporeal system, and the score as something that is either incorporated into or exists in direct relation to the body, reach a rich summation in Ladik’s practice. Departing from the shapes of written and, later, the visual language of her graphic scores, she reconfigures her alphabet as extensions of her voice and body. And like the body, which moves, changes, ages, remembers, and will ultimately disappear, her language does the same. Ladik’s, Brătescu’s, and Maceda’s scores are very different in their execution, yet all approach us with the same entreaty: that we regard them as bearers of liveness, with the same complex relationships to materiality, embodiment, and temporality that a body might have. They transact between these concepts rather than stabilize them; they create moments of interpretation and improvisation. The alphabet starts dancing once again.

Katalin Ladik, The Queen of Sheba (1973), collage on paper, 23 x 32.5 cm. MACBA Collection

Katalin Ladik, Spring Buzz (1977), paper, vintage print, 24 x 34 cm

1 Euripides quoted in Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet (London: Dalkey Archive Press, 1998), pp. 57–58.

2 Liz Kotz, “Post-Cagean Aesthetics and the ‘Event’ Score,” October 95 (Winter 2001), pp. 55–89.

3 Barbara Held and Pilar Subirà, Possibility of Action: The Life of the Score, exh. cat. Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona Study Center (Barcelona, 2008). Online:

4 Lonely at the Top: Sound Effects #3: Cornelius Cardew, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, Antwerp, June 6–August 31, 2008, curated by Kate Macfarlane, Rob Stone, and Grant Watson. The show traveled as Cornelius Cardew: Play for Today to the Drawing Room, London, November 5–December 13, 2009.

5 Cornelius Cardew and the Freedom of Listening, Centre d’art contemporain de Brétigny, Brétigny-sur-Orge, France, April 5–June 27, 2009, curated by Dean Inkster, Jean-Jacques Palix, Lore Gablier, and Pierre Bal-Blanc. Subsequent iterations of the exhibitions took place at Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, November 5–29, 2009, and Culturgest Porto, May 8–June 25, 2010.

6 Cornelius Cardew, “A Scratch Orchestra: Draft Constitution,” The Musical Times 110, no. 1516 (June 1969), pp. 617, 619.

7 Franck Leibovici, “On Scores,” in Choreographing Exhibitions, ed. Mathieu Copeland (Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2013), p. 43. Emphasis added.

8 For a more extensive perspective on improvisation in relation to Cardew’s work, see Cornelius Cardew, “Towards an Ethic of Improvisation,” in Treatise Handbook (London: Peters Edition Limited, 1971). I am indebted to my colleague Pierre Bal-Blanc for drawing my attention to this text and pointing out the notion of improvisation as a mode of interpretation.

9 Roland Barthes, “From Work to Text,” in Image Music Text, trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana Press, 1977), p. 163.

10 See Jacques Derrida, “Signature Event Context,” in Limited Inc, trans. Samuel Weber and Jeffrey Mehlman (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988), pp. 1–24.

11 Silvia Eiblmayr, “The Staged Artwork—The Artwork as Stage: On the Incursion of the Performative in the Art of Geta Brătescu,” in Geta Brătescu: Atelierul/The Studio, ed. Alina Şerban (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013), p. 88.

12 Alina Şerban, “Strategies of Self-Representation,” in Geta Brătescu: Atelierul/The Studio, p. 160.

13 Viktor Voronkov and Jan Wielgohs, “Soviet Russia,” in Dissent and Opposition in Communist Eastern Europe, ed. Detlef Pollack and Jan Wielgohs (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2004), p. 113.

14 There Will Never Be Silence: Scoring John Cage’s 4'33", Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 12, 2013–June 22, 2014, curated by David Platzker and Jon Hendricks.

15 Lucy Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), pp. vii, xiii, 6.

16 Kotz, “Post-Cagean Aesthetics,” p. 89.

17 Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 146. It should be noted that Phelan has recalibrated her position on the impossibility of performance reproduction in favor of an analysis of the relationship between performance and media.

18 Sven Lütticken, “Progressive Striptease,” in Perform, Repeat, Record: Live Art in History, ed. Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield (Bristol: Intellect Ltd., 2012), pp. 191–92.

19 Ibid., p. 192. For a more comprehensive account of the relationship between performance, documentation, and reenactment, see Sven Lütticken, “An Arena in which to Reenact,” in Life, Once More: Forms of Reenactment in Contemporary Art, exh. cat. Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (Rotterdam, 2005), pp. 17–60.

20 Ibid. See also Guy Debord, La Société du Spectacle (Paris: Gallimard, 1967), p. 15.

21 Giorgio Agamben, What Is an Apparatus?, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), pp. 40–41.

22 Ibid., pp. 48–49.

23 Ibid., p. 50.

24 Quoted in Boris Groys, “Comrades of Time,” in What Is Contemporary Art?, ed. Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, and Anton Vidokle (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2010), p. 23.

25 Michael Tenzer, “José Maceda and the Paradoxes of Modern Composition in Southeast Asia,” Ethnomusicology 47, no. 1 (Winter 2003), p. 94.

26 José Maceda, “A Search for an Old and a New Music in Southeast Asia,” Acta Musicologica 51, no. 1 (January–June 1979), pp. 160–66; and Matt Marble, “Techniques of Ambiguity,” FO(A)RM Magazine 5: “Autonomy,” (2006), p. 40.

27 It should be noted, however, that the work is somewhat politically controversial, largely due to the endorsement of the work by the Marcos regime of the Philippines under martial law (1972–81).

28 José Maceda, “A Concept of Time in a Music of Southeast Asia (A Preliminary Account),” Ethnomusicology 30, no. 1 (Winter 1986), pp. 45–46.

29 Ibid., pp. 46–48.

30 José Maceda, “Sources of Musical Thought in Southeast Asia,” in Final Report of the Third Asian Composer’s League Conference-Festival (Manila: National Music Council, 1976), p. 64. Emphasis added.

31 Ibid., p. 13, n. 5.

32 Phelan, Unmarked, p. 146.

33 Paul Schimmel, “Leap into the Void: Performance and the Object,” in Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949–1979, exh. cat. Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (London: Thames & Hudson, 1998), p. 17.

34 Rebecca Schneider, “Performance Remains,” in Perform, Repeat, Record, ed. Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), p. 141.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid., p. 142.

37 Myriam Van Imschoot, “Rests in Pieces: On Scores, Notation and the Trace in Dance,” in Choreographing Exhibitions, p. 35.

38 Ibid.

39 The descriptions and interpretations in this section are based on a conversation with the artist herself during a meeting on July 8, 2015, and from ensuing correspondence between us, as well as parts of Miško Šuvaković and Gabriella Schuller, The Power of a Woman: Katalin Ladik, Retrospective 1962–2010, exh. cat. Museum of Contemporary Art of Vojvodina (Novi Sad, 2010).