December 1952 – Interpretive Strategies by Daniel Barbiero
Some Suggested Interpretive Strategies for December 1952
Earle Brown’s December 1952 is a score of 31 rectangular points distributed against a white background. It is a score of suggestion rather than prescription, one whose interpretation is left largely up to the performer. As Brown described it,
…the performer may start from any of those points and move to any other of those points at any time, at any speed, with any number of instruments, and for any length of time of performance. Each performer is free to read the page from any of the four quadrant positions, which is right-side up, upside down, sitting on the right margin, or on the left margin.
The 31 points are oriented either horizontally or vertically; they are of different heights or lengths and thicknesses; they are dispersed in an overall sparseness that nevertheless features clusters of relative proximity. All of these features—orientation, height or length, thickness, proximity—suggest ways of translating visual data into corresponding musical parameters.
Some basic suggestions for interpreting the points: Let each horizontal point represent one tone or sound. Vertically-oriented points may be read as single tones/sounds or as dyads or triads, or as multiphonics. Points may be grouped into phrases. The relative length of a point may suggest the duration of a tone/sound or phrase; the thickness of a point may suggest the relative dynamic level or intensity of a tone/sound or phrase, a pitch cluster if the instrument is polyphonic, or a multiphonic. Specific pitch or sound content is ad lib.; unpitched sounds produced by extended techniques are most welcome.
The visual austerity of Brown’s score suggests the appearance of intermittent sounds against a background of stillness–points and clusters of sounds emerging from, projecting into, and receding into space. In order to convey this, phrases should be as economical as possible. For example: one long or short tone/sound, followed by a silence; two tones/sounds, either long or short or both, followed by a silence; three short tones/sounds followed by a silence; three short tones/sounds followed by a long tones/sound followed by a silence. The overlapping of the individual instruments’ phrases should make for an aural pointillism of constantly shifting colors.
One of the key and most desired features of our interpretation is the dynamic emergence and disappearance of constellations of sounds. These constellations will consist in consonant or dissonant harmonies arising naturally as individual parts coincide. There won’t be any functional harmony (at least not deliberately), but there should be harmonic movement as individual parts enter and exit. If you like a chord or other sound aggregate you suddenly find yourself part of, feel free to lengthen the tone/sound you’re playing beyond what the mark on the page might imply. If you’re playing a note and you feel it should go up or down to make for a more desirable harmony, feel free to round it up or down with a slur. And feel free to use microtones as the desire moves you.
The default or baseline dynamic should be moderate–not too loud and not too soft. From there, modulate as the situation invites you.
Duration We’ll have a set time for the performance, probably around ten minutes.