By Virginia Gaburo

Notation is an odd book I found in a thrift shop, old and floppy and proudly retro. The book features no blurbs or pithy summaries; in fact I could barely find anything about it — this is one book you’d never just stumble upon via Amazon!

The book is directed to musicians in particular, but takes a broad perspective on notation, looking at the concept from a linguistic angle, for one.

Its subtitle, or perhaps introductory slogan — “a lecture to be performed by solo speaker to attentive audience” — indicates the book’s live presentation roots. And this lends it some cool structural elements, e.g. it contains both “Performance Notes” and “Prelude”.

Gaburo begins by discussing the nature of music. She follows with “precepts” of notation, big ideas re: limitations on creativity and improvisation; the relationship of notation and musical training.

Three section titles are rather hilarious in their repeating, self-referential absurdity: “Notational Additions”; “Additional Notations”; and “Additional Additional Notations”.

The design of the book is striking. Gaburo includes “Examples” and “Slides” throughout, visual demonstrations that are central to the text. The latter half highlights many specific notation examples, from the ordinary and familiar, to the strange and experimental.

One of my favorite lines: “The concept of notation should be allowed to expand and contract as our needs require.”

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