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JOHN CAGE TRIBUTE: "Notations 21" publication by Theresa Sauer

An Homage to John Cage

I've thought of music as a means of changing the mind. I saw art not as something that consisted of a communication from the artist to an audience but rather as an activity of sounds in which the artist found a way to let the sounds be themselves. And, in being themselves, to open the minds of people who made them or listened to them to other possibilities than they had previously considered. ~ John Cage

In 1969, composer, philosopher and musical innovator John Cage compiled examples of written music by composers of his time including Milton Babbitt, Leonard Bernstein, George Crumb, Nam June Paik, Dick Higgins, Luc Ferrari, Igor Stravinsky and the Beatles among many, many others. They were presented at random, with guidance from the I Ching with only a few words of description and designed/co-edited by Alison Knowles. Notations, published by Something Else Press in (1969) became an instant classic, an introduction for the public at large to fascinating, innovative forms of notation.

The Notations 21 video presents the concept and background of Notations 21, and features composers Keren Rosenbaum, Joseph Pignato, Michael J. Schumacher, John Kannenberg, Chris Chalfant discussing John Cage, their work, notation, the future of music. It also provides the opportunity to view and hear scores by composers around the world including Jennifer Walshe, Makoto Nomura, Halim El-Dabh, Takayuki Rai, Guillermo Gregorio, Rajesh Mehta, Leon Schidlowsky, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Earle Brown and others.

Theresa Sauer, Author / Composer,  2012 _______________

Notations 21, published by Mark Batty Publisher (2009), is a compendium and anthology including composers from around the globe exploring experimental notation in the last 40 years, deriving its inspiration from Cage's seminal work Notations (1969). Thousands of new composers are creating scores, that are graphic in nature, inspired by technology, science, and visual art, etc. liberated from the traditional staff, that intrigue the eyes of the viewer in presentation. The modern music world did not cease its notational experiments but has continued on with many new developments that are represented in Notations 21.

The Notations 21 Project goes well beyond that of the scores within the book and works to advocate these forward-looking ideas in creative communication systems.

Purchase Notations 21 at


Theresa Sauer is a musicologist, author, composer, curator, and lecturer based in New York.

Recently her book, Notations 21, published by Mark Batty Publisher (2009) has garnered much attention worldwide for its innovative approach to the presentation of experimental and visual notation. The book was inspired by John Cage’s book Notations (1969) Something Else Press.

Thousands of new composers are creating scores, the likes of which Cage could have never anticipated, that are graphic in nature, liberated from the traditional staff, and rival the best visual art in their aesthetic value. The modern music world did not cease its innovations in the 1960's. The book profiles the work of 165 composers from around the world, each one using a unique or graphical notation style. – Theresa Sauer

Ms. Sauer received a major award from the Project Room for New Media at the Chelsea Art Museum in New York City in 2008 to present a three concert series, exhibit and installation based on Notations 21. Included in the concert were performers of such note as Joan La Barbara, Malcolm Goldstein, Joan La Barbara, Jennifer Walshe, Keren Rosenbaum, William Hellermann, and Kenneth Silverman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author lecturing on John Cage. The book is now in over 135 Universities worldwide including Oxford University and Yale University. She has spoken, curated exhibitions and created unique Notations 21 events at the University of North Texas, Yale University, The School of Visual Arts, SUNY Fredonia, The University of New Haven, The Graham Gund Gallery, The Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, The University of Northern Illinois, Long Island University, NY and more.

Ms. Sauer traveled to Amsterdam this April/May for a Notations 21 Festival in Europe. Festival highlights included a Notations 21 presentation at The Royal Academy of Art in The Hague on Notations Systems, a premiere performance and exhibition of Ms. Sauer’s visual scores at Glazenhuis, a concert/exhibition/lecture featuring works from Notations 21 at the American Book Center, and a concert/exhibition featuring a premiere work by a Notations 21 composers at Orgelpark in conjunction with The Gaudeamus Festival.

The book has been presented at the International Society for Improvised Music from 2009 to 2012. Notations 21 Project worked with The School of Visual Arts to develop a unique interdisciplinary project with The New Music Ensemble at New York University concerning visual scores and music interpretation presented at the Beatrice Theater, New York City, New York.

The book has led to the development of Notations 21 Project. This is an ongoing global research program focusing on innovative and experimental communication systems in the creative arts. Notations 21 Project is an advocacy program, offering commissions to composers, ensembles and artists that are generating new concepts in the presentation and methodology of new communication in the arts.

She has written for the International Alliance for Women in Music Journal. Interviews with Stuart Saunders Smith and Sylvia Smith and Kyong Mee Choi were featured articles in recent editions. She is now in the midst of writing a series of articles for the IAWM entitled, Encounters with Contemporary Women Composers.

Notations 21 has received great praise from the media since its release in May 2009 including such publications as Creative Review Magazine that compared the book to The Art of Noise by Alex Ross.


Notations 21:  reviews

The often evasive, oblique images and scores displayed in the book may…offer an open place for performer, in particular, to interpret and engage afresh with a score. Those featured here present possibilities, potentials, a conduit towards provocative performances in the present and future. The Wire Magazine

It seems all the more reason to mention the long-awaited Notations sequel just released: Notations 21, brought together by Theresa Sauer. You can feast, gawk and marvel at snippets of the highest, subtlest, strangest and most elegant musical and extra-musical explorations of the last 50 years. Steve Layton, Sequenza 21

Although no piece in the collection is “typical” of the others, Sauer’s piece, like many of the others, has an inherent visual beauty independent of its function as a guide to the performing musicians. Someone seeing (not hearing) the work on its own, with no explanation would be at pains to decipher its pragmatic role. Sauer’s instructions and description serve as a guideline of her intent (e.g. “the vertical lines should intuitively guide the strikes of the da’uli da’uli”), but no one “reading” her score can predict how the music will sound. Granted that this is partly due to the improvisational nature of the piece, but herein lies a major difference from the notations used in the anthology and a more standardized form of notation. Prasun Lala, Montreal Serai


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