The search for alternative ways of putting music to paper has taken composers down many different paths in the last half century, and among the most heavily trod is graphic notation. Geometric designs, colored patterns, and stimulating visual signals meant to represent or elicit particular sounds or techniques are now standard tricks in the postwar-classical bag. But few have given themselves so fully over to visual scoring as British composer and guitarist Cornelius Cardew did between 1963 and ’67 with Treatise, a piece that English critic Paul Griffiths has called “a magnum opus of graphic design.” Cardew was also noted for his politics: right up until he was killed in a hit-and-run accident in 1981, he remained a committed leftist who listened for ideological implications in the most minute details of musical activity. In 1969 he started the Scratch Orchestra, an antihierarchical ensemble designed to allow players with no experience to mix with professionals. Cardew also improvised, and he was a member of the signal group AMM in the late 60s–in fact, AMM made a habit of mixing bits of Treatise into its improvised pieces. The full score, which is nearly 200 pages long, contains no specific musical instructions, only shapes and symbols as well as standard notation devices that are bent, broken, shattered, or deranged. There’s no key to help decipher the symbols, so the musicians are free (or forced, depending on your perspective) to make up their own rules for any given performance. Despite its historical significance and musical potential, Treatise is rarely performed these days, and when it is it tends to be excerpted, as it has been by pianist John Tilbury (who worked with Cardew in the 60s and AMM in the 80s) and AMM percussionist Eddie Prevost (on Cornelius Cardew Piano Music 1959-70, for the Matchless label). But Chicago poet, journalist, and new-music scholar Art Lange has organized a group to record the full piece for the Swiss Hat Art label, and they’ll run through a significant portion of it at this concert. Lange “conducts” Guillermo Gregorio on reeds, Carrie Biolo on percussion, Jim O’Rourke on electronics, Jim Baker on keyboards, and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello. Friday, 8 PM, Chicago Project Room, 1464 N. Milwaukee; 773-227-2215. JOHN CORBETT

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Brad Miller.