From late October through November, I had the opportunity to research the music of Aaron Cassidy at the University of Huddersfield for my dissertation project Demystifying Collaboration and Sound Production in Aaron Cassidy’s Second String Quartet. The links below document different moments throughout the trip, which included interviews with Cassidy and collaborators, studying his sketches and manuscripts, and observing and documenting his interactions with an ensemble as his newest piece was premiered then recorded.
As detailed in the abstract at the bottom of this page, people’s interest in pursuing Cassidy’s unique music continues to come up against the lack of familiarity with its radical, creative notation strategies. (Consider this score sample of the violin 1 part from Second String Quartet).
(Graphic of Second String Quartet from Cassidy’s article “Constraint Schemata, Multi-axis Movement Modeling, and Unified, Multi-parametric Notation for Strings and Voices”)
While this research project is not intended to make Cassidy’s music an exercise in effortlessness, by better understanding aesthetic ideas, the experiences of people who have prepared his work for performance, and centering the writing in the dissertation about the resulting music, such as this live performance of his Second String Quartet, people can ideally engage with the music while having a better understanding of it in those dimensions.
For example, in a piece where each performer has to reconcile so much information (the left hand (black ink) and right hand (red ink) move independently up and down the instrument with a continuum of finger and bow pressures and rich irrational rhythms), how does a person prepare the work? How do we talk about accuracy or success?
Travel Journal Entries
Demystifying Collaboration and Sound Production in Aaron Cassidy’s Second String Quartet
The music of Aaron Cassidy and the scholarship about it have been telling vastly different stories about how the music is made for a number of years. Even as Cassidy’s work has been celebrated at international events such as the Donaueschingen Festival, the information about it has erred toward grouping his music with musical scores it looks like rather than investigating its motivations and aesthetics. This project examines Cassidy’s Second String Quartet, the work that epitomizes a decade of his compositional output, to provide music theorists, educators, and performers accessible and actionable information about this music. Through a combination of musical analysis of the work’s structure and aesthetics with new on-site research and interviews with Cassidy and collaborators such as JACK Quartet, readers will be able to understand the larger musical organization of the quartet and how its busy but delicate balance of different elements of music unleashes the sonic results Cassidy strives for.
While many listeners can easily hear a kind of improvisational immediacy within its visceral, noisy expression, scholars have primarily focused on the uniqueness of the graphic designs found in Cassidy’s scores, sometimes wholly omitting what the music sounds like and the critical role performers play in realizing the detailed but indeterminate music. This project’s focus on how Cassidy’s multi-colored physical gesture inputs are translated into outputs of unstable, arresting sounds leads to a more explicable understanding of the music’s structure and material, the new and different kinds of virtuosity needed to realize it, and what power and stakes performers have as they do so. This approach has also found that rather than emphasize Cassidy’s visual connection with the style known as New Complexity by previous scholars, there is a powerful (though less-discussed) relationship between Cassidy’s compositional and performance aesthetics and American Experimentalist composers such as John Cage and Morton Feldman that directly benefits theorists and performers engaging with Second String Quartet and other works.