Say No Score: a Lexical Improvisation after Bob Ostertag


Music that features the interface of notation and improvisation tends to dwell in liminal regions of musical labour. It thus calls much entrenched musical vocabulary into question. The word score is one such example. What seems like a synonym for notation in everyday parlance turns out to be something quite different on closer inspection – more regulatory, yet at the same time more inclusive. This article explores three different meanings of the word score through the lens of composer-improviser Bob Ostertag’s 1990s tetralogy Say No More: a cut, an index of a game, and a record kept. Say No More consists of a chain of tape pieces and ensemble pieces in which performers Joey Baron, Mark Dresser, Gerry Hemingway and Phil Minton were put in front of a machine-made mirror of themselves … with wacky lenses that distorted the image into something superhuman. In the performances the musicians tried to keep up with their digital reflection, a task at which they could only fail. Although the notation seems to play a minor role in this dynamic, its usage in the score as a whole offers important lessons on what writing might still have to offer composers in the digital era.

Tempo 72 (283), pp. 21–33