Listen to Cubocta Sonde (1981). Written by Andrew Culver. Performed by Andrew Culver, Pierre Dostie, Chris Howard, and Charles de Mestral.
Andrew Culver wrote Cubocta Suite in 1981 upon his arrival in New York from Hong Kong. Culver’s score consists of a long scroll made of a single sheet of rice paper. The notation itself is made up of the characters available on the keyboard of a word processor that allowed Culver to type continuously on one long sheet of paper. There are two columns each read from top to bottom, and from right to left; thus, time is read vertically.
The piece begins with a mesostic: a poem wherein the horizontal lines of text intersect with a vertical word or phrase. While similar to an acrostic, the vertical phrase in a mesostic intersects the middle rather than the beginning of the horizontal line. Culver was influenced by John Cage’s rules and limitations imposed on this poetic form with respect to the use of certain characters at certain times. The mesostic in Cubocta Suite is written in the manner of a performance note, however, it is written backwards, from right to left. Culver leaves it up to the performer to discover this, and thereby reveals the method by which the entire score is to be read.
“Intertriangulate” is the vertical word in the mesostic for Cubocta Suite, and it is also the primary material upon which the composition is based. Culver calls for 16 sound sources corresponding to the 16 letters in the word. These are to be distributed evenly among the number of musicians performing. In other words, there are either 16 musicians who are each responsible for one sound source, eight musicians responsible for two sound sources each, or four responsible for four sound sources each, etc. The sound sources themselves are undetermined. In each column, each player follows a string of a given letter, the length of which represents the relative duration of a given sound source.
Culver believes that truly new music must come from new sound sources, and throughout his career, he has worked extensively with improvising groups that explore and design new sound sources. This has led to various experiments with graphic notation as well as with other means of representing sound. For example, rather than functioning as a score in the conventional sense of the term, Culver describes the scroll for Cubocta Suite as a means for “designing sound,” indicating this in the calligraphy at the bottom of the score which reads, roughly, as: “this is presented as a gift to design sound.” The two Chinese characters underlying the text translate roughly into “sonic design” or “music design.” The notation Culver employs is free of the limitations imposed by standard notational practices, which he feels have failed to account for musical sound that is not structured with respect to conventional notions of pitch and rhythm. The advantage of the notation found in Cubocta Suite is that it allows for any sound to be considered as being wholly musical.
Cubocta Suite sits in the nexus between Culver’s work with standard notation as a graduate student in composition at McGill, and his unscored improvisation sessions with the improvising group Sonde which Culver formed with fellow students at McGill. For the premier of Cubocta Suite the members of Sonde performed on instruments they had designed and constructed themselves, including found objects.