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This article is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.

Anything Goes Lionel Salter

IF YOU bought a novel and then, on opening it, found only a jumble of phrases with a footnote saying that they could be read in any order, or no words at all but a number of squiggles which you were free to interpret in any way you liked, or merely a note inviting you to concentrate your thoughts on some specified abstract concept and accept whatever came into your head, you would angrily call the author an impudent mountebank and probably demand your money back. Yet this kind of thing has been common practice-I was going to say accepted practice, but not everyone does accept it-in the musical world for quite a few years now, and a number of composers have been making a fairly good living out of it (and a pretty easy one too, you may say). Under the noble-sounding (and very convenient) banner of "performer participation" they have, to a greater or less extent, repudiated' their responsibilities as composers to create sound pictures complete in every detail and to set them down on paper in such a way that their vision can be fully realized by others. Performers have become resigned to doing part of some composers' job for them and doodling around in response either to indeterminate signs, arbitrary non-musical directives, or to pretentious pseudo-intellectual stimuli-"Fix your thoughts on the constellation of Cassiopeia" and that kind of thing; and the success or otherwise of the composition depends to a considerable degree on their contribution. ...


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