Cornelius Cardew and the Scratch Orchestra at London Drawing Room

By Zoe Gray | 11 November 2009
a photo of an experimental musical score featuring large circles and lines

(Above) One of the pages from the musical score for Treatise(1963-7). The Drawing Room

Exhibition: Cornelius Cardew – Play for Today at the Drawing Room, until December 13 2009

British composer Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) was a founding father of Scratch, a form of experimental music relying on visuals as well as sound and the blending different artistic forms. Scratch scores use symbols, pictures, lines and diagrams rather than the standard notations.

The exhibition includes original manuscripts, scores, Scratch Books and other archival material.

A central exhibit is the score Treatise, which uses lines, symbols and geometric shapes. There are no explanations from the composer, as Cardew was interested in how each individual interpreted the piece.

In 1969 Cardew co-founded the Scratch Orchestra as a music and artistic collective with philosophical ideals that were open to all musicians, irrespective of their abilities.

Its organisation was non-hierarchical and its music improvised, intended as much for the performer as for the audience.

a photo of some song lyrics and a diagram of an experimental musical instrument

(Above) Schooltime compositions. The Drawing Room

However, between 1971 and 1972 Cardew turned his back on the Orchestra and adopted Marxist-Leninist politics. Deciding to embrace political militancy, he turned to using classical and folk traditions to inspire his lyrical protest songs.

Despite this, Cardew and the Orchestra left behind a massive musical legacy that influenced later musicians such as Brian Eno and Michael Nyman, whose compositonal credits include the multi-platinum movie soundtrack for The Piano.

To accompany the exhibition there will be a two-day symposium at the ICA in London with panels, performances and discussions considering the contemporary relevance of Cardew's music.

Contributors will include British pianist, Cardew collaborator and biographer John Tilbury, Goldsmiths College Professor of Art and Writing Adrian Rifkin and sonic artist John Levack Drever.

Radical sound-art-collective Ultra Red will lead an enquiry into Cardew's work, mirroring a performance of Schooltime Compositions which took place 40 years ago at the ICA.

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