In Ancient Egypt

On page 290 in the wonderful book "Notations21" by Theresa Sauer, you will find a nice example of an ancient Egyptian graphic notation (see image below). It is believed to be dated from the 6th to 7th centuries C.E. and it has been discussed and mentioned in several works by musicologist Hans Hickman in the 1950s and 1960s. It is said to be a part of six parchments.

Unfortunately I did not find any other images or sources varifying these assumptions. Nevertheless it is a nice object of study. Especially the use of color and size for indication.

Notations 21, Theresa Sauer, Mark Batty Publisher, USA, 2009.

Anestis Logothetis

When talking about graphic notation one composer is inevitable. Therefore let's have a look at the graphic by Anestis Logothetis, that describe one (Association - factors) of the three kinds of symbols in his graphic notation (the other ones are Pitch Symbols and Action Signals).

Thereby Logothetis mentions three levels of meaning regarding graphic notation: a) semiotic level, graphics can symbolize something, b) associative level, graphics evoke certain associations (for improvisation) and c) they
indicate direct instructions for the performer.

To fit Motion Graphic Notation, I would like to rephrase them a little bit:

  • symbolic - graphics have a specific meaning. They are used within the score in the same way as pictograms in our every day life. Symbols are commonly used within staff notation to enhance it's discriptive possibilities.
  • associative - graphics work as a trigger for improvisation. Performers associate meaning with the graphic and convey this meaning to music. This is how Musical Graphics work.
  • instructive - graphics (or words if justified) are direct instructions that trigger a specific action and usually describe exctely what to do (e.g. knock on the piano twice).


We need to distinguish between graphics for the computer musician respectively sounds from the computer and sounds from the analog instrument. Therefore the mapping process is quite complex. However, Pierre Schaeffer created the TARTYP: TAbleau Récapitulatif de la TYPologie. Robert Normandeau reviewed and translated it. Click here for the conference paper. It can be used as a bases for any kind of sound mapping.

Normandeau TARTYP

TARTYP table by R. Normandeau

Mapping Process

1. X and Y Axis

One very fundamental part of the mapping process is the division of 2D space within graphic notation forms. For instance Earle Browns famous piece December 1952, where the performer "must set this all in motion (time)" and interpret the notation especially regarding it's 2D or even 3D apprearence.

Electro acoustic and live electronic music is composed and performed all over the world. However, I stick to western music history. Regarding 2D western music notation, we are used to the fact that the Y axis occupied by pitch, while events (and thereby time) are noted on the X axis. (Check out Decartes - the Cartesian Coordinate System). In order to keep the proposed motion graphic notation as easy to use as possible, at least for western educated people, I will stick to this use. Y indicates pitch, while the objects (events) move on the X axis.

What about mapping?

One major first step is the mapping process. Meaning in this case to categorize (electro acoustic) sounds on one hand and the 'direct' connection of visuals and the perceived sounds regarding the instrument on the other. As the motion graphic score should work for both at the same time, live electronics (using abstract, synthesized sounds, concrete sounds or live recordings) as well as analog (instrument) sounds, this task is vital and far from being trivial.

One fundamental source regarding electro acoustic sounds is L'Analyse de la musique électroacoustique: modèles et propositions by Stéphane Roy. Nevertheless, well known electro acoustic mapping approaches may not be the only source of information. There are other possibilities that should to be taken into consideration, like spatial body movement of the performer (1), or the analysis of already exisiting graphical notation scores. Especially regarding reoccuring graphical elements (2). Another interesting approach is Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds by Jean-François Augoyard and Henry Torgue. Where sounds are classified using sonic/auditory effects. In the end, it will be a mixture of several approaches.

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