by Ken Friedman
The original version of this text was published under the title
“The Belgrade Text” in the catalogue of Ken Friedman’s
1990 one-man show, Copernicus in Belgrade. The exhibition was organized
by Bojana Pejic at the Student Cultural Center Gallery, University
Friedman, Ken. 1990. “The Belgrade Text” (in) Kopernik
u Beogradu: Copernicus in Belgrade. Belgrade: Student Cultural Center
Gallery, University of Belgrade. [artist’s text in an exhibition
catalogue for a one-man show of Friedman’s work]
It was reprinted as: “The Belgrade Text.” Ballade, No.
1, 1991, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 52-57.
Revised 1994 October 16, 2001 May 21
Copyright © 1990, 1994, 2001 by Ken Friedman. All Rights Reserved.
This text my be freely quoted, reprinted or used provided that source
and copyright are acknowledged.
Working from Scores
by Ken Friedman
The idea of musicality in visual art and intermedia has several
It means that a work begins as an idea that is transmitted through
a score. It means that the work resides in the idea, in the score
and in the realized project. The work is equally present in each
form, though present in different ways. It means that a realized
project is only one interpretation of the work. It means that any
work may have several valid realizations, each an interpetation
of the artist who realizes the work, in addition to the many possible
interpretations of those who experience the realized work. It means
that a work may be realized by individuals other than the artist
who creates the idea and embodies it in a score.
The score uses written notation of some kind to communicate instructions
for realizing a work of art. The idea and use of the score is originally
rooted in music. In visual art and intermedia, the score offered
a way to transmit non-musical art forms. It became a method for
encoding, recording and transmitting art forms.
The practice of using scores migrated across the boundaries of the
several traditions of music, theater, daily life and visual art,
and the forms of art that are sometimes summed up under the term
intermedia. For some of us, this system of transmitting work became
a standard working method. It has been put to use in editions and
multiples, collections of scores, festival working sheets and other
A number of artists find common ground in the implications of this
idea. Early definitions of concept art stressed the idea-based foundation
of the work. This suggested the element that I term musicality,
and the artists who worked in intermedia and concept art in the
early 1960s understood this. The score became a prime characteristic
of their work.
Artists of differing means and philosophies, some poetic, some socio-political,
some oriented toward process or performance, adapted the idea of
concept art to their work. Artists as similar and as different as
Dick Higgins, Yoko Ono, Robert Filliou, Alison Knowles, Nam June
Paik, George Brecht, Ben Vautier, Ben Patterson Emmett Williams
and George Maciunas practiced different kinds of concept art, even
though relatively few used the term.
In 1966, George Maciunas presented the term to me and defined it
as a way of working. It offered a useful framework for many divergent
ways of making art. By the end of the 60s, the term concept art
was conflated into and obscured behind the term conceptual art.
The single-genre visual art background of most conceptual artists
also obscured the intermedia background and musical involvement
of the artists who had been engaged in this kind of work since the
early 60s. Some had even been active since the middle 1950s, but
in the late 60s, most of the pioneers defined their work without
using the terms concept art or conceptual art.
The process of scoring, of musical notation, was a common feature
linking the work of these artists. Some came from a direct background
in music, such as Nam June Paik, Dick Higgins, Eric Andersen, Philip
Corner and Ben Patterson. Others also studied music like George
Brecht, Alison Knowles or Al Hansen, some -- like these three, in
John Cage’s famous course at the New School for Social Research.
The musical milieu and the need to make it possible for others to
realize the experimental pieces they were creating made the use
of scores necessary.
Some artists came to see the score as a primary working method in
visual art. George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Ben Vautier and Yoko Ono
were pioneers in this field. They had all compiled and published
collections of scores or annotated proposals by the late 1950s or
From its basis in music in the strict sense, the idea of score in
its extended form gave rise to the issue of musicality in an extended
sense. This extension has important implications.
The first of these implications is that the work may exist as work
in several forms:
-- as idea
-- as score
-- as process
-- as object.
Each of these forms has its own value and meaning.
The idea is pure, simple and inexpensive. It is easy to store, but
difficult to preserve. Ideas are subject to change, to memory loss,
to message failure and to interference. For the vast majority of
human beings not gifted with telepathy, ideas require a physical
medium for transmission -- if only a voice, a pen or a telephone.
The score reduces the possibility of change, memory loss, message
failure and interference, while retaining many advantages of cost
effectiveness. At the same time, storage adds a modest physical
task as the price for exact preservation. And preservation does
not affect the problem of interpretation -- the possibility of multiple
interpretations or even of misinterpretation.
Process offers yet another way of understanding work. In orchestral
music, theatrical or time-based arts, process is the preferred way
to experience work, through live or recorded performance. The advantage
here is the most complete possible realization of an interpretation.
The disadvantage is linked to the time-bound features: prior to
the age of recordings, no experience could be repeated. Even in
the age of recordings, the ability to experience several aspects
of a piece at once or in comparison -- as is possible with ideas,
scores or objects -- remains difficult, linked to expensive equipment.
Creation of live performance is time-consuming and often expensive.
Creation and storage of process in recorded form is an expensive,
capital-intensive medium: though individual recording, storage or
playback units are no problem in the industrial world, making them
demands a certain kind of society to spread the investment and effort
over thousands of financiers and industrialists, millions of producers
and billions of consumers. Logistics, transportation, storage, presentation
and related issues provide their own difficulties for art forms
not traditionally seen as time-based. These include the forms of
object-making and presentation now summed up under terms such as
process art and arte povera.
The object is another form. We all understand objects or we think
that we do. We feel that the interpretation frozen in an object
is the interpretation chosen by the artist but the object obscures
the myriad possibilities that are rejected when the object takes
final form. The object suggests an aura of permanence. It hides
the process of its own making and it evades the issue of process
that it requires to find its final shape. Storage, transportation
and -- even for the object -- physical change remain problems. This
is also true of the objects left behind by process, such as recordings.
Many artists now use scores in works that are touched by the spirit
of musicality and many of them find these basic implications acceptable.
I assert that musicality has richer and deeper implications.
To understand the potential of score-based work, it’s useful
to consider how music is transmitted and performed. The composer
creates the score. Once the score leaves the composer’s hand
in published form, the composer has little control over the way
that the music is realized or interpreted. During the period covered
by copyright, anyone has the right to perform the music with proper
notification and on payment of fees and royalties. Not even that
much is required after the copyright expires.
The performer determines the interpretation and the composer is
obliged to acknowledge authorship even when he or she despises the
realization. No matter how good or bad a performance of Don Giovanni,
it is always Mozart. The thinnest Ring Cycle is still Wagner. Everyone
within reach of a radio has heard some of the more than 200 versions
of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind, ranging from Dylan’s
own protest-inflected ballad to the saccharine orchestrations created
for Muzak and elevators. There have been disco versions, blues versions
and even a pompous and inflated symphonic orchestration. Beethoven
done for disco and Beatles gone baroque are still the work of their
respective composers. The royalties on Beatles tunes must be paid
to the rights-holder -- Michael Jackson. Neither Jackson nor Paul
McCartney can forbid Eleanor Rigby from being used as a marching
tune for an armored infantry division. McCartney had little luck
when Jackson granted permission for an automobile company to use
one of McCartney’s songs in an advertising campaign.
To compose is to give up certain rights. One right that a composer
loses is the right of absolute control over the use and interpretation
of the work.
In score-based work, I assert that the artist must naturally give
up a certain element of control. Certain issues fall under the scope
of moral rights in copyright jurisdiction or art law. Barring violation
of those rights, score-based work inevitably opens a wide opportunity
for variant interpretations. The only right that cannot be stripped
away is the right of authorship. While the creator may wish to disavow
badly realized work from time to time, the work must be acknowledged
even if only to acknowledge a bad realization as a bad realization.
Artists have long used assistants in the realization of their work.
In recent years, the use of fabricators and amanuenses has become
almost as common as the use of assistants. In certain forms of proposal
pieces and projects, the creation of work at a distance through
other hands than the artist’s own has become the standard
practice. In all these cases, assistants, fabricators, amanuenses
and long-distance collaborators act under the supervision and signature
of the artist. It is the artist’s work and the artist retains
control. There resides in the physical object an aspect of the personal
aura of the creator. This aura resides in the physical object, guaranteed
by the signature. This aura is quite separate from the visual and
tactile quality of the work, though they are related.
From the standpoint of visual art, of collecting or of connoisseurship,
a simple series of thought experiments can illustrate the issues.
Imagine a suite of Picasso prints. All were struck under the artist’s
eye. 100 prints were pulled for signing and numbering -- together
with a few extra to allow for problems during signing. All were
accepted by the artist in terms of quality and realization of artistic
intention. During first part of the signing, half the prints were
signed and numbered. Picasso stopped at number 50 and went for coffee.
While the artist was out, a printer’s assistant mistakenly
included one unsigned print in a stack set aside in storage. The
second part of the signing started at number 51. No one was aware
of the missing, unsigned print between the signed prints numbered
50 and 51. Now, years after Picasso’s death, that unsigned
print emerges. Imagine that by every known analytic technique, it
can be shown to be one and the same with the other prints in the
edition. Imagine, further, that though a technique recently discovered,
it can even be shown to be pulled exactly between the number 50
and number 51. In every respect other than the signature, it is
the same. Will it have anything near the market value of the prints
before and after? If not, why not? If so, why?
Imagine a stack of industrial bricks. Carl Andre selects 100 of
them for a piece. He instructs his assistant to arrange the bricks
in a certain way. He doesn’t sign the piece. Andre’s
assistant buys another 100 bricks from the same batch and -- without
the artist’s approval -- arranges them in the same way. One
is an Andre, the other isn’t. Both are stored in adjacent
warehouses. One warehouse is filled with Andre’s art. The
other warehouse is filled with the assistant’s tools.
A collector buys the Andre. The movers, not knowing the difference
between experimental art and anything else they might be hired to
transport, walk into the wrong warehouse. The bricks they see look
like the photograph they have brought with them for identification.
They take the assistant’s unapproved simulation of an Andre.
After the work is installed, the artist comes to sign documentation.
Just prior to signing, the artist and collector go to dinner. The
night grows late and they agree to sign in a few days.
Case one: The next day, the artist returns and signs the documents.
He never discovers the mistake. Is the piece an Andre?
Case two: The next day, the artist returns and signs the documents.
Later that day, he discovers the other Andre in his warehouse. He
can’t account for the discrepancy. Has he signed an Andre?
Should he tell the collector? Should he exchange the two pieces?
Does the collector own an Andre? A few days later, the assistant
tells him what has happened. Should this knowledge change the situation?
Case three: The next day, the artist returns and signs the documents.
Many months later, Andre goes to his warehouse to discover the piece
still in the warehouse. He doesn’t know how it came into existence
so he destroys it. Does the collector own an Andre?
So much rests on intention that the only outcome of these debates
is the opportunity to reflect on intentionality and meaning. For
me, the issue of musicality moves beyond that.
There are works of mine that are signature pieces. Drawings, watercolors
and first-draft copies of original scores are signature pieces.
So are the objects and relics of processes activated by personal
engagement. Still, the pieces built from scores are a specific and
interesting body of work. Several factors account for the large
number of works I have created using scores.
Prior to 1966, I wasn’t an artist. I built things, made objects,
undertook actions. I engaged in processes, and I created and enacted
events in the physical sense of the term. These were simply things
I did. I didn’t have a specific term for them. I didn’t
call them art. They were philosophical explorations or spiritual
George Maciunas introduced me to the idea that what I was doing
was art and he introduced me to a vocabulary for the kind of art
I was doing. He suggested I score and notate the projects, actions,
objects and constructions I described to him. This brought about
the first large group of my scores.
In the 60s, I lived and worked in places far from the centers of
activity where my work was shown and performed. It was an era when
few people made this kind of work and very few were interested in
realizing it. Often, the people who wanted to realize exhibitions
and projects didn’t have transportation money or project funds.
My work had be done at a distance, with others realizing and interpreting
my pieces. This, too, occasioned many scores.
The introduction to a new medium was one reason I began to work
from scores. The need to create work for realization at a distance
was another. The opportunity to create work in an experimental way,
to take part in the way others might interpret my work, to see what
would evolve was a third.
Many scores were published in the various compilations of my events.
Some were exhibited, presented in simple form, as notations. Some
were realized in projects or installations, and some led to objects
such as the multiples published by Fluxus or Vice Versand. Other
scores led to collaborative projects with colleagues such as Joseph
Beuys or Jack Ox.
A large body of the scores were identified as events. These tend
toward process orientation, often performable. In his essay on my
event structures, Peter Frank elaborated a taxonomy in which he
identified seven types of events, almost all process oriented. (He
also coined the useful term “proposal piece” to cover
the wide range of scores, events and notations that my colleagues
and I developed over the years.)
Many scores created for realization of physical work were not included
in the compilations of events. The one aspect that all of the scores
have in common is that anyone can realize the works they propose.
In this, the performance scores and the object scores share the
quality of musicality.
While I have worked with the issue of musicality since 1966, it’s
only been in the last few years that I have come to articulate the
term. The issue of musicality was implicit in my work, but I didn’t
set out to achieve musicality. It grew from the conditions. In an
interview with Nicholas Zurbrugg, Nam June Paik said, “artists
...don’t really set out to do any concrete objective. So,
in my case, when I make an art work, we start from a few given conditions.”
For many years, the conditions that led to the creation of scored
works seemed so apparent to me that I had no reason to articulate
the issues. The issues were there. They were so obvious it didn’t
seem necessary to discuss them.
The obvious often hides the significant. In recent years, changing
conditions have sharpened my focus on the issue of musicality. There
are many reasons:
I am often invited to create projects far from my office in Oslo
or my loft in New York. People invite me to come these days, but
I still do a great deal of work at a distance. Scores allow for
work from a distance, enabling projects to be realized as I travel
between hotel rooms and borrowed studios. The fact that I go to
many of my shows now gives me the chance to experience my own work.
There are pieces of mine that I’ve never seen and now it’s
possible. The opportunity to examine and to contemplate the scored
pieces offers a new opportunity for philosophical exploration.
Growing interest in my work and a catalogue raisonné provided
the first occasion to reconsider the scores. Old scores and notes
came to my attention. It seemed natural to think through many of
the works in a new light. Would I interpret a work today as I once
would have? Does it interest me to work with a piece again? Is there
some issue or quality in a work that I want to explore?
The conditions affecting my work now make realizing the scores an
In earlier years, I was rarely been able to save and store realized
interpretations of the scores. I traveled too much. My work was
considered extremely experimental. I considered myself lucky to
see a piece completed. Many of the works were too big to ship and
Even so, I was often able to save fragments. I thought of these
as a kind of yeast for regrowing the work: the fragments and the
score would permit me to create the work again. Some fragments still
exist in New York, and some work is stored around the world -- in
Switzerland, in Norway, in California, in the Netherlands. I want
to finish those pieces. As I found notes for pieces whose fragments
were gone, I realized that the works still exist. The score is the
work, and just as I might perform a music score, so I can perform
an object score. It became necessary to focus on the implications
of musicality in my work.
In 1989, writing on central issues in Fluxus, I summarized twelve
key issues in essays for Fluxus exhibitions at Emily Harvey Gallery
and the Venice Biennal. One criterion is musicality. I’d like
to quote the definition of musicality from my essay in the Venice
“Musicality refers to the fact that many Fluxus works are
designed as scores, as works which can be realized by artists other
than the creator. While this concept may have been born in the fact
that many Fluxus artists were also composers, it signifies far more.
The events, many object instructions, game and puzzle works -- even
some sculptures and paintings -- work this way. This means that
you can own a George Brecht by carrying out one of Brecht’s
scores. If that sounds odd, you might ask if you can experience
Mozart simply by listening to an orchestra play one of Mozart’s
scores. The answer is that you can. Perhaps another orchestra or
Mozart himself might have given a better rendition, but it is still
Mozart’s work. This, too, is the case with a Brecht or a Knizak
or a Higgins that is created to be realized from a score.
“The issue of musicality has fascinating implications. The
mind and intention of the creator are the key element in the work.
The issue of the hand is only germane insofar as the skill of rendition
affects the work: in some conceptual works, even this is not an
issue. Musicality is linked to experimentalism and the scientific
method. Experiments must operate in the same manner. Any scientist
must be able to reproduce the work of any other scientist for an
experiment to remain valid.
“As with other issues in Fluxus, this raises interesting problems.
Collectors want a work with hand characteristics, so some Fluxus
works imply their own invalidity for collectors.
“Musicality suggests that the same work may be realized several
times, and in each state it may be the same work, even though it
is a different realization of the same work. This bothers collectors
who think of ‘vintage’ works as works located in a certain,
distant era. The concept of ‘vintage’ is useful only
when you think of it in the same way you think of wine: 1962 may
be a great vintage, then 1966, then it may not be until 1979 or
1985 that another great vintage occurs.
“If you think of the composers and conductors who have given
us great interpretations of past work, say a complete Beethoven
cycle or a series of Brahms concertos, then, a decade or two later,
gave a dramatically different, yet equally rich interpretation of
the same work, you will see why the concept of vintage can only
be appropriate for Fluxus when it is held to mean what it means
in wine. You must measure the year by the flavor, not the flavor
by the year.
“Musicality is a key concept in Fluxus. It has not been given
adequate attention by scholars or critics. Musicality means that
anyone can play the music. If deep engagement with the music, with
the spirit of the music is the central focus of this criterion,
then musicality may be the key concept in Fluxus. It is central
to Fluxus because it embraces so many other issues and concepts:
the social radicalism of Maciunas in which the individual artist
takes a secondary role to the concept of artistic practice in society,
the social activism of Beuys when he declared that we are all artists,
the social creativity of Knizak in opening art into society, the
radical intellectualism of Higgins and the experimentalism of Flynt.
All of these and more appear in the full meaning of musicality.”
As George Brecht says, “Fluxus has fluxed,” but the
issues are quite alive. This issue of musicality remains among the
I take a more radical view of musicality than many of my colleagues:
I assert that anyone may realize my work from the score. I will
acknowledge it, though there is a difference between acknowledging
the work as mine, however, and approving every realization. Some
directors work closely with the playwright. Some conductors consult
the composer. Someone who wants to realize my work may find it useful
to consult me. At the same time, I recognize that someone may develop
a wonderful interpretation of my work that I hadn’t created
in my own interpretation. There is always the possibility that someone
may realize a work better than I have done. Musicality implies all
these possibilities. My intention is necessary to the work. My interpretation
may not be necessary to the work in the same way. My interpretation
-- or, more often, a fluid constellation of multiple interpretations
-- interest me and shed light on the intention of the work. On the
other hand, some might say that my specific interpretation of any
given piece is primarily important to those who want to know how
Friedman realizes Friedman.
There is value in experiencing the creator’s interpretation.
What would it mean to us today to have a method for looking back
in time so that we could hear the Brandenburg concerti played by
Bach or see Henry V directed by Shakespeare? Would it awaken us
to new facets of the work? Would it merely shed historical, academic
light on the creation of the work? Would it open up entirely new
understandings? Perhaps Shakespeare’s own actors were wooden,
pompous and hollow. Perhaps they were profound and astonishing.
Either way, a recording pulled forward from Shakespeare’s
time would give us a new understanding of Olivier’s Henry
V and Brannagh’s. Perhaps all three would rise in our estimation
for the comparison.
Other issues arise from the concept of musicality. I am, among other
things, an artist. Those who are interested in my work may wish
to have access to my interpretation of the work. Even so, the concept
of musicality challenges the notion that there is one authentic
interpretation. There is no philosophical contradiction inherent
in the idea that people have preferences. I prefer chamber orchestrations
of Handel’s Water Music based on the original instrumentation
superior to what I feel to be the bloated sound of a symphonic rendering.
Others feel symphonic orchestration far superior to what they consider
the thin, weak sound of the early music chamber orchestra. I’m
used to Dylan sung by Dylan. It suits my taste. Some may prefer
a Ken Friedman that I have done.
The art market is based on physical objects. One of my Friedmans
may have greater value than another interpretation. These are open
issues. Some may find a Ken Friedman realized by John Armleder for
my 1974 Geneva show far more interesting than a Ken Friedman that
I realize in 1991. Someone else may believe that my work is usually
quite dull and feel that only John Armleder was ever able to make
anything interesting out of it. Still another person may believe,
as one artist recently said, that my works of the 1980s and 1990s
are superior to my earlier projects.
Not all artists involved in Fluxus agree with me on the issue of
musicality. Interesting enough, some of the strongest objections
come from artists trained as composers. The artists who might particularly
be expected apply the criterion of musicality to their work on theoretical
grounds reject the concept in practice. There are two main reasons.
One is control. La Monte Young now refuses to publish his scores.
He believes that his work can be realized in only one interpretation,
his own. Even though that interpretation may change frequently,
Young stresses very specific notions of intention that must be brought
out in each realization of the work.
The second issue is the market. Many artists feel that if anyone
can realize authentic versions of their work, they will have nothing
to sell. I have confidence that my interpretations are lively, valid
and interesting enough for people to want them. Artists who have
pieces fabricated by precise, industrial means may have more to
Jack Ox, a painter whose works are direct realizations of musical
scores, once suggested an elegant solution to the problem. She thought
I ought to join ASCAP, the rights and royalties organization for
composers. By publishing my scores as music scores, anyone would
be permitted to realize, perform, my work in the same way that anyone
may record and sell musical works on payment of the fees and royalties.
Ox suggests that an artist can grant realization rights through
ASCAP to earn money on scores without the necessity of physically
realizing the works.
This seemed to be an interesting idea, so I explored it in Norway
through the organization known as Tono. There were some possibilities,
but there were also difficulties. Far greater difficulties emerged
in the problem of rights and royalties permission for non-profit
and scholarly performance and realization of the work. Philip Corner
told me of his experience with the problem. There seems to be no
way for the rights and permissions organizations to make simple,
sensible exceptions to royalty-based permissions for performance
in academic situations or for small organizations whose royalties
can be set based the ability to pay. After consideration Corner’s
ideas on the issue, I decided against structuring my work in that
way. I am still looking for an appropriate solution, but at this
time, selling rights through a royalty collection organization doesn’t
seem appropriate for me or for the intentionality of my work.
While new approaches to the realization of the work may become valid,
I retain the copyright on my work primarily for the purpose of credit
and moral right. The work is a philosophical contribution. It is
freely available for realization and consideration as idea, as spoken
word or as realized project.
Musicality in art raises interesting, profound questions. The issues
are even more intriguing now than in the 1960s. Global politics
and world economies are undergoing transformation, and with them,
global culture. The art world has moved from the rebirth of painting
to the birth of a grotesque new materialism at exactly the same
moment that a new humanism is blossoming. The boundaries between
art and many other fields of endeavor -- music, design, politics,
to name just a few -- have dissolved. More and more people have
come to understand the useful distinction between the valid concept
of experimentalism and the reactionary concept of avant-gardism.
In these exciting times, the implications of musicality, the consideration
of meaning, intention, realization and interpretation that musicality
raises, are among the most lively and interesting.