Meara O’Reilly: Alternative Music Notation and Perception

Join LA-based sound artist and educator Meara O’Reilly for a workshop and presentation on alternative modes of music notation. Together we will consider the visual language of music composition as a blueprint for how we communicate the organization of sound. What elements of music are missing when we try to write it down? How does that written document differ from how we actually perceive the finished product?

"Traditional Western music notation is very good at visualizing certain basic aspects of music, for example using vertical height to signify pitch. Rhythm is traditionally notated horizontally, from left to right, over time. However, when a repeating rhythmic pattern is instead represented as points on a circle, it immediately allows us to see aspects of its overall symmetry and evenness that we couldn't before. Just as you can easily differentiate a triangle from a square, you can also see these qualities in a rhythm. We can then make subtle compositional choices that play out in unexpected ways, or apply different systems to creating the patterns in the first place.

What is written for musicians to play and what we actually hear can often differ, both subtly and drastically. Many new patterns can be discovered simply by looking at the parts of a piece of music in a different way.

In this session we will explore how both what we hear and compose can be shaped by the notation that we use to document it.”

—Meara O’Reilly

Meara O’Reilly is a sound artist and educator, most recently in residence at the Exploratorium. She is co-creator of the Rhythm Necklace iOS app, a musical sequencer that uses two-dimensional geometry to create rhythms, and is the author of Illusion Songs, an online collection of auditory illusions as found in indigenous folk music traditions. Her collaboration with design firm Snibbe Interactive on sound-based 'cymatic' concert visuals for Björk's Biophilia album was included in the world tour. Selected past performances include Davies Symphony Hall, SFMOMA, BAMPFA, Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, opening for artists such as Beck, Kronos Quartet, Laurie Anderson, Lucky Dragons, Dirty Projectors, Deerhoof, Michael Hurley, Bill Callahan, Matmos, and Dinosaur Jr. She has toured internationally as a solo musician and in the bands Feathers and Brightblack Morning Light.