Action document

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The action script is similar to a musical score and is one of the alternative notation systems. Musical notation has two basic functions: on the one hand, it translates the tonal intentions of a composer into an appropriate graphic representation; on the other hand, it conveys performance instructions to the performer. The action script, for its part, guides the interpreter to various gestures, which can take place with or without sound generation. Visually, it does not have a uniform scale and can contain different languages, characters, symbols as well as graphic notation or purely verbal instructions.


Until the 20th century, traditional musical notation was used as a basis, tied to the harmonious and rhythmic basic conditions of the Classical and Romantic periods. With New Music , sound ideas developed that could not be fixed with traditional notation. Attributes such as indeterminacy, ambiguity, chance ( aleatoric ) and noise found their way into the composition and had to be communicated. From the 1950s onwards, ideas that could often hardly be put into words were communicated in what is known as campaign writing. New characters were developed especially for sounds, which did not describe the action with great precision, but conveyed pictorial-associative information on the touch dynamics, speed and, above all, gestures. As a result, the interpreter emancipated himself from the composer, since the creative part of the work was rebalanced. The lack of a time limit, a lot of room for indefiniteness and the request of the interpreters to the audience to interpret the representation are also typical of the action scripts.

Action fonts are widely used in the Fluxus art movement , an internationalist avant-garde art movement that was predominantly present in the 1960s and 1970s and which was heavily influenced by the composer John Cage . The first scores were written during his time as a teacher at the New York School . His students included George Brecht, Al Hansen, Allan Kaprow, and Alison Knowles . Their performance art was conducted with verbal suggestions and instructions and therefore acted as a “typical notation of the Fluxus happening”.

Realization script

In the context of the evolving action script, the far more abstract realization script, which is used in electronic music , also emerges . One of these scores is Karlheinz Stockhausen's Plus Minus (1963).

Famous works

Ramón Barce (1928–2008) summarized some neo-Dadaist works that managed entirely without sound:

  • Joseph Byrd (* 1937) - piece for K. Maxfield : Six musicians climb the podium, clap their hands a few times and then withdraw.
  • George Brecht (1926–2008) - Quartet for strings : the four musicians shake hands, greet the audience and disappear.
  • Nam June Paik (1932–2006) - violin piece : the artist lifts a violin high in the air as if he had to overcome an uncanny ritual power. He smashes her at the table with full force.
  • Ben Patterson (1934–2016) - Paper Music : For a while, several musicians tear up large areas of paper (posters, Spanish walls and murals hung in the hall). They cause various dynamic effects. In other cases the procedures change, often including the normal sound of an instrument.

Another work, which was also created by the American artist George Brecht, is the artist book Water Yam . The artist's book was originally published in Germany in 1963. The box was designed by George Maciunas, the typesetting by Tomas Schmit. Since then, the independent work of art has been republished in various countries. Water Yam is now considered one of the most influential works of art in Fluxus. The box, sometimes referred to as a fluxbox or fluxkit, contains a large number of small printed cards with instructions called action fonts or flux notations.

Individual evidence

  1. a b Jürgen Geisenberger: Joseph Beuys and the music . Tectum Verlag, ISBN 978-3-8288-8022-1 , p. 236 .
  2. a b Helga de la Motte-Haber: Notation and "Tönesehen" . In: Music and visual arts: from tone painting to sound sculpture . Laaber-Verlag, ISBN 3-89007-196-1 , p. 48 (307 pp.).
  3. Ramón Barce: Happenings . In: Wolf Vostell (Ed.): Open Music - From Sound to Rite . Hamburg 1964.
  4. Jon Hendricks: Fluxus Codex . Harry N. Abrams, 1988, ISBN 0-8109-0920-0 , pp. 616 .