Transmission in Motion

Postdoc Projects

“Notation Cultures in Contemporary Music” – dr. Floris Schuiling

Just like there are writing systems besides the alphabet, there are numerous ways of notating music other than modern staff notation. However, musicological understanding of notation, and indeed of music itself, remains firmly based on staff notation. The growing study of music as performance has challenged the centrality of the score in music studies but has not led to a reconsideration of the role of notation in musical practice. As long as notation is seen as an objective representation of music, musicological understanding of performance remains incomplete.

This project forms a comparative ethnography of what I call ‘Notation Cultures’, which are defined as practices in which the use of forms of symbolic representation of music informs cultural identities and ways of conceptualizing music as a creative practice. For performers, the use of such notations connects to musical traditions, offers different ways of imagining sound as music, makes different demands on their creative knowledge, and constructs different forms of interaction between them.

Drawing equally on the anthropology of material culture and (ethno-)musicology, I develop an interdisciplinary approach to notation in terms of the mediation of agency in the social and creative processes that characterize music performance rather than the representation of Platonic musical structures that remain exterior to such processes. Case studies include the use of different media and symbolic systems to problematize binaries of structure and chaos, of abstraction and embodiment, and musical traditions spanning classical, popular, experimental and world music to problematize binaries of literacy and orality, self and other, and modernity and primitivism.

The aim of the project is to develop an account of notation after the performative turn, and moreover to suggest that music notation, with its dependence on social interaction, creativity, and technological mediation, can be an inspiration for reconsidering textuality more generally.


Floris Schuiling’s research combines methods of musicology and anthropology and specializes in questions of musical creativity. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge for his research into the history and musical practice of improvising collective the Instant Composers Pool. This research was recently published as The Instant Composers Pool and Improvisation Beyond Jazz (Routledge, 2019).