The Vocal Constructivists performed the first ever sung rendition of Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise (1963-67) at the South London Gallery on September 16, 2011.
The concert led to a second performance at a three-day festival, entitled ‘the engine room’, at Morley College in December 2011. This event celebrated the life, work, and legacy of Cornelius Cardew, borrowing from Howard Skempton’s description of the role Morley College had played in Cardew’s era as ‘the engine room of English Experimental Music’.
Cardew’s 193-page graphic score comprises a variety of shapes, symbols, numbers, and lines, and other elements of traditional musical notation that have been extended, truncated, and fragmented. There is no key to help decipher the notation, requiring musicians to devise their own methods and means of interpretation. With the parameters of pitch, rhythm, tempo, and instrumentation to be determined anew each time, Treatise merges the role of composer with that of performer.
While pages from Treatise have been played by acoustic and electronic instrumentalists in various settings over the last 48 years, these performances represented the first realisation of the complete work reliant solely on the human body.