Ensemble Offspring discusses the challenges of interpreting Cardew’s revolutionary score.

Clarinetist Diana Springford is squinting at a score and attempting to describe her favourite bits over the phone – if it’s even possible to have favourite bits.

“I personally love page 183, but I like it as something I’d want to put on my wall rather than something I’d play! It’s one of those really complicated pages. It looks like one of those Duchampian drawings, lots and lots of interconnected lines.

“But funnily enough, some of the simpler-looking pages prove to be the most sonically interesting. Do you know page 44?” she asks, as if I would. Luckily, she specifies for my benefit: “It’s got these parallel lines that get more and more wobbly like they’re hand-drawn then they come together. It looks like the tail of a jellyfish.” And now it makes perfect sense.

Ensemble Offspring isn’t working on your average notes-on-a-page kind of music; rather they are tackling the intricate, exquisitely drawn work of English composer Cornelius Cardew, whose 1967 graphic score Treatiserevolutionised notational language, performer relationships and even the definition of a composer in 20th-century classical music. Having studied with Stockhausen and later trained as a graphic...