Composition annotation

So far my approach with VCV has been to put some modules in the rack and see what comes out. If I like it then I’ll try to arrange the sounds in some way that’s interesting (and I’m trying to understand that a bit more) and record it. But what I really want to try is coming up with a structure beforehand and then making a piece that fits within it. So I’m wondering how people here go about annotating their compositional ideas?


The Brian Eno way:



Good question, I use more or less your approach but then I record loops in Ableton by adding / edit / changing some values. This gives me a range of improvisation while experimenting with different possible outcomes that I can use. Hope it helps!

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take a look at the way ableton session view is arranged as a row and column system. the columns are the various music voices/pieces and the rows represent different times in the composition. generally the top is the beginning and it progresses down the rows to the end. you could probably achieve a similar annotation system with a spreadsheet. i can show you how to experiment with arrangements with the ASAF on stream some time.


I know what you mean with this but I’m sort of looking for something less…interpretive?

Two by Klaus Schulze:

Edit: just click on the non appearing image to see it. It’s from the gate fold sleeve of Timewind.


I have many questions, do you want to annotate tonal notes and rhythm or things like filter cutoff frequency and such (less “discrete” values)?

what do you mean by less interpretive? like the notation could be interpreted in various ways instead of one?

you want to do this in rack for automation or on paper/other medium for conveying an idea to other humans?

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There was a thread on the Rack group on Facebook

If you’re not on FB, here are a couple of links from the thread.


I want to try writing something on paper that I can follow, that represents specific elements of a composition. I’m looking to get my feet wet with that so I can build some confidence and then move to more complex things. Basically a tutorial excercise.

While we’re posting links there’s this:

Seven lectures by Stockhausen. They’ve been posted here before but it’s much too sophisticated for a “get your feet wet” thing. Lots of interesting ideas, though.

(also thanks to everyone for engaging so far, it’s been interesting)

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tldr : I don’t have the answer.

The question then becomes how much of said composition relies on concrete instruments (or modules in Rack’s case). For example the classic stave notation or the midi/piano roll notation with a rhythm grid is mostly separate from what plays the actual sounds (except for the tonal range of the instrument and some characteristics like polyphony or the ability to sustain notes arbitrarly long). Even though the composer can choose specific instruments, the melodies/harmonies can be played with a wide range of things.

This generality is hard to achieve if the main focus and movements in a composition isn’t just about playing notes but more tied to modules and their parameters. Maybe the big differences between this and notating for classical instruments is that with modular we have different ranges and states (for example notes, filter frequency, speed of a clock, release length on an adsr, step number of a sequencer, face of and 8FACE, mode of a waveshaper etc.) which all need their own units or signs to be notated, and the other thing is that usually we have much more parameters that gets set (or “played”) than instruments in a classical piece. So writing each parameter in it’s own line or whatever becomes wasteful in terms of space. Maybe it is better to notate knob positions or parameter setting events in a row? like “delay time to /3, wiggle filter-1, switch to seq-5, unmute kick and bass”. Of course the actual wording or signing can be more concise or visual, like wiggly lines and dots and oriented knob doodles, it can also go into abstract visuals as well like some avantgarde music sheets did, but then it becomes less about the actual music and more like playing around with synesthesia. But if we stay on the practical side then what about that “seq-5”? If this “music sheet” needs to be self-contained, every sequence or drum pattern or 8FACE state need to be written out separately, which leads me to think that it is quite cumbersome or at least impractical to notate modular music for Rack by hand, unless you are very minimal with your modules or enjoy writing on paper extensively. The other problem with this linear event style is that it’s hard to insert things between existing events as you go (at least on paper), and concurrent things look out of time (but this could be solved with using multiple rows when needed).

I like the second Klaus Schulze example that @ingo posted, it looks something like what I’m thinking about except for that it has whole rows for each “module” (it has relatively few though, since he used more complex instruments instead of modules). Maybe this way can work if you build your patch with cleanly separated voices (like strips with osc,adsr,filter etc.), but then it would somewhat force composing into this voice-based direction even thought interesting things can come from different sections interacting with each other through cv.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know a solution but it is interesting to think about it, I usually just formulate a composition in my head while creating/playing a patch and then I record it. I hardly go back to old patches, and I eventually forget the “composition”. The result is that I don’t create polished things. Lately I’ve been trying to map out as many things as possible to physical controllers and that made remembering what to turn and press more natural/easy. I tend to make simple things without too much change overall though. I’m also interested in creating meta controls that can change more things at once (with a turn of one knob for example) but I didn’t go too far into this direction. Maybe a carefully prepared patch with such meta-controls could be notated more practically?

I’ll watch Stockhausen, hopefully he got some eurorack examples up in his sleeve! :stuck_out_tongue:

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There’s always standard music notation. It works pretty well.

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some Ligeti, it was made by Rainer Wehinger as a response to listening to it, so it’s more of an interpretation

here in real-time form with the music


I completely understand what you’re saying. But then I’d have to learn standard notation.

Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise


yes! :smiley:

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I once actually used standard notation, and instead of cresendos and stuff like this, i would put in filter sweeps. It was pretty fun ! I will probably do it again someday :slightly_smiling_face:

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let’s talk about his “style” :sweat_smile:


I make quick graphic scores for sketching initial ideas. Those scores might include precise notation with standard symbols, along with a lot of curves and strange signs that mean something only to me and the particular work.

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