Houston Matters

How Do You Perform Music That Doesn’t Look Like Music?

In a new series of performances, Houston collective Loop38 interprets visual art as music.

"Time" by Nergis Mustafa
A piece called “Time” by artist Nergis Mustafa will be interpreted musically by the ensemble Loop38.


The contemporary classical ensemble Loop38 has begun a new series of performances where they’re interpreting pieces of visual art as music.

But how does that work?

Well, in the mid-1900s, composers devised ways to write music that did not involve traditional methods and used what's called graphic notation, where the music is instead made of various images and instructions.

In fact, at its event in September, Loop38 performed three works of this type to showcase just how interpreting this kind of music works – the principles of which they will use for future collaborations.

Graphical Notation Sheet Music
A page from the composition “Treatise” by Cornelius Cardew, an example of graphical notation, which is a form of sheet music using images to instruct musicians how it should be performed.

In the audio above, Houston Matters producer Joshua Zinn meets up with some of the people involved and discusses how classically trained musicians approach these unusual selections, about what to expect from these entirely new pieces of visual art, and about how they might interpret them.

Loop38 in the Rothko Chapel
Houston music collective Loop38 in rehearsal at the Rothko Chapel.

Loop38 is holding performances of these unusual collaborations with artists on the second Saturday of each month through April at Houston's Sawyer Yards, located at 2101 Winter Street Studios.

At its next event, they’ll interpret a painting called “Time” by artist Nergis Mustafa on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 2:30 p.m.


Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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