From Christian Wolff – Kompositionen 1950-1972 (Edition RZ) At this time in the composer’s life, Wolff was concentrating on two principles of construction in his music. Wrote Wolff, “My recent work oscillates between quite explicitly notated pieces, sometimes for specified instruments…and outlines, with some quite specific conditions and requirements for improvisation…in the former, the indeterminate element is not inconsiderable, but it is masked. In the latter, one cannot really play at all until the specified, determined elements have been clearly located, but then one could be free to play almost anything at all.” His later work would also display this same mix — graph works (what Wolff called “outlines”) with game-like or interdependent sound-making actions, and other pieces (often political or message-full pieces) with the results of the (indeterminate) compositional process completely written out. In Edges, one of Wolff’s most open-ended and improvisational scores for any number of players, the instructions offer a nomenclature of 25 signs that stand for musical and extramusical characteristics such as: modulated, short duration, heavy, very rapid, dirty, bumpy, filtered, intricate, slack, filtered, sudden, vibrato, low/very low, high/very high, low resonance, becoming louder/becoming audible, and so on. These signs are arranged, seemingly freely, about several pages, and their basic forms are extended. Each sign is played only once during a performance. There are also additional words such as “singing” and “slow” throughout the score.
However, in Wolff’s words, “the signs on the score are not primarily what a player plays. They mark out a space or spaces, indicate points, surfaces, routes or limits. A player should play in relation to, in, and around the space thus partly marked out.” A player can move about, or not, and in many different ways of his/her own making. The signs are limits or points that “can be reached but not exploited.” These points can be at close or very far distances (for example, the horizon). Signs can also become regarded as cues; the player waits for one and then responds. Or a sign can just be played.