Archival Recording: Parsons

Michael Parsons performing the Dumb Show of Cornelius Cardew, The Great Learning, Paragraph 5 

The first issue with this entry is the question: is this video of Michael Parsons performing gestures in silence something we can call ‘recorded music’? Most readers of the Experimental Music Catalogue pages will answer, ‘Most certainly’. If silence and sound in time is  music, then these actions, in response to the score of Cornelius Cardew’s great experimental work, The Great Learning (1968–71), is also music. Music is as music is seen to be.

One of the conundrums of performing from notation is that directions for action are never as precise as directions for making sound. We asked Michael Parsons to perform the beginning of Paragraph 5 of Cardew’s The Great Learning. Paragraph 5 begins with a ‘Dumb Show’, a series of movements describing the text of the paragraph in a gestural sign language developed from Native American sign language. Each performer is meant to ‘teach’ the gestures to another performer who, in turn, ‘teaches’ the gestures to the next, and so on. The video was directed by Christopher Hobbs and filmed by Martin Shiel at De Montfort University. Michael Parsons generously granted the EMC permission to share this film on this site.