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    How is a Program Note written? What is its value? — Lost Memories




    One of my students has composed a piece of computer music. Her creative idea sounds interesting. The inspiration comes from a psychoanalytical process — the repressed memory and its evocation. However, she finds difficult to write an impressive program note to catch the eyes of the highbrow concertgoers, though her music sounds not bad. Since she and I understand the artistic value of a program for a musical artwork, after catching the meaning of the ideas from a few lines of her writing, I rework on the program note again for her as an sample, aiming to help her to understand how to write an outstanding program note.


    The Essay:


    Firstly, I copy a few original sentences from her writing for reference. Readers can acquire an overall idea of her computer music.


    Her program note is as follows:


    Sometimes people ‘choose’ to forget or distort their bad memories, the distorted memories might even turn to fact and lying to themselves. Those memories, however, would have been recalled unexpectedly by some of the object, people and places.

    ‘Lost memories’ is the frozen anxiety moment of the recalling of the memories, which is fragmented and blurred.

    “Lost memories” divided into 8 sections, which represented by 8 boxes on the graphic scores. Each box of patterns describes the musical texture, timbre and the flow of the section.


    Delicate piano in high register and the edited piercing piano surrounded by crispy, glassy sounds.

    Through musical representation, the used of music box is symbolizing the appearance of memories in the first section and getting blur in the last section.

    The sample of heartbeat not only as the rhythm beat in section 7, but also mixed in the near layer in order to create the nervously feeling.

    Beside the vertical texture, there are some uses of mixing designs to create the depth layers in this work.

    The technique of Musique concreete is used in ‘Recalling lost memories’. Ambient sound on the street are recorded and mixed in the ‘far’ layer.

    It is implicating the lost moment when somebody standing in the middle of the crowded street, but feel the inexistent of the world.


    Her program note finished




    My reworking of the program note is as follows:


    Lost Memories


    Memory is somewhat selective in nature. We, at times, would like to choose to forget our unpleasant memories. These repressed memories lay seemingly idle in the dark side of our unconsciousness, waiting silently for, and looking forward to a very moment to awake. Be it a special object, a nostalgic milieu, a familiar place, or a strange person, the shards of the “lost” memories, however tiny, will be recalled in such a particular instance in my hypnotic psychological journey of Lost Memories.


    My work, Lost Memories, starts off its musical journey of eight various textural and timbral sections in the almost motionless pace. The unpleasant memories, albeit in a vague fragment, are frozen in the dark side. After a short static moment, the natural delicate piano, together with the edited piercing piano, which is embraced by the crispy and glassy droplet of sounds, hovers along the high register. The piano becomes the first visitor to unlock the door of the frozen space, preparing for a moment of agitated anxiety, a moment of sudden recollection. Then, the sound of music box, representing the appearance of the “lost”, yet unpleasant, memories stealthily steps in.


    The very nervous moment in section 7 is created by the heartbeat sound sample, serving not only as the steady rhythmic pulsation, but also as the massive sonic stratum by integrating with the adjacent layers. Apart from its complex appearance, however, a sonic depth is created between each sound layer in the stratum by means of the mixing technique, in order to produce a feeling of “distance” to the audience.


    As the “lost” memories are usually conjured up involuntarily in a particular circumstance of a particular moment, Lost Memories employs the technique of Musique Concréte, which was invented by Pierre Schaeffer in 1948. I place a live-recorded sampling of an ambient sound of the street in the far off sonic layer moving behind the main sound mass, in order to create a sense of out-of-the-world of an alienated mind lost in the crowded street.


    ***Program note finished***






    Instead of editing, I rework on the program note as a sample for reference. Since a program note (text portion) is an inseparable part, rather than an auxiliary reference, of a musical artwork. As such, the program note needs to be written as artistic as it can since a composition is an art work.

    Of course, the above sample is NOT the only way to write a program note of a musical work. However, readers can still discover some valuable points worthy of considering:


    1. To introduce the musical idea in the first paragraph.(We inform the audience about the professional/psychoanalytical views of the selective memory and unconsciousness). Afterward, we connect the psychoanalytical idea with the musical artwork itself in the last sentence.

    2. To analyze part of the music in the second (the beginning) and the third (the climax) paragraphs.(We write the sound analysis, which is usually absent in many current program notes. Indeed audience are not interested in reading the score analysis and formal description from the program note.)

    3. To inform the audience/readers what special techniques that the composer has employed for this work.

    4. Lastly, the composer can learn thinking of and writing in “poetic metaphor”, which are very important creative skills not only for program note writing, but also for music composing.






    David Leung (theorydavid)

    2014-04-07 (published)


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