Her notation is a wonderful visualization of those processes. To the naked eye, they are as spacious as her music sounds – and despite her nuanced work on timbre, her recent scores initially seem surprisingly clear and simple. Her scores’s simplicity is deceptive, however. Her music is often calm, but it is almost never simple – neither in terms of its rich layering nor for the musicians to play. Again, it is her collaborative practice that has shaped her scores into the form in which they appear today. Score and practice reflect each other. Most of her scores do exist within a traditional framework: one can find the familiar five-line system organized into islands distributed within the space of each page, note heads in various shapes, and tremolo zigzags. But the handwritten, graphic quality of her scores, which also include Chinese characters and instructions, is more akin to a cartographer’s or a poet’s output than to that of a researcher obsessed with timbral details. Many of the fluctuations of sound, transitions of timbre, moments of tension, and small crescendos audible in the recording and performances of her music do not appear written in the score as such. It is as if her handwritten lines and symbols marked coastlines, with Walker having drafted an environment that she invites the musicians to step into. Once there, they need to find their places. But like a map, the score only provides orientation. It does not show the many details of the terrain, nor does it speak of the fauna and flora inhabiting it. Her scores are not made for sightreading; they need to be actively engaged with. The musicians need to take the initiative and partner with the piece: if they don’t, her music simply does not happen. Her maps need to be brought to life with each player’s imagination and musicianship – and with lots of rehearsals, requiring the dedication of everyone involved. Especially in an era in which everyone aims to maximize output, with rehearsal times being continually reduced, her practice stands out all the more.
»The handwritten, graphic quality of her scores, which also include Chinese characters and instructions, is more akin to a cartographer’s or a poet’s output than to that of a researcher obsessed with timbral details.«
Over time, Walker has standardized certain symbols and types of notation. Even so, her scores are anything but static. Like her music, they are the object of constant development and discussion with her collaborating musicians. Her notation always accounts for the people with whom the piece is developed and by whom it will ultimately be played. To Walker, creating a suitable score means finding the right type of notation for each player and their musical background. A quite unique solution, even by Walker’s standards, was realized in The space in between (2020), written for two musicians of the Chinese Beiguan tradition (Ensemble Water-Stage) – with one playing the sanxian (a fretless lute with three strings), one on percussion, and both reciting text. Musicians of the Beiguan musical tradition are not used to working within the Western five-line system. Their tradition is mainly aural and uses traditional Chinese opera notation in a supporting function. As a consequence of her research and work together with these two musicians, Walker created a visual environment within their musical realm that makes use of notation strategies already familiar to them. Like traditional Chinese scores and ancient texts, the score of The space in between is read from top to bottom and right to left. Instead of the Western system of pitch notation, she used the Gongche notation system – in which Chinese characters are used to indicate relative pitch. The beginnings and ends of sounds as well as changes in timbre are indicated by a combination of symbols and lines, blending characteristics of Western and Chinese notation. Being aware of the artists for whom she was composing and having done extensive research, Walker managed to create a piece in which the artists perform as traditional Beiguan musicians while approaching new texts and musical material.