Jaded yet enthused

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Viral Sheet Music: The Creative Notation of John Stump and others


Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz. The most viral sheet music in existence.

Which may or may not be true. More likely the latter. But nonetheless, John Stump has a curious talent for creative applications of music notation. The ever-present “Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz” is sure to have graced your screen at some point or another:

Faerie's Aire and Death Waltz

There is also the “String Quartet No. 556(b) for Strings In A Minor (Motoring Accident)”

String Quartet No. 556(b) for Strings In A Minor (Motoring Accident)

And don’t forget the lesser-known “Prelude and the Last Hope in C and C# Minor”

Prelude and the Last Hope in C and C# Minor

I don’t know who John Stump is, but there is certainly a lot of enthusiasm for his work. Here we have the Colorado State Music Teachers Association presenting their own rendition of “Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz”: (with understandably mixed results – click on image for link to YouTube – Embedding disabled)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCgT94A7WgI

And here is Jacob Dakeson “playing” the aforementioned piece:

John Stump is not without his own influence on the next generation of notation-wizards – take the piece “Atushi Ojisama and Ijigen Waltz (from “A Tribute to Yamasaki Atushi”)” by Yamasaki Atusi, another unknown engraver I stumbled upon during my research on Stump:

Atushi Ojisama and Ijigen Waltz (from "A Tribute to Yamasaki Atushi")

There’s also Andrew Fielding, with “Lament of the Introspective Turnbuckle (Theme of the 1979 Miss Albequerque, New Mexico Swimsuit and Short Fiction Writing Competition)”: (I love the opening bar of 5/9)

But it doesn’t stop there. Have you seen “World Beat Music”, by James Plakovic?

World Beat Music

You can purchase copies at www.wildaboutmusic.com

While you’re at it, just check out James Plakovic’s work in general, it’s pretty amazing:

There’s also George Crumb, who is a very interesting composer in his own right. He sought to write “an all-inclusive technical work for piano [using] all conceivable techniques” when realizing the composition of “Makrokosmos”, in which the following occur:

John Stump was the first artist I came across who did this kind of stuff. A part of me really wanted to try and analyze it for any bits of coherency – but I think that’s just missing the entire point, though do I applaud the creative effort of anyone who thinks this stuff is even worth attempting to play, or read. Just enjoy it. It’s a musical sideshow worthy of respect and sincere enjoyment.

At the time of my original post, I still could not find anything about John Stump, beyond the website that claims to be the ‘official’ source for Stump prints. Recently though, John Stump’s nephew, Greg, aka “Sgt. Grumbles“, was kind enough to drop by and let me know about his recent blog post about his legendary uncle, over at http://lostinthecloud.wordpress.com/.

He goes on to explain:

The notations on [Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz (from ‘A Tribute to Zdenko G. Fibich’)] included absurd directions such as “release the penguins” and “Like a Dirigible” and “Gong duet.”  It was an incredibly creative, erudite and rigorous act of nonsense, which felt completely consistent with other creations I had seen from my uncle.  He was famous in our family for his non-sequiturs (sending a sympathy card from a fictitious professor to me on Christmas), stippling artwork, and his fascination with music.  He had worked in the field of “music engraving” for most of his life, beginning in 1967, and I remember looking with fascination at his “music typewriter” in his office in my grandmother’s garage, so it didn’t surprise me that Uncle John would have created something like this fake musical piece.

Greg goes on to explain much more, but you’ll have to visit his blog for the whole read.

John Arthur Stump died on January 20th, 2006. He was indeed known as a reclusive man, as I understand, but fortunately more information is coming to light in order to illustrate this unique artist’s life and works.

He appears to have been even more reclusive than the eccentricities of Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin – which is an interesting comparison seeing as how I see this all over the place as well:

afx_stump

Yes. Very clever. If only there was sheet music, or screen captures of piano rolls for the music of Aphex Twin, Squarepusher or Venetian Snares. As interesting as that would be, I still don’t think it would approach the surreal complexity of John Stump’s compositions.

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Filed under: Music, Notation, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Responses

    • prestonparish says:

      Wow! What a great read – thanks for the comment! How cool to have such a legend within your family tree. I hope you don’t mind if I update my post with the biographical information you provided, along with a link to your original blog post. There is certainly an air of mystery to the man, so I’m glad you’re letting his audience in on the story behind such a unique artist.

  1. Greg says:

    I’m really happy to fill in some details on John and sad to pass on the news of his death.

    It’s strange, because I feel like I am learning more about this unknown side of his life from sites like yours (by the way, I did not mention before how incredibly cool this summary of bizarre compositions is!) while adding a few facts from my experience of growing up with him…he really was a sweet guy, but definitely anti-social and somewhat in a world of his own making!

    Thanks & best regards,
    Greg

    • Chris Gilbert says:

      Greg —
      I’m John’s high school pal (Lakewood) who took that hitch-hiking trip to Alaska with him. I was there when he was learning notation and getting started doing it for a living. His sense of humor influenced me for years. He showed me his new pieces and they remained hilarious no matter how many times I read through them. For a while I was selling copies of his first two pieces through the mail, to music stores, and sharing the profits with him.
      Are you his sister’s son? Or his brother’s?
      I went to his funeral — maybe you were there.
      What are you doing now?


      Chris Gilbert

  2. […] ‘Death Waltz’ score (you can enlarge it at left) — which has become rather influential on the web — the waltz as played in the video above actually isn’t Stump’s. In fact, […]

  3. Luke says:

    At the end of the piece, you put “If only there was sheet music, or screen captures of piano rolls for the music of Aphex Twin, Squarepusher or Venetian Snares. As interesting as that would be, I still don’t think it would approach the surreal complexity of John Stump’s compositions.”

    You obviously haven’t seen Equation by Aphex Twin played through a spectrogram, then.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9xMuPWAZW8 go to 5:30 for the magic.

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