Cabinet of Curiosities

The Graphic Percussion Scores of Robert Moran


Dan Moore and Iowa Percussion

Innova 792



1. Interiors II: uncharted lands (1966) 9:40

Dan Moore, solo percussion



2. Elegant Journey (1965) 5:08

Iowa Percussion



3. Salagrama (1979) 25:22

Dan Moore, solo percussion



Cabinet of Curiosities (2010)

Meghan Aube, Christine Augspurger, Lucas Bernier, Dan Moore, percussion


4.  I. Circles in Wood 1:42


5.  II. Ode to a Vertical Transport Vehicle 2:31


6.  III. Stems and Roots 2:47


7.  IV. Crocodiles on the Ceiling 2:12


8.  V. Procession of the New Ancient Gods of Water 3:27


9.  VI. The Hapsburg Kunstkammer 2:33



10.  Meister Ekhard and the Point of No Return (2008) 4:39

Iowa Percussion



11.  Eclectic Boogies (1962) :53

Iowa Percussion



12.  Bombardments (1966) 10:58

Dan Moore, solo percussion



Total Playing Time 71:52


Robert Moran has traveled many musical paths since 1957 when he began his study of 12-tone music in Vienna with Hans Erich Apostel.  He has composed for solo instruments and intimate chamber groups; he has created musical compositions incorporating 100,000 performers, radio and television stations, skyscrapers, and airplanes; and he has collaborated with Phillip Glass to compose minimalist opera scores.  Moran compositions range from the absurd theatre piece Popcorn Music, in which performers react to the sight and sound of popcorn popping, to the sinister yet funny Alice in Wonderland for the Scottish Ballet. 


Throughout his career Moran has been careful not to ally himself with any specific school of composition.  Musicologist and critic Walter Simmons noted that Moran "has passed through most of the 'isms' that have comprised the contemporary music landscape of the past 50 years."  This freed him to explore whatever musical form interested him at the moment, and his numerous musical excursions led to the development of his unique style.


The music Robert Moran writes today transcends stylistic pigeonholes.  It is beautiful and rhythmic with an undertone of dry humor.  It is pure Moran.



Graphic Notation:


Composers turned to graphic or alternative notation in the early 1950s and 60s as a way to effectively express their ideas.  Graphic composers were particularly interested in unlocking the creative energies of classical musicians, who were not typically predisposed to improvisation.  As Moran said, "There had to be a way to get these uptight classical musicians to loosen up and let go, and graphic notation seemed to be the way to get them to do it."


If classical musicians preferred having their music written out, give them a little piece of art to interpret, along with some basic rules of engagement, and they would be more at ease playing improvised music.  Thus, graphic notation became the liberator that helped classical musicians shed their dependency on traditionally-notated music, allowing them to create music within certain loose guidelines that could be replicated (or not) in subsequent performances.  Since it wasn't technically improvising — just reading a different kind of music — classical musicians could embrace this musical style.


It is no coincidence that composers turned to percussionists as perhaps the best equipped for this type of musical venture.  Cage himself chose percussion as his kindred spirit.  From the beginning, percussionists have proven that the concept of "ensemble" is an endlessly variable artform — one in which an African talking drum, glockenspiel, bongos, and Chinese cymbals could just as easily be considered a viable ensemble as a string quartet.



The Compositions:


Moran's penchant for visual art led him, in the 1960s, to graphic notation.  He contributed his 1965 graphic score Sketch for a Tragic One-Act Opera to John Cage's survey of contemporary music, Notations (1968).


Approaches to graphic composition differ.  Some composers use strict guidelines for the interpretation of their scores; others provide only the most basic clues as to how the work should be realized. 


Moran's scores fall into both camps.  Some are designed to evoke a particular attitude, feeling, idea, or location, and offer no specific instructions, instrumentation, or form.  Others have quite specific directions as to how to proceed through the work, including instrument choices or groupings, a key giving precise instructions as to what each graphic notation represents, and a plan for developing the form.  Some works allow the performers to rely on each other to create the music; others call for a conductor to serve as a quasi air traffic controller, preventing collisions while guiding the musicians to safe departures and arrivals. 


Visually, Moran's graphic scores vary from purely artistic drawings containing no overt musical material, to transmogrifications of traditional manuscript such as proportional or otherwise distorted notation.



The Process:


This project, recorded in spring 2009 and early 2010, is the result of a two-year collaboration with Maestro Moran — collecting scores and instruments, determining methods of approach to each piece, rehearsing, recording, editing, and, in at least one case, digging into Moran's own cabinet of curiosities to find lost treasures.


The goal was to provide a compendium of Moran's graphic work showing the range of this form of composition, from purely atmospheric sound explorations to in-depth studies of rhythm, melody, and harmony.


This music is essentially about sound and interaction.  More than 100 instruments and implements were used to create this recording.  Much care was taken to ensure that each track features a unique instrumentation (except tracks 10 and 11, which have identical instrumentation), and only a few standard percussion instruments appear in more than one piece.  Listeners should be able to close their eyes and set themselves adrift in a varied sea of interesting sounds — a real sonic journey. 


I hope you will enjoy experiencing this stylistic stop-off on Robert Moran's own elegant sonic journey.


Dan Moore



Program Notes:


Interiors II: uncharted lands makes use of ethnic percussion instruments from around the world.  Throughout this solo realization, these instruments, from disparate musical cultures, conjoin to create a new musical voice inspired by graphic notation and contemporary music sensibilities.  A key is provided describing each of the notations and how to perform them.  The performer follows a series of interconnected links, each with circled numbers representing the number of seconds between each event. 


For Interiors II, twenty-two tracks were individually recorded, including congas, timbales, shekere (Cuba), tar (Middle East), talking drum, m'bira, kalimba (Africa), log drums, musical saw, flexatone, mixing bowls, three flower pots (USA), agogo (Brazil), six Anklung (Indonesia), opera gong, bell, small cymbals, horse cymbals (China).


The oldest of the graphic scores in this set, Elegant Journey is a purely artistic drawing with no musical elements depicted.  Iowa Percussion players took the title quite literally, incorporating sounds of travel — shoes on cobblestone streets, bicycle bells, foghorns, and train whistles — into the percussion soundscape.  All of the sounds are acoustic, with the exception of the electronically-enhanced footsteps and samples of the ambient sound of a rough Mediterranean Sea, the soothing shush of the Pacific Ocean, a host of noisy Arkansas cicadas, and vendors hawking wares atop the Great Wall of China.


Perhaps the most ambitious work on this project is the twenty-five minute realization of Moran's Salagrama, originally commissioned in 1979 for the new organ in the cathedral in Graz.  The reassignment of this composition to percussion instruments was a unique challenge to keep the original intent of this powerful music using a percussion sensibility.  The work is written using proportional notation and very specific pitches.


Moran writes, "That endless bass line happens to be the exact pitches that Kepler felt were 'given off by the movement of the spheres' (what he called The Harmony of the World, which much later, by a few hundred years, became an opera by Hindemith). Salagrama is the 'cosmic egg' in Hindu mythology that gives off the cosmic 'sound.'"


In this realization, the "endless bass line" was performed with a malletKAT programmed with a specially designed sound created using a Muse Receptor (synthesizer).  Other instruments, tracked individually, are vibraphone with soft mallets, vibraphone with hard mallets, Deagan bells (right and left channels), wind chimes, triangles, Chinese toy bells, and Chinese and Burmese gongs.


Cabinet of Curiosities is a new work created from old scores.  While in the process of searching out performance materials for this project, Moran discovered a cache of graphic scores he had created for his "own amusement some time ago."  They had never been used for a composition, so he suggested them as a catalyst for a new work he envisioned based on the 16th century European phenomenon known as kunstkammers.


These "cabinets of curiosity" were collections of art and oddities that laid the groundwork for the eventual creation of museums.  According to Gabriel Kaltemarckt, an advisor to Christian I of Saxony, three types of items were necessary for a proper kunstkammer:  "sculptures and paintings," "curious items from home or abroad," and "antlers, horns, claws, feathers and other things belonging to strange and curious animals."  The composition is Moran's wedding gift to light-sculptor and friend Scott Johnson and wife Electra.


Realized by Meghan Aube (MA), Christine Augspurger (CA), Lucas Bernier (LB), and Dan Moore (DM), reacting to the visual elements of each drawing and to each other.


I.  Circles in Wood:  four marimba players using traditional mallets


II.  Ode to a Vertical Transport Vehicle:  four players using found objects:  MA - telephone bell on a string, box of matches, box of nails; CA - bag of rocks, squeaky slapstick; LB - metal coat rack, stainless steel bottle, metal drum stick holder; DM - Chilean brass wind chimes, lion head planter, Chinese prayer bowl, sample from an old Chicago hotel elevator


III.  Stems and Roots:  four marimba players using anything but traditional mallets:  MA - knitting needles, Mardi Gras beads, small beaded necklace; CA - ping-pong balls, bass bow; LB - cardboard tubes, rubber spatulas, rubber ball on a stick; DM - candy rainstick tubes


IV.  Crocodiles on the Ceiling:  keyboard ensemble:  MA - marimba; CA - bells; LB - vibraphone; DM - keyed glockenspiel


V.  Procession of the New Ancient Gods of Water:  four players using found objects:  MA - waterphone; CA - metal water bottle; LB - frying pan, bicycle foot pegs, cheap rice bowls; DM - computer heat sinks, Chilean brass wind chimes, rainstick


VI.  The Hapsburg Kunstkammer:  keyboard ensemble using anything but mallets:  MA - marimba with hairbrush, aluminum foil; CA - bells with fingers, telephone bell, finger cymbals; LB - vibraphone with finger cymbals, rubber ball; DM - celesta, harpsichord


Meister Ekhard and the Point of No Return is a new graphic score composed for Iowa Percussion.  The instrumentation is specific, and each of the 13 performers plays a single instrument.  The score progresses at an extremely slow pace, with each measure lasting approximately ten seconds as marked by the conductor.  Stemless noteheads indicate the approximate timing of each note by means of proportional notation. 


Meister Ekhard, at 4 minutes, 39 seconds, is a decelerated realization of Moran's 1962 composition Eclectic Boogies, which lasts only 53 seconds.  These companion pieces, written 46 years apart, are conceptually the same:  one unhurried and expansive, using proportional notation, the other quick and compressed, using traditional notation.  Both are subtly soft and delicate. 


Bombardments (1966) is one of Moran's most successful graphic scores, found in many percussion libraries.  Originally composed for a percussion ensemble of five players, this recording is a solo realization.  Each part was recorded individually with the performer reacting to the previous tracks and following the activity contour of the graphic score.  Moran's original instrumentation was used, with other instruments added to taste.


Track 1:  snare drum (snares off), hi-hat, ride and crash cymbals, bongos, almglocken, small gong, water buffalo bell


Track 2:  two guiros, Puerto Rican scraper, three bullfrog scrapers, five high pitched blocks, seashell wind chimes, bamboo wind chimes, rawhide maracas


Track 3:  wind-up toy drumming bear, five nipple gongs, triangle, two cowbells, brass maracas, small splash cymbal, key wind chimes, metal wind chimes


Track 4:  three tom toms, wind gong, sound tube, two small suspended cymbals


Track 5:  toy piano, crotales, Chinese gong, maracas, old toy music egg





Dan Moore and Iowa Percussion play exclusively Yamaha Percussion Instruments and Sabian cymbals with sticks and mallets created by Innovative Percussion.  Dan Moore uses the Alternate Mode malletKAT and Muse Receptor.




This recording is supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Initiative at The University of Iowa.


Produced by Dan Moore

Recorded by Daré Moon and Lucas Bernier

Recorded at Music Studio A, Iowa City

Edited and mixed by Dan Moore

Samples and sound design by Dan Moore


For more information about Robert Moran visit:


For more information about Dan Moore and Iowa Percussion visit:


© 2010


Also by Robert Moran on innova:

Mantra (innova 714)

Open Veins (innova 627)


Robert Moran's scores are published by:

Charlotte Benson Music Publishers (BMI)

Box 54202
Philadelphia, PA 19105


Special thanks to: Robert Moran, Liesa Moore, Philip Blackburn, Joel Boyer, Rod Hanze, Kayt Conrad, Cheri Arneson, Kim Stange, Rita Schmidt, and John Winget


Iowa Percussion

Dan Moore, director


Meghan Aube

Christine Augspurger

Adam Balling

Lucas Bernier

Scott Jennerjohn

Daniel Lesieur

Rob McCabe

Oliver Molina

Joseph Panganiban

David Solomon

Jena Spaulding

Justin Ullestad

Jonathan Werth



UPC: 726708679224
ISRC begins: US29K1079201