music typewriter

In April 1909, Arnold Schönberg submitted his design for a notation typewriter at the Austrian Patent Office but he didn’t have the spare cash for its registration. This, and a formal error presented the artist, who was facing difficulties at the time with an insurmountable obstacle. As a result, this invention of Schönberg, who later would gain worldwide fame for his twelve-tone music, remained a theory only outlined.

Over time, several considerations and attempts were made to design a typewriter for musical notation. So-called notation-typewriters wouldn’t only be useful for composing; they would also offer great benefits for the production of transcripts and copies of musical scores. However, the mechanical reproduction of musical notation remained unsolved until the 1960s and 70s when, finally, modern photocopiers allowed for a reproduction of scores on a large scale, thus making these affordable for everyone.

Around a hundred years after Schönberg’s attempt to have his invention patented, Claudia Märzendorfer discovered the patent specification and blue prints in the Schönberg Archive in Vienna. Inspired by his idea, and desiring to give Schönberg’s machine, which had been buried in oblivion for such a long time, a form at last, following the specification’s details the artist designed a prototype. She then produced a cast in frozen ink, her music typewriter. This artwork celebrated its premiere at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York in 2012, when the melting sculpture of frozen ink wrote, freely improvising, a score on the stack of sheet paper that it was placed upon (music typewriter, score #1).

The unusual connection between the two, who each works (worked) in times of great social change and radical economization and was confronted with the concomitant issues of recognition and funding of visionary artistic work that often, however, is waved aside as useless, is described in the Ö1 radio feature from 2013, Der Gedanke kann warten, er hat keine Zeit [The idea can wait, it has no time].

Like all her frozen works, the ‘prolonged volatility’ of a sculpture, which appearance is steadily transforming like in a long, quiet film – this first becomes apparent with the condensation on its surface when it turns white, then a glossy black and gradually an amorphous shape – arouses great fascination. Here, a specific form of resistance against the general imperative of acceleration is to be noted, as well as a critical reflection on highly topical issues such as reproduction, authorship, and copyright as well as archiving and its storage media. These topics have played a role already for a while and in many of the artist’s works, for instance das leere Archiv (The Empty Archive, 2015–16), Frozen Records / Frozen Archive (since 2005) and a series of installations with hand-bound books and book-shelves that explore the idea of the library as a storage of knowledge: white noise (2008) or Code (2005/07), for example.