How To Make Parts: Circles

Luciano Berio’s landmark 1960 piece Circles is one of the most problematic scores I’ve encountered. It isn’t especially difficult to play, but the printed music is completely unusable, at least for the two percussionists. As you can see from the diagram below, the percussionists are more or less surrounded by instruments:


So to accommodate the setup, each percussionist must have several stations of music to facilitate reading. Some pages of music should be next to the xylophone, some next to the vibraphone, etc. To make matters worse, there are of course no parts for this piece, only a score. Here is what we are dealing with:

My favorite part is the 50% negative space.

My favorite part is the 50% negative space.

I first played Circles when I was 24. Back then, I wasn’t quite as adroit at part making as I am now, and this is what I came up with:


…and for perspective…


Also, because of the aforementioned set-up issues, I had to make two of those. I think it took three full days to complete. That’s three full days cutting up paper and gluing it to poster board, then taping those pieces of poster board together. The parts I made were problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, your sheet music should not be more difficult to carry around than your vibraphone. More importantly though, the audience doesn’t want the performers to be hidden behind such monstrosities.

I’m about to play Circles again at the upcoming Fromm Concerts at Harvard. I suppose I could have used my old parts, but I knew I could do better this time because now I have a system that works.

This requires somewhat of a digression. The ideal part for me is coil bound (NOT COMB BOUND. Sure it is cheaper, but it sucks.) with protective front and back covers. This will make for durable parts with pages that are easy to turn. Until recently, I had to go to copy shops to get this done, which anyone who has bothered to read this much about this subject knows is a giant pain in the ass. Your average copy shop worker has no knowledge or interest in the intricacies of printed music, and why should they? After a series of bad experiences, I became determined to eliminate Kinko’s from my life.

My initial research was discouraging. The machines that punch oversized paper for coil binding cost at least $400. I have no intention of making that kind of investment in a hole puncher. I was ready to give up when I found, which sells pre-punched coil binding paper. It is a little more expensive than normal paper would be, but after doing the math I figured out that I would have to buy 6,000 pieces of pre-punched paper before it became more expensive than just buying a hole punch. So using the pre-punched paper was an easy choice. also sells protective covers, the actual coils you need for binding, and pretty much anything else related to binding that you can think of. On top of that, their customer service is superb. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

The only other bit of equipment I needed was an all-in-one printer that could handle 11×17 paper. I bought this one:

So now I can do everything that I used to have to do at Kinko’s from the comfort of my house. If you hate Kinko’s as much as I do, it is well worth the investment.

My first step with my new equipment was to make a pdf scan of the entire Circles score. With the right printer, this is pretty easy to do. From there, I used the Preview program on my iMac to copy and paste bits of the score on to a Microsoft Word document formatted for 11×17. Unfortunately the source material is 11×17 in landscape format, so there is nothing I can do about that. As a result, my finished parts are also 11×17 in landscape format. I wish I could do portrait layout, but you can’t alter the source material.

The first three pages of the printed score, for some inexplicable reason, look like this:


Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 12.21.52 AM

With a layman’s knowledge of computers and 60 spare seconds, you can turn these three pages into usable performance materials:

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 12.22.23 AM

This exemplifies the strategy I took with making my percussion part: I eliminated the negative space from the score, copied my part on to a new page, and generally included the vocal part in my own part (sometimes I included the harp part as well). The cues I needed from the percussion 1 part I wrote in to my part with a red pen. So these two pages:



became this page:


To cover the contingency of needing several parts on several music stands, I made a part for xylophone, vibraphone, and toms with the appropriate edited pages in each part. My finished parts now look like this:

A lot better than my 2.5 ft tall aberrations from 2008.

A lot better than my 2.5 ft tall aberrations from 2008.

These parts are coil bound with protective front and back coverings, and I did it all from home. No more Kinko’s.


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