The Crutch of Memory


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instrumentation: indeterminate solo string instrument (any bowed, non-fretted instrument with at least four adjacent strings)
date: 2004
duration: 4’30
details: 11 pages, including performance instructions; A3 landscape

Program Note

The Crutch of Memory prioritises and foregrounds the physical, choreographic elements of musical performance. I am interested in the ability of these actions and gestures to be present as musical material in their own right and not simply as means to an aural end. As such, the notation employs a detailed, multi-layered tablature that guides the movement up and down the fingerboard, the spacing and width of the fingers, the contact between fingers and strings, as well as the actions of the bow and right hand. The piece can be performed on a variety of string instruments (any bowed, non-fretted instrument with at least four adjacent strings) and with a variety of scordature.

The piece is also of course about memory, about memories, about loops and cycles, about entropy and accumulation, and about loss. The title comes from a line in Jonathan Franzen’s beautiful essay, “My Father’s Brain,” which discusses the neurological physicality of memory, memory loss, Plato’s discussion of writing in the Phaedrus, writing as a detriment to memory, and family.

The work is dedicated to Carter Williams in thanks for his support, assistance, encouragement, and friendship.


Recorded for NEOS by Graeme Jennings (2013) and for HCR by Dejana Sekulic (2022).

Sound Sample

Graeme Jennings, violin


“Determinate Action/Indeterminate Sound:  Tablature and chance in several recent works.”  The Second Modernity (New Music and Aesthetics in the 21st Century, Volume 6).  Mahnkopf, Schurig and Cox, eds.  (Hofheim:  Wolke Verlag, July 2008.)

Matthew Henson, “Developing a Rhythmic Performance Practice in Aaron Cassidy’s The Crutch of Memory.” MA Thesis, UCSD, July 2022.

Nicholas Donin, ‘Finding the body in 20th-century musical notation: On gestures, tablatures, and performing without instruments’, in: Music/Dance: Sound and Motion in Contemporary Discourse and Practice, Gianmario Borio, Patrizia Veroli, Gianfranco Vinay (eds.),  Farnham: Ashgate, 2017. Featuring discussion of The Crutch of Memory.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson, After the Fall: Music Since 1989. With discussions of numerous works, including The Crutch of Memory, Second String Quartet, and And the scream, Bacon’s scream, is the operation through which the entire body escapes through the mouth. University of California Press, 2017.

Jennie Gottschalk, Experimental Music Since 1970. Featuring discussions of Being itself a catastrophe, the diagram must not create a catastrophe, The Crutch of Memory, Second String Quartet, A painter of figures in rooms, as well as references to the Noise In/And/As Music text. Scarecrow Press, 2014. Bloomsbury, 2016.

Simon Cummings, “Giving Voice to the Indescribable:  Aaron Cassidy – The Crutch of Memory.”  5:4, May 2012.

Stuart Duncan, “Re-complexifying the Function(s) of Notation in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough and the ‘New Complexity’.”  Featuring discussion of The Crutch of Memory.  Perspectives of New Music Vol. 48, 2010,  p. 136-172.

Mieko Kanno, “Prescriptive notation: Limits and challenges.”  Featuring discussion of The Crutch of Memory.  Contemporary Music Review.  (Vol 26, Issue 2, April 2007.  pp. 231 – 254.)


Graeme Jennings, violin / photo by Marc Grimwade / ELISION @ TQO Studios – West End 27th July 2008

Dejana Sekulić, violin. Unerhörte Musik. Berlin, Germany. 24 May 2022.

Dejana Sekulić, Associazione per la Music Contemporanea Curva Minore. Palermo, Italy. 3 April 2022. 

Karin Nakayama, violin. Project ppp. Half Moon Hall, Shimokitazawa, Japan. September 2, 2019.

Dejana Sekulic, violin. Art Base, Brussels, Belgium. June 11, 2017.

Ellen Fallowfield, cello. Basel, Switzerland. May 25, 2017.

Sarah Saviet, violin. ELISION, Harvard University. May 12, 2017.

Dejana Sekulic, violin. Art Base, Brussels, Belgium. May 5, 2017.

Dejana Sekulic, violin. Art Base, Brussels, Belgium. April 30, 2017.

Ellen Fallowfield, cello. City University, London. March 7, 2017.

Sarah Saviet, violin. Spectrum NYC. January 8, 2017.

Sarah Saviet, violin. Festival of the Kölner Gesellschaft für Neue Musik. Köln, Germany. October 15, 2016.

Kathryn Schulmeister, double bass (Fonema Consort). Berger Park Cultural Center, Chicago. June 5, 2014.

Kathryn Schulmeister, double bass (Fonema Consort). Coup d’Oeil Art Consortium, New Orleans. April 12, 2014.

Emma Lloyd, violin.  Nexus Art Café, Manchester, UK.  July 23, 2012.

Graeme Jennings, violin. ELISION, Kings Place, London, UK.  April 28, 2009.   

Graeme Jennings, violin. Portrait Concert, ELISION Ensemble. ABC Ferry Road Studios, Brisbane, Australia.  July 27, 2008.  Broadcast on ABC Classic FM.

Mieko Kanno, violin.  O Ciclo de Conferências e Concertos Momentum, Auditório do Departamento de Comunicação e Arte, Universidade de Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal.  March 22, 2007.   

Mieko Kanno, violin.  Durham University, University Music School, Durham, UK.  March 1, 2007.   

Mieko Kanno, violin.  Samtida Musik Series, Konstakademiens Hörsal, Stockholm, Sweden.  January 21, 2006.

Mieko Kanno, violin.  Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Huddersfield, UK.  November 2005.  Broadcast by BBC Radio 3, January 2006.   

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