Cornelius Cardew & the Scratch Orchestra (circa 1970) - courtesy of Victor Schonfield' s archive
The Scratch Orchestra grew out of a series of public classes in experimental music that Cornelius Cardew and other composers had been running in London in the late 1960s. These began at the Anti-University on Rivington Street and then at Morley College, a workers education centre set up in the 19th Century. It was here that the original members of the Scratch Orchestra first came together Cardew, Michael Parson, Howard Skempton and people attending their classes. The foundation of the Orchestra was officially announced in June 1969 through the publication in the Musical Times of ‘'A Scratch Orchestra: draft constitution'’ written by Cardew. The constitution defines the Orchestra as "a large number of enthusiasts pooling their resources (not primarily material resources) and assembling for action (music-making, performance, edification)". Membership was open to anyone, regardless of musical ability. Many visual artists, such as Stefan Szczelkun, joined and they brought with them an interest and experience of art happenings and urban intervention works. Through these, and more conventional concerts, the Orchestra aimed to function in the public sphere presenting works developed by the group. The constitution outlined various forms of activity that the Orchestra would follow in creating these. One of the most important activities was the writing of ‘Scratch Music’. Each member of the Orchestra had a notebook, or "Scratchbook", in which they would write small works that
could be combined into larger ensemble pieces. The constitution emphasises that these Scratch Music pieces should be an active process of experimentation with different notational forms: verbal, graphic, musical, collage, etc... By 1972 a clearly defined process for the development of Scratch Music had emerged. Each piece was originally performed by its author, the scores were then exchanged and performed by other Orchestra members, providing a kind of ‘peer review’ critique of the pieces.
"Scratchers" were asked to write no more than one new piece per day, but encouraged to keep a ‘regular turnover’, so that there was a tight feedback loop between writing and performing.
Cornelius Cardew talking about the Scratch Orchestra
courtesy of Ubu Web