A thread about improvisation


#41

With perfect timing, I received this book as a gift yesterday:
New photo by Mark Lentczner

I’m looking forward to reading the whole map of the forest, even if I only plan on hiking down one of the trails.


#42

Our very own @Rodrigo’s PhD thesis is pretty excellent as well:
http://www.rodrigoconstanzo.com/thesis/


#43

I have Derek Bailey’s book sitting waiting for me to find a chance to start reading it.

Your point about improv being a valuable life skill is very true. One of my roles at work is as a facilitator of meetings and such like. A lot of the skills that involves come from improv theatre - something I’d rather chop off an arm than do but the skills you can learn from it indirectly do come in pretty handy! Facilitation is, in part at least, a performance and very much about improvising as necessary to guide a group to where they wish to be.


#44

Even if they didn’t know they wished to be there!


#45

This might be interesting for some too. I’m looking forward to volume 2.

http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/into-the-maelstrom-music-improvisation-and-the-dream-of-freedom-9781501314513/

Sandy, definitely keep digging into Tim’s work if you enjoy that. He ran (runs?) a label called Quakebasket, played in a bunch of rock oriented stuff but concurrently does all kinds of great exploration. He’s touring Europe in February with Jeph Jerman. He’s all over the place in a great way.


#46

Oh cool. The title seems to be a reference to Lennie Tristano’s “Descent Into the Maelstrom”, one of the earliest free jazz recordings. Lennie was the first to offer a formalized method for teaching jazz improvising, and I was lucky enough to study with the greatest of his students, Sal Mosca. Wasn’t sure how to step into this thread, but couldn’t resist here.

Edit: oh yeah, Poe… I don’t really read.


#47

I’m much more of a lurker here but had to chime in on something near and dear to my heart, improvisation. I’ve been an improviser my whole life.

One of the most frustrating things for me as an improviser delving into electronic music is the lack of control and flexibility electronic means of making sound gives the improviser. The tools are simply not advanced enough (yet!) to be useful in an improvisatory setting, unless, perhaps, its with other electronic sound. When you mix electronic sound with acoustic sound, in an improvisatory context, the boxes are nowhere close to being able to hang on a high level. They are too limited.

That said, I think the act of improvising is extremely valuable as a process to learn your tools. Improvising allows you to find new things and try them out, to see what works and what doesn’t.

While obviously not a popular opinion I have to agree with @carvingcode. Simply winging it often results in bad music, especially if the person winging it doesn’t know their instrument (be it a magic box or a violin). The potential for something unique (meaningful? artistic?) is there, but 99.9% of the time it’s results leave a lot to be desired.

Great improvisers know the fundamental, structural underpinnings of how music works, just as composers do. They spend their lives studying and examining these very things. You cant learn these things by winging-it, even though winging-it can be part of the process.


#48

thank you for chiming in about this!

I’m quite curious to hear or see some examples that you rate highly (your work or that of others)


#49

What is “bad music”?

How does music “work”?


#50

I highly recommend looking into multidimensional polyphonic expression (MPE) instruments. Many threads here on the topic to get started with.


#51

According to my wife… I qualify for making bad music


#52

You’re right John, I should have been a little more clear, By bad music I meant music that doesn’t work as a piece of music. As to your second question… well thats the beauty of music, there is no “one” way.


#53

[quote=“gregsinibaldi, post:52, topic:5835”]
By bad music I meant music that doesn’t work as a piece of music.
[/quote]No pressure but this is much harder to pin down in words, when you have a moment I’d like to hear a passage or excerpt of one of your fav soloist


#54

Which is more musical, a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?

Are the people inside the school musical and the ones outside unmusical?

-Cage


#55

De gustibus non est disputandum.

I am the sole judge of what works as a piece of music for me. I can’t stand Miles Davis, for instance, and no one can gainsay my opinion.

So I assert that notions of objective artistic quality in music are meaningless for anyone but the person who is expressing them.

This includes the artist: if I don’t like my own music but someone else does (a not infrequent occurrence :slight_smile:), my opinion doesn’t have a privileged position just because I made the music.

So wing it, rehearse it, chart it, semi-compose it–the universe accepteth thy works. Above all, try to break out of your own mold.


#56

This thread reminds of the time I went to an academic conference for pleasure, and discovered that rather than it actually being about the title written down, it was about a specific meaning of that phrase in domain language, and every talk descended into something that made more sense the more Deleuze and Guattari you’d read. I left halfway through.

To whit:

it frequently feels like we’re talking about very different things, and I don’t know how to join in. I came to improvisation, small I, through jazz - suck it - simply because that’s what I learned as a teenager: inventing within a framework, in real time, and using licks like an epic poet used stock epithet - two bars left and you need to get back to a IV chord, stick in a quick polumetis Odysseus and we’re back in the game.

Anyhow, that’s where I begun, to the fact, that I’m now reasonably happy joining in in a variety of group contexts. All very tonal and structured, though.

But we’re possible not talking about that, are we?

At the same time, it’s part of my composition process: starting with an idea, noodling, exploring. I’ve not actually ever really learned structured composition (beyond my Music GCSE) and yet this frequently feels less like what’s being described as improvisation, above, and more like invention. Certainly when I sit down and invent something, it’s not entirely free: I quickly lock into patterns I want to explore or progressions from the back catalogue.

And it feels like we’re not talking about that either.

I went to a night for a local, improvisation-based record label, which veered from genuinely exciting to intellectually interesting. And yet it also seemed to follow set rules: an interest in the electro-acoustic, an explicitly stated distrust and dislike of ‘computers’ - which to me feels like stating a distrust of ‘reeds’ or ‘valves’, though I think the shorthand is for sequencers and locked rhythms, maybe - and again, I felt slightly at the edge of that.

On a similar note:

One of the most frustrating things for me as an improviser delving into electronic music is the lack of control and flexibility electronic means of making sound gives the improviser. The tools are simply not advanced enough (yet!) to be useful in an improvisatory setting, unless, perhaps, its with other electronic sound. When you mix electronic sound with acoustic sound, in an improvisatory context, the boxes are nowhere close to being able to hang on a high level. They are too limited.

I mean, in one sense, I totally know what @gregsinibaldi is getting at… but it also feels like an entirely specific way of describing such tools, what ‘control’ is, what ‘useful’ is. And most specifically: what an ‘improvisatory context’ is. Like, I didn’t realise that context was so specific.

I either feel like I’ve missed something, or I’m an idiot, or I’m doing something wrong. I certainly feel like a thread I look forward to opening is seemingly getting more bewildering by the second. And this isn’t a moan: this is just me trying to understand - and perhaps ask - why I feel like this.

Might go and stick a Necks CD on to lift me out of this.


#57

In user experience circles we circle the drain of the discussion about “what is user experience” so frequently that it has sprouted an acronym, DTDT, for “defining the damn thing”. The DTDT discussion is so familiar to old timers that we can describe many of its features, the typical sequence of the conversation, etc. it becomes a quite recognizable pattern. Definitions are ostensibly part of information architecture, and therefore a big part of UX, so I can excuse the obsessive need to pin it down in that case, but in many areas of life pinning things down in search of some kind of precision can be, in my humble opinion, counterproductive at times.

I think improvisation may be one of those things that benefits from a looser definition. It’s like a bird, wasn’t really meant to live in a cage.

I think maybe I know some kind of answer to the question of “what is improvisation?” But I desperately wish I knew what polumetis Odysseus meant, so maybe I know nothing at all.

I think knowing nothing and keeping an open mind about that state is maybe a kind of key to the improvisational state of mind?


#58

But I desperately wish I knew what polumetis Odysseus meant, so maybe I know nothing at all.

apologies - turn of phrase that sprang to mind. to explain without derailing:

Homer’s poetry was metrical, meaning you had to fit a certain number of syllables into a line. And: whilst it was written down, it was original performed out loud. So: you’re spinning a yarn, and you’re bringing a sentence to an end, and you need to explain that Odysseus is doing this thing, but you’ve got a few too many syllables left. So Homer had stock epithets to go around - polumetis Odysseus roughly translates as “wily/cunning Odysseus” - it’s an adjective used a lot to describe him - and it uses up seven syllables, not three. Or you can have ones when you don’t have enough syllables - “Agamemnon” is four syllables, but if you need to stick the landing in three, “Atreides” - the son of Atreus - will do. And the same epithets rattle around the stories, so you always know who you’re talking about.

And I think of it like a pianist or guitarist uses a stock lick or riff - it gets you to where you’re going no matter how many syllables you have left. We can’t always invent, but we always have to improvise.


#59

Great to hear Lennie’s name mentioned here. I studied with one of his students too, Dave Frank, who is a fantastic musician and improviser himself. Lennie was in many ways a revolutionary artist, pushing the boundaries of improvisation. It is a great shame his most interesting recordings were deemed too modern by the record company at the time and Lennie never got the recognition he deserved.


#60

That resonates. I regret not having a formal musical education, but I cherish the originality that arises from deliberately continuing to not fully know what I’m doing.

Also, I’m saving the learning of jazz for prison :sunglasses: