THE PECULIARITIES OF IMPROVISED MUSIC|
- a speech performed at the NEM symposium in Copenhagen Nov. 1998.
In the improvised music, there is more than ever a mass-escape from musical parameters, the parameters which make "music", so much that chance and lack of form has become the prime parameters. In this situation the individual musician sometimes becomes a loner and the only thing left is his insisting on his own fight for the right to express himself. And this emerges in an artform which from the outset is the only one, which can create a simultaneous feeling of togetherness and socialness. The only artform which can contain a feeling of universal communication and collective responsibility.
Certain musicians and improvisers tend to view their music more as (sound)art than music. And they want acknowledgement on that account.
DISSOLUTION OF SYNTAX
The musical syntax has been left behind and is handed over to be created in the heads of those listeners, who has enough musicality, - a supreme, ideal listener, who doesn't even include the musicians, who produce the means. And often it's not even the emergence of music, which has the main interest, but rather some kind of artistic obscureness.
Because too often, there is absolutely nothing to listen to. Only a confirmation of nothingness and nihilism, a confirmation of aggressive selfpromotion and selfaffirmation.
Exactly the kind of ideals, that liberalists and marketpowers are so delighted that we finally has taken in and incorporated in our behaviour, our minds, our music.
Individualists, who define their interests and values. Individualists, who make their own run, without any consideration. No introjection, no solidarity, (backup), no division or definition of rôles - only straight ahead with the same persistence.
Improvised music has gotten it's own sound and has long ago become conventional and full of clichés. Two main points that advocators of improvised music always are busy to underline, that precisely these factors, convention and cliché, is all other music's (above all jazz) strain and wreckage, worn-out and boring for the same reason.
Also it is claimed, that improvised music is interesting, because it is NOT filled with clichés and convention,
- everything is possible,
- you can still get surprises,
- new things are constantly invented,
- change always is present,
- there is still something that provokes and is dangerous (to the traditionalists)
It is precisely these characteristics, the eternal change, the constant strive for invention, breaking off what is there, that can lead to loss of direction and lack of form. Because nobody should do anything but what they feel like. Nobody should even listen to each other: Communication break-down.
If you keep throwing away musical parameters, you end up in a dead end. The reason for being together in music ceases to exist, and then everybody can sit alone in their basement and jam through the internet. Because you don't know who is on line and what comes out the speakers. Everything is accidental anyway.
The everchanging constellations of musicians has also the result that you never reach a point of absorption. It has character of one-night stands and groupsex, which is either fun or not fun the first time; (but what the hell!). But again, you never get beyond that point, time passes and everybody moves. If there is a second or third time problems turn up. Or if it is a constellation which is supposed to stay together. Suddenly it becomes clear that a bunch of extreme individualists has great difficulties being unit ; especially when everybody constantly get new chances to put a new name on the cv-list.
Ideologically there is a special kind of comsumerism in this aspiration to new, new, new. A basically capitalistic drive.
CONVENTION AND CLICHÈ
But the everchanging constellations are also based on the fact that improvised music is filled with klichés and conventions. And these factors are not widened out in this one-shot performances. On the contrary, everything becomes much more narrow.
Even the performers, who are regarded as the best, have often stiffened in their findings of obscurities at the edge of the capabilities of their instruments. Others have maybe done the most radical thing of all: thrown away the instruments and begun to mess around with electronic devices or other kind soundsources, or begun to make unarticulated, guttural sounds or gibberish.
This often becomes a rather limited set of individual formulas. Again the performers, who are regarded as the best, often, in the same manner as picture artist, end up in preferring or limit themselves solely to their musical logos, their special kind of kliché or pattern.
A musical logo is a kind of a patent, that can't be used of anyone else, or when it is being used it becomes a kliché.
TONESHIMMER, FAST ACTION
Overall, the toneshimmer is a typical ingredient: most obsessed with this are the solo instrumentalists, above all the saxophone players, but also heard from other instrumentalists, not to mention the pianoplayers, where the shimmering and flickering has it's own idiomatic variation, as first stated by Cecil Taylor. Taylor called this powerplay, and often this is one of the absolute conventions and one the ways to put out energy. It is typical ingredient for soloplayers that there has to be constant sound-action.
The swarming put in a broader orchestration represents somehow the only real points of meeting and communication. In this kind of overspeedy movement, the probability for some kind of complementarity is pretty high, and here the feeling of playing together is present - under the assumption that the participating musicians are able to play fast, short note values. This kind of playing is supposedly one of the most used and frequent, because it feels like energy and flow in a more collective sense. This parameter is the closest to some kind of music and communication, and is also an orgie in demonstration of technical supremacy and speediness according to the concept of participants.
Musicians with instrumentally educated background supposedly get stock there of pure habit or maybe even as a means of competition (just like the beboppers at their time).
The speedy flow can be regarded as a picture of the traffic and swarming masses of people of the metropoles.
The opposite part of the spectrum is total lack of movement: everything becomes sound, texture, and absence of flow. Anything in between is often avoided - tempos between 70 and 140 bpm - because it's a dangerous area, where the possibility of getting in the neighbourhood of traditional forms is too high.
Another side of energy play is what has been labeled by traditionalists as 'the unarticulated roaring and sneering', which can be conceived as dominating, conceited, suppressing, impetuous, and above all as not giving a damn about anything or anybody, as an outlet for one's pent-up aggressions, father and authority complexes.
From another point of view, it is a form of expression, that shows personal strength, a "devil-may-care", importunity (a positive form of aggressiveness), just to mention some positive aspects of this kind of expression.
It is a kind of flow, which has characterized freejazz, and thus it maybe has the effect of being conceived as corny, or an oldfashioned way of playing. The roar as a form of energy can be done directly at blowing-instruments, or by an agent like amplification. Amplification is very hard to control, as hard as speed limits in traffic, and the easy turn on the volume knob is often confused with power and strength and from time to time ends up in the negative side of power, as mentioned before.
Amplification most commonly drowns any kind of communication and solidarity.
It is like a prolonged youth rebellion, - a negative energy, that acts like the marking of the territory, and which only can roar together with or in competition with other roars.
Another characteristic is, that all instrumentalists that are eager to incooperate noise as an element of expression, in the beginning as breaking conventions and the revolutionary use of untraditional soundsources, as a provocation against the normal approach to an instrument, ends up in some very limited sound expressions. It is the scrabing. Everybody scrabes. Or bangs percussiveness out of anything.
The situation is almost ironic when a bunch of instrumentalists in a performance wraps out all kinds of bowls and junk and put it in front of them, starts banging or scrabing instead of playing their regular instrument.
A typical way to start out for a pianoplayer would be immediately to punch the strings or the wood inside the piano and there we are, improvised cliche no. 1 for the piano player.
Philosofically it is an expression, a form of music can hardly be the term, because there is neither music nor form, - an expression which is adequate in relation to modern life, the metropolized way of living, the standardization of the egocentric individualism, as the market's outstanding consumer.
This kind of music has sometimes problems in getting across to the audience, and as it is moving more and more in the direction of abstract sound, it is tempting to use the concert situation more as an theatrical act than a concert. There is balance fine as hair between taking the concert serious and making entertainment or acts.
Not that everything should be so damned serious all the time. Also the entertainment elements serves as more direct contact to the audience and sometimes feels necessary for the musicians to feel that the audience is present at all.
But often it happens that when this is started, the audience will sit and wait for the next "kick", that can make them laugh. The focus changes from the "music", which becomes weak, without interest and too serious in the midst of the jokes.
MEANS OF SURVIVAL
Improvisation is moving in several directions as a means of survival:
1) comics, musical parodies, instrumental points and clowning
2) performance, a theatrical way, a staging of sound-specialities.
3) soundart, total abstraction
soundevents, simultaneous sound-sources, an indifference almost on purpose toward any kind of connection between the different layers and performers.
The performance fits perfectly along a show visual arts: film, performance, dance, because this kind of expression doesn't necessarily have syntax or form, which steals the attention from the "essential".
Improvisation can also serve as a tapestry or background for 'spoken word' performances. This combination in particular, draws attention away from the musical parameters, since the language has supremacy over the music and in its essence is an intellectual effort - as performance and perception.
Strategies that all lead in one direction, away from the music. Because most musical parameters has been left behind, nobody wants to use the instruments in the sound-areas that they are constructed for, and finally any kind of parting the rôles in the musical and sounding space also are left behind.
Moving towards sound-art.
Maybe it seems as a very negative approach what has been mentioned in the above.
To point some positive ways out I want to emphasize the playing of music, the real communication, when musicians know what kind of rôle they perform, when a musical meeting has begun. To stick more to that instead of the breaking off, tearing down, or being so cautiouos and sensitive that almost nothing happens and nobody is taking any initiative.
Let us play together and use the instrument's abilities, not just their boundaries.
Let us bring back the social aspects in the music, the feeling of making MUSIC together and bring that out to the audience. Music is not art, it is something special, which is - music.