Saturday, July 31, 2010

The pot drips... Part III

One of the reasons I detest the genre-ization of free improvisation is that I am a passionate advocate of the most open, the freest definition of it.

Reaching a mutual understanding about “improvisation” seems to get easier and easier. Although there are lots of ideas about how to improvise, and lots of potential for quibbling about what’s truly improvisational and what isn’t, everybody knows what it is and can easily understand it. It’s kinda like breathing. We all do it. It’s an unconscious and omnipresent part of being alive. We barely notice it most of the time, but if it’s brought to our consciousness we can easily become aware of it, and can learn to use it in all different kinds of ways to make us stronger and make our life better.

But lots of people seem to want to attach a limiting definition to the “free” part. I know there’s a historical and political journey that leads to a sense that it refers to freedom from something... freedom from traditional forms, ideas, etc. I understand why this is so, but I feel no need to be constrained by those ideas, any more than the free pioneers felt the need to be constrained by the ideas and boundaries of bebop.

To me, the “free” in free improvisation means I am free to do whatever I want to do.

Of course, as soon as I say that, I start bumping up against all the real (and imagined) limitations of freely improvised music.

I know some things (like grooves, melodies, and music that sounds more traditional) are not conventionally considered a part of the “free improvisers” palette. So what? I am not practicing free improvisation to be conventional – even if it’s the convention of being unconventional. I consider ALL my entire personal universe of sound to be available to me as a part of my improvised communication.

I know some things (like complicated unison melodies and chord changes) are virtually impossible to freely improvise as a group. Well, that’s what composition is for...

I know some things are relatively easy to do when you are freely improvising. (These are often the same things people talk about when they say free improvisation is a genre.)

I know there are other things that are more difficult to do (and that doesn’t particularly mean more out, or even more complex). These are the things you have to PRACTICE, whether by years of playing stuff together, or by actually practicing improvisation together as a group. These are the things I’m most interested in exploring – which means working out with the same group of folks, because the only way to gain that kind of individual and group awareness of musical and improvisational possibilities is to practice doing it together.

You play what you know. The pot drips what is in it.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. I agree. I don't believe free improv is a genre. Or better said, free improv can be used in many genres. It's open to so much exploration. There are so many untapped areas in which to practice it.

    I look forward to the day I have a regular group with which to practice and achieve the levels of awareness and possibility you're talking about. What a delight that will be!

    Until then, I exercise free improv in my solo electric guitar shows, where I play with looping pedals, etc., creating layers. Often in this area, I reach new levels of self-awareness, playing things I never could have pre-conceived.

    Here is an example of I piece I played last weekend, where everything was improvised, including the pedal preset I used. I had no idea what it would do, I just went with it. I love the percussive background it created for me to solo over:

    Thanks, Tom, for your blog posts. They always get me thinking.