Tuesday, October 03, 2006

limits and boundaries, purpose of

At some point or another improvisers come across the idea of ‘improvising within limits.’ Sometimes the rationale given for working within limits is that such limits give ‘structure,’ as if the presence of, or desire for, ‘structure’ (whatever that is) was somehow justification enough. A strangely circular logic that feels to me like the result of a composerly desire rather than a performerly one. (I will return to this idea of structure in a future post.)
Nevertheless, the success of schemes using limits and boundaries may convince the aspiring improviser to buy this justification.
What’s wrong here?
Well, nothing, except that the aspiring improviser may begin to worry more about the limits themselves rather than the qualities that made those improvisations successful. If they aren’t careful, instead of varied, high-contrast, information-rich performances, they will end up with performances that amount to little more than ‘Demonstrations of Limits.’
Schemes, strategies and scores that invoke limits on the improvisation are successful not because they impose ‘structure,’ but because they allow the improviser to take flight beyond known limits. They enable the permeation to other (technical or cultural) areas that had previously seemed inaccessible.
Or put it another way, temporary acknowledgment of one boundary allows for renegotiations of others.
For example, by improvising on a fixed set of pitch intervals, an improviser may discover a larger set of possibilities in other areas in, say, dynamics, timbre, complexity, spirituality or silliness.
Improvisation is a liminal act, and we are trying to find out exactly how porous the boundaries are. Limits should mean that other parameters (not under self-imposed bounds) should be explored, maybe uninhibited, bordering on the riotous, embracing diversity and, perhaps, contradiction.
With that in mind, we’re in a good position to examine and explore some of these limits and boundaries.

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