Monday, November 06, 2006

what’s in a name: non-idiomatic vs. pan-idiomatic

I’ll write about this in more detail in the future, but I’d just like to briefly explore the terms ‘non-idiomatic improvisation’ and the more recent ‘pan-idiomatic improvisation.’
The term non-idiomatic is, at least to me, more strongly connected with improvised musics from West Europe, particularly England (and I don’t mean the U.K.). It’s a term that I link to a certain generation of players that seem to self-consciously engage with a take on experimentalism and improvisation (the same group that might also use the term ‘free improvisation’). One player associated with that term is, for instance, Derek Bailey. It strikes me that to claim freedom from idiom, and, perhaps, by consequence, also from culture and tradition, was a particularly post-War, post-colonialist, European desire: A dream to purge yourself of history, maybe, or a dream to rid yourself of colonial complicity. Now, to say that you are free of idiom, is that analogous to saying that you are, for example, colorblind? That this is a desire to erase your identity because of what it stands for—what it stood for?
If the desire for the ‘non-idiomatic’ is akin to the desire for color or gender blindness—to not see the cues of oppression—and has its ideological roots in multiculturalism, then the ‘pan-idiomatic’ has its ideology rooted in diversity and difference. It’s no particular secret that, say, Eugene Chadbourne’s playing is explicitly idiomatic, or that John Zorn’s music is a snap shot of his record collection, that their music is, to some extent, a celebration of personal and social histories rather than the denial of it. And though this term—‘pan idiomatic’—may be relatively novel, the ideas embedded in it can also be found in the rhetoric and work of, for instance, members of the AACM. It seem to me that when Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith talks about ‘creative contemporary world music,’ he’s aware of difference and diversity and is very much embracing personal and social histories.

Anyway, I may not get a chance to post another entry for a few days, but when I get back, you never know, maybe I’ll throw in a few road stories… ;-)

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