Friday, December 01, 2006

society-in-miniature: diplomacy

Group improvisation is much more (a performative, structuring) diplomacy (including the cyborg variety) than the ordering of truth. It is not so much about empathy (and thus speaking on behalf of ‘those without voices’), but creating a social environment in which no one can be voiceless.
Let me return again to the quote that I opened this blog with:

What happens is what happens; is what you have created; is what you have to work with.
Anthony Frost and Ralph Yarrow (1990), Improvisation in Drama (London: MacMillan), p. 2.
However much we may desire the world to be a certain way, however much we want others to be like us, to like us, and live like us (although without coming over our borders for fear of replacing us), we cannot do this without one party doing violence onto another.
…avoid the reflex of trying to make it into somthing you think it ought to be, rather than letting it become what it can be.
ibid. p. 3.
To improvise in a collective context requires you to understand your own desires, understand that others have autonomous desires, yet know that together we share the same space and time—the same resources. We all have to compromise. We need to understand that the results may not resemble anything that you, or anyone else, initially dreamed of. The resulting settlement may be inelegant, ugly, and may have to be renegotiated periodically. The result will probably be a place of conflict and mutual misunderstandings, but violence done by one against the other can nevertheless be minimized.
If this sounds negative, it’s maybe because we were all brought up with the Field of Dreams notion that we will, despite insurmountable barriers, overcome and achieve our desires. It’s a classic story. Unfortunately, some of those insurmountable barriers may be people and their own dreams and desires. Accept that particular story as just a fairly tale (enjoy it, or not, for what it is), and you will find that there are richer, more complex, confusing, contradictory stories to be experienced in its place.

10 comments:

Peter said...

have you read (i'm sure you have) cornelius cardew's towards an ethic of improvisation? what did you make of it?

Good Times said...

"We all have to compromise"

huh?

Yo--you do your thing, me do my thing, then we then we go have a sandwich.

Compromise isn't for Art, silly, it's for (assholes) in the work place.

"but violence done by one against the other can nevertheless be minimized"

huh?

"one good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain" Right or wrong?

In this Seinfeldian/infantalized existence of ours, somehow sounds and words have become equated with violence. Fortunately we have 'Kramer' reminding us that violence is "a fork up your ass and hanging from a tree."

"it’s maybe because we were all brought up with the Field of Dreams notion that we will, despite insurmountable barriers, overcome and achieve our desires. It’s a classic story."

Don't forget Dr. Spock (not Nimoy, that other Dr. Spock.) Group hug?

"Unfortunately, some of those insurmountable barriers may be people and their own dreams and desires."

And really, what place do people, [their] dreams or [their] desires have to do with making 'beginning, middle and end' music? (BME for short)

"Accept that particular story as just a fairly tale (enjoy it, or not, for what it is), and you will find that there are richer, more complex, confusing, contradictory stories to be experienced in its place."

Yes.

Vis a vis richer, more complex, confusing, contradictory stories, have you read the back and forth regarding Dixon's performance with Joelle Leandre?

"We need to understand that the results may not resemble anything that you, or anyone else, initially dreamed of."

And thank goodness for that! Do we like listening to all the pretty sounds we've never heard before or don't we?

When did we become (in the words of John Crouse, the 'James Joyce of Vancouver, Washington') a society "who wants Henry James?" Or have we always been, and again the memo didn't get to everyone?

"Win some, lose some, it's all the same to me" said Lemmy. Right or wrong?

the improvising guitarist said...

Peter,

I haven’t read ‘Towards an Ethic of Improvisation’ in years… I’m having a read through now (thanks for the link), some surprising stuff that I didn’t remember at all, and a whole bunch that makes more sense than it did all those years ago. But rather than trying to cram my ill-formed thoughts in this comment (and in a hurry), I think I might try and devote an entire entry to this.
What do you make of ‘‘Towards an Ethic’? Have you thought about devoting one of your blog entries on it?

S, tig

the improvising guitarist said...

sjz,

“Yo--you do your thing, me do my thing, then we then we go have a sandwich.”

Nah—you will not let me do my thing, I won’t let you do your thing, we’re unlikely ever to go have a sandwich.

“Compromise isn't for Art, silly, it's for (assholes) in the work place.”

Compromise is performance, and it is play. The assholes in the work place (the boardroom, the factory, the academe, the record company) do not know how to reconfigure the system, their desires have been tailored for them, ergo, they cannot, and will not, compromise.

“‘but violence done by one against the other can nevertheless be minimized’ huh?”

Sorry, I should have qualified that use of ‘violence.’ I’m thinking of the Derridean usage (although I believe Sartre might have used a similar term—sorry, I’m not a Sartre expert by any stretch of the imagination). Violence is the result of that totalizing impulse that wants to unify all of us, making the Other an extension, or compliment, of the One: The desire to explain all difference in relation to the One. (e.g. the violence done in creating, and telling stories of, the ‘noble savage’ or the ‘magical negro.’)

“And really, what place do people, [their] dreams or [their] desires have to do with making 'beginning, middle and end' music?”

Music is practice, and improvisation is performance. People (performers, audience, etc) and the ad-hoc networks and relationships that they build (on stage) have everything to do with the beginning, middle and end. …Right or wrong?

“Vis a vis richer, more complex, confusing, contradictory stories, have you read the back and forth regarding Dixon's performance with Joelle Leandre?”

No, but I’ll see if I look it up. Can you recount the pertinent points here?

“And thank goodness for that! Do we like listening to all the pretty sounds we've never heard before or don't we?”

I do (and, I believe, the people I work with do).
However, the assholes in the work place do not. Therefore they don’t know how to reconfigure their desires or the environment. Therefore they cannot compromise. …Right or wrong?

“When did we become (in the words of John Crouse, the 'James Joyce of Vancouver, Washington') a society "who wants Henry James?" Or have we always been, and again the memo didn't get to everyone?”

Okay, you got me. I have no idea what you’re getting at… :-/

“‘Win some, lose some, it's all the same to me’ said Lemmy. Right or wrong?”

If the other person continues to be vetoed by myself, they won’t stay un-angry for long. …Right or wrong?

Thanks for the comment (keeping me on my toes).

S, tig

Good Times said...

"Nah—you will not let me do my thing, I won’t let you do your thing, we’re unlikely ever to go have a sandwich."

:(


Compromise is performance, and it is play. The assholes in the work place (the boardroom, the factory, the academe, the record company) do not know how to reconfigure the system, their desires have been tailored for them, ergo, they cannot, and will not, compromise.

touche! But if you can't swing it as wildly as you want in the (improvised) music setting, where can you?


"e.g. the violence done in creating, and telling stories of, the ‘noble savage’ or the ‘magical negro.’"

Tasteless, yes. Backwards? pointing, yes. A new low? Yes. "Violence" as (anyone's) description for *words* is giving violence a bad name. I (silently) wonder(ed) while the whole Kramer thing was monopolizing the media if anything naughty was going on (race related or otherwise) in Gaza, Iraq, Darfur, etc. Those were *words* exchanged in a *comedy club* right?


"People (performers, audience, etc) and the ad-hoc networks and relationships that they build (on stage) have everything to do with the beginning, middle and end. …Right or wrong?"

Right and wrong. An "everything to do with it" and "nothing to do with it" sort of situation.


“Vis a vis richer, more complex, confusing, contradictory stories, have you read the back and forth regarding Dixon's performance with Joelle Leandre?”

No, but I’ll see if I look it up. Can you recount the pertinent points here?

If you go here:

http://www.bagatellen.com/archives/frontpage/001394.html

You can "sip the bubbly" as they say. One of the better bubbles was Stephen Horenstein quoting Dixon thusly:

"The leader in any group is expected to know more definitively what everyone in the group can do singularly or collectively than they do. The idea of a meaningful communal music is a fallacy. There is no democracy. There are all kinds of ways to suggest the direction with the what, when and how of the material presented in performance—eye contact, hand movement, the nature of what you are playing and how it is being heard and ingested by the players, etc. When it doesn't work, one does what has to be done to make it work

Bill Dixon Interview by Frank Rubolino, One Final Note
October 2002

True, that's not the Dixon-Leandre flappa-flap mentioned, but it will have to do until said exchange is found.

Anyhow, the point (the point?) is thus: At a 'first meeting'--an ensemble that no one in the whole wide world had ever heard (Dixon Leandre)--it appeared as though it were a race to see who could be the first to say "Dixon didn't do this, Dixon didn't do that, Dixon didn't fulfill my wants and needs..." I.E. we know what we want--even in the 'improvised realm' and WE WANT HENRY JAMES!

Later, in this same mystery virtual newsgroup, someone was kind enough to point out that *sometimes* it is *OK* for one musician to do her thing and the other to do his *and* it's *sometimes* OK to not *actively hate* what results, even if it is *different* that what we (listener/consumer) expected. Further it *just might be* that the artists (Dixon and Leandre) *intended* things to go *exactly* as they did and they (the artists) might be entirely pleased with the results (not that they have anything germane to add...)

And so, 'win some lose some all the same to me' can be (mis)read as "well, it might not have been November 1981, but at least I wasn't being tortured in a secret prison in Iraq."

"If the other person continues to be vetoed by myself, they won’t stay un-angry for long. …Right or wrong?"

Depends (ahem); is not 'anger' like pissing on one's own leg? What becomes of that anger--that's the question. Has 'anger' in and of its self ever affected (let alone 'changed') anything external to the angry one?

continuing to look for leandre/dixon post...

Good Times said...

Like I was saying, the quote by Stephen Horenstein:

I wasn't at the concert, but I can certainly try to imagine...I'd like to make one point from an analytical perspective, and one who does know Bill's music quite well. Bill often chooses to create separate layers independently, and if and when they come together, so be it (and all the better for the moment). We can hear this in many of his compositions, as well as in the later work of John Coltrane (and other contemporary composers). Sometimes what the public seeks as "dialogue" is not what is necessary at any given point in a composition, and the tension created by two independent "worlds" existing simultaneously, then meeting, is VERY exciting....In fact, the dialogue sometimes can border on the banal if not handled skillfully.

Can also be found here:

http://www.bagatellen.com/archives/frontpage/001394.html

the improvising guitarist said...

“But if you can't swing it as wildly as you want in the (improvised) music setting, where can you?”

I think we’re talking cross purposes here.
You’re thinking that diplomacy and compromise are a kind of gag or a noose or a fence—something that silences, limits or bounds the improviser—that stops you saying (or doing) certain things.
Diplomacy is an act not an object. The social context of performance (improvisation) is precisely why I can swing it wilder than I could on my own. The act of diplomacy (negotiations, compromises, settlements, breaking agreements, breaking non-agreements) means that the results (the beginnings, middles, and ends) behave in ways, and are located in places, that are beyond what I imagined possible. The social dimension of group improvisation is not a liability, it’s the route to the way out there and the way in here. What better way to find out who you are, but in interaction with others? What better way to find out who we are?
As regards boundaries, I’ve written about this elsewhere, so I’ll just quote a snippet: “Schemes, strategies and scores that invoke limits on the improvisation are successful [if at all]… 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.”

“Those were *words* exchanged in a *comedy club* right?”

As long as words are being exchanged, diplomacy is possible—violence is still potentially minimized. The reason I bring to bear examples like the ‘noble savage’ is that these figures, stories, tropes—these discourses—silence voices. Those that are identified as ‘noble savage’ cannot have their voices (grievances, desires) heard—they are denied self-definition.
If I hear a voice utter “you’re with us or against us,” and if enough power is enrolled by that voice, my ability to define myself outside of that discourse (‘the Fighters for Freedom and Democracy vs. the Terrorists’) is in danger of being taken away from me.

“Later, in this same mystery virtual newsgroup, someone was kind enough to point out that *sometimes* it is *OK* for one musician to do her thing and the other to do his *and* it's *sometimes* OK to not *actively hate* what results, even if it is *different* that what we (listener/consumer) expected. Further it *just might be* that the artists (Dixon and Leandre) *intended* things to go *exactly* as they did and they (the artists) might be entirely pleased with the results (not that they have anything germane to add...)”

Okay, I think I know where you’re coming from (or at least where’re you’re taking this)… What is your take on this?

“Has 'anger' in and of its self ever affected (let alone 'changed') anything external to the angry one?”

That’s a fair point. But anger can be a start—it can be(come) a (political) expression.

What’s your angle on all this? I’m guessing that you might be sympathetic to the notion that the stage is a social space, that performance (improvisation) might be a social act, but I’m also guessing that you don’t buy this notion of diplomacy having a place in that context….

S, tig

Peter said...

hi

i identify with a lot of what cardew says; not sure if i could be arsed to write a reasonable well argued analysis of it though! i completely understand your violence analogy - anthony braxton makes the point that freedom can be interpreted as carte blanche to do what you like at the expense of others. sometimes it's fun to do that (or even listen to it) for a wee while (last exit, anyone?) but that kind of attitude doesn't give you much to build on.

my own view on it is that if you can't think of anything to play in an improvising situation, then don't play anything. i haven't always been entirely successful at sticking to this credo (it's suprisingly hard to sit on a stage doing nothing), but it seems a good place to start. 'every note obscures another', as that comedy genius robert fripp is fond of observing...

the improvising guitarist said...

sjz and peter,

Thanks for the comments all ’round. I’m planning to write a blog entry as a response to some of the issues you’ve raised (so please excuse me if I don’t manage to comment back on this thread—I’m probably cookin’ away back here in the boiler room).
Anyway, thanks for all the feedback.

tig

Good Times said...

"What’s your angle on all this? I’m guessing that you might be sympathetic to the notion that the stage is a social space, that performance (improvisation) might be a social act, but I’m also guessing that you don’t buy this notion of diplomacy having a place in that context…"

Stage as the place where the artist can be and function in any way the artist wants. You know, Wilhelm Reich. Being real. Stripping the machine right down to the go-parts. A place to act 'as if' at the very least.

Stage as place where audience can be as concerned with the world as little or as much as they want.

Charles Gayle did an excellent interview on WKCR with Ben Young. In describing his methodology, he said "well, we certainly don't talk about what we do..." (that's because they just did--again with the Reich) If I'm not mistaken he also talked about "forgetting about the world" or "the day." (that's because the day,the world, diplomacy are a drag--an *extra musical* drag) I'll find that quote...