Friday, January 26, 2007

contrasts and juxtapositions

You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto…
Scene: an improvised music ‘master class’ given by a trio of musicians of varied backgrounds. Among the trio is OLEI—one less-experienced improviser. OLEI is a West European Concert Music performer specializing in the interpretation of high-Avant-Garde repertoire. Also among the cast of characters is CASI—a capable and sophisticated improviser.
A student asks, “how do you know what to play? Are there any… do you plan… Do you have ideas where to go—what to do?”
OLEI answers, “well, sometime you can obviously contribute to what’s… what the others are doing, or obviously sometimes you can destroy—undermine what is happening.” OLEI continues by attempting to demonstrate this concept at the piano.
CASI, who has thus far been relatively quiet (despite being the most theatrical and flamboyant in performance) now stands up. “On the other hand, you can also take two ideas that are,” considering the available wordings, pauses, “that seem incompatible, and if you play those two ideas together,” hands raised, CASI starts to move them closer to each other, “play them side-by-side long enough, it will generate its own logic.” Hands brought together, sketching a fusion—a melding.
I do A, you do A'; you do B, I’ll do a B'….
One of the hardest things for an aspiring, novice improviser to grasp is the idea of juxtapositions, contrasts and contradictions.
Green follows blue follows purple follows red follows orange follows yellow follows green follows blue….
Specifically, it’s not easy to grasp the idea that things may not be incompatible.
They just might not be.
The compatibility or otherwise of ‘material’ (oh, words don’t get much more composerly than that) is not a concern for some improvisers. Or, better, things can be made compatible. Or, better yet, compatibility is not something you (on stage) have any more control over than they (off stage) do.
I offer my hand, you spit; you give me flowers, I take a base ball bat to your head….
George E. Lewis: “Inexperienced people think that structure in improvisation consists of call and response. In other words, you follow what the other person is doing. The thing is, you need to be able to establish a link without following totally. So you investigate a potential point—a point of commonality. And then you investigate points of difference….” (quoted in Deborah Wong’s liner notes to George Lewis and Miya Masaoka (1998) The Usual Turmoil and other Duets, CD (Berkeley: Music and Arts Programs of America).)
Green follows basil follows red follows carpet follows red follows red follows ‘Louie-Louie’ follows snails….
There’s a naive idea (many of us have believed this at some point) that interaction consists of (a) imitation, emulation, mimicry, enhancement, supplementation, and completion, or (b) impediment, inhibition, frustration, hinderance, interference, destruction, obstruction, and sabotage.
Well, no, that doesn’t quite work, not in the field, and not in the laboratory. What we are collectively creating, rather than being about ‘material’ (that may, like ice cream and gravy, not go together), is a relationship.
Try it; try CASI’s experiment: You play tweedledee—characterful and distrinctive—and while you’re doing that, I am going to play tweedledum—something equally distinctive, but which is ‘incompatible’ with tweedledee. Keep it going and see if it doesn’t “create its own [aggregate] logic”.

updates:

01-27-07: Add sentence that starts “What we are collectively creating…”.

2 comments:

Good Times said...

That we can only be what we are is certain. Also certain: we can only have meaningful, consistent dominion over what we do. To (attempt to) affect 'change' over another not interested or receptive to 'change', irrespective of ways or means, can only end in tears and hurt-words.

(Iraq.)

If, however, that mysterioso/exotica element of improvisation and it is treated like any other music (Wester European Concert music of the high-Avant-Garde for example) then the 'cues' and 'conduction' and 'interaction' and 'sensitivity' and 'cohesion' (and all the other trappings the cultivated ears of the parent culture demand before they can even entertain the notion that an improvisation can be considered music) will become evident. Obvious even.

(Iraqi's and Arabs and Muslims are people--like us, sad when their ice-cream cone falls to the floor.)

That is my belief.

Indeed: What we are collectively creating, rather than being about ‘material’ (that may, like ice cream and gravy, not go together), is a relationship.

And indeed, it is the relationship, the functioning that we hear and respond to.

Have you ever seen the you-tube video of the robot playing Giant Steps? Have you ever seen a bear play an accordian on a unicycle?

A student asks, “how do you know what to play..."

Again, the need for simple answers to simple questions. How do you know what to do when confronted with something you never imagined? It's not a function of knowing as it is a function of functioning--"we hear with our whole bodies" and everything else Dr. Reich said.

Great post. Too bad 'we' can't hear the proceedings on some sort of MP3 like situation.

the improvising guitarist said...

“And indeed, it is the relationship, the functioning that we hear and respond to.”

Right. It’s performative.

“How do you know what to do when confronted with something you never imagined? It's not a function of knowing as it is a function of functioning….”

Again, right, we are constructing right now. The identities and the networks are all performative: the logic is in the moment.

“Too bad 'we' can't hear the proceedings on some sort of MP3 like situation.”

Yeah, I know, I know, but as you’ve said, “no known recording exists” :-/

S, tig