Wednesday, March 14, 2007

daily recommended traditional intake

I try and stay away from freejazz.org (life is far too short), but I was perusing the pages and I came across this ridiculous piece: ‘Percentage Analysis Free Improvisation/Jazz Incl. Free Jazz’. Here’s an example:

SUN RA 21% Free Improvisation 79% Jazz
I marvel at how neatly free improvisation stops at the 21/100 mark and jazz begins there.
Maybe I’m missing a joke here, so, if this is some kind of a conceptual art exercise, why not go further and propose a package label for each musician?
Tradition Facts
Performance Duration 65' 00"
Amount Per Performance
Improv 48' 20"From Jazz 25' 00"
Total Improvisation74%
   Non-Idiomatic8.5%
Jazz55%
   Hard-Bop0.5%
   Free Jazz40%
Trans-European15%
   Euro-American10%
Rock/Pop35%
Folk20%
   Nomadic8%
   Non-Western12%
Musician may be nuts.
Jazz content may be higher than taste suggests.
But seriously, if the value of improvisation—as a skill, as a craft—is partly, perhaps primarily, to do with its adaptability—to cultural contexts, to social networks—then how can we ever hope to tentatively, never mind categorically, state that, say, “Ornette Coleman [is]… 13% [not 12, not 13.5] Texas Blues”, and “Albert Ayler [is] 18% Free Improvisation”?
The mistake, I think, is that we are thinking of idiom and tradition as something fixed. That there are stylistic traits written in stone which shape, or act more-or-less unambiguously as markers for, categories. That’s fine, if you believe that we’re studying cultural fossils, but if these are dynamic, living idioms/traditions which are, by definition, impure hybrids, then the actors (musicians, audience and, yes, theorists) themselves encapsulate these idioms/traditions. Is not the labor of a jazz musician, whatever they do, by definition, 100% pure jazz (as a hybrid form)? And is not the act of improvisation also, by extension, 100% free?

8 comments:

Kris Tiner said...

Your post is 100% brilliant...

and 217% more interesting than anything going on at freejazz.org.

the improvising guitarist said...

I thank you 100% for that (freejazz.org + 117%) compliment that made me 20±5% blush. (Nothing like taking a joke way to far—approx. 200-300% too far in fact.)
Anyway, thanks for dropping by!

S, tig

docker said...

If I may be (35%) inter-generational for a moment, let me just say "LOL".

Could your Tradition Nutrition chart become a jpg? I'd love to cross post it at Mxd Mtrs.


David

the improvising guitarist said...

Hi David,

I’m glad I brought some mirth to this place….

Could your Tradition Nutrition chart become a jpg? I'd love to cross post it at Mxd Mtrs.

I’m happy for you to post it up at Mixed Meters. The table is done in html, so you can either (a) take a screenshot and use the resultant image, or (b) copy the html source (everything from“<table style="font-family: Arial, sans-serif;” to “</tbody></table>”) and paste it in at Mixed Meters. If neither of these options work for you, let me know, and I’ll post you a jpg.

Thanks for reading.

S, tig

Good Times said...

Of course you have seen this

http://www.dnaancestryproject.com/

There was a charming article about white cattle ranchers finding their black gospel singing cousins in the New York Times not too long ago. Naturally I can't find it.

Anyhow, 'they're' doing 'it' with people, so why not with music?

cheers.

the improvising guitarist said...

GT—the one guaranteed to ask the Big Question :-)

Of course you have seen this
http://www.dnaancestryproject.com/


Actually, no, I haven’t seen this (must have been sleeping). Does make me think of another art project in which you upload a sound file and the system decides how much blah content, blah-blah content it contains….

Anyhow, 'they're' doing 'it' with people, so why not with music?

There’s two issues here. One is to do with identity as (cultural) genealogy, the other is to do with genetics.
The first is not out of the question. In fact, we do it all the time, and it may be our primary mode for identifying and categorizing… but that doesn’t mean the results are neat (e.g. no overlap between jazz and free improvisation).
The second aspect—that of genetics—does not, as far as I can see, easily map it onto cultural activities. For starters, I don’t think the combination of more-or-less discrete, and more-or-less unambiguous, traits is a particularly good model for musical idioms. It seems to me that the terms of hybridizations (think of cultural misunderstandings in, say, Stravinsky ‘doing’ ragtime) are far too unstable and reflexive for a genetic model other than in the most isolated, short-term cases (you might be able to do this for a small, sub-section of a subculture for a small time-slice).
However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that some cultural geneticist comes up with a Universal Principle of Cultural Inheritance. We still have a system in which mutation and cross-fertilization occurs at an astonishing rate: changes in idiom may well not occur at the population level, but from a moment-to-moment level during performance (think of the changes in Coltrane’s approach for example). How could we even begin to contemplate a percentage breakdown of this?

On the other hand, I’m no biologist; I may be missing something here.

S, tig

Chris Rich said...

I don't know, the whole thing smacks of some half autistic displacement of quantifiability tools for hard science and commerce.

Oh boy, statistical analysis of the ineffable.

Now a far better use for these tools is research into actual circumstances for circulating and presenting the music.

To this end, I have been examining the current distribution of cool helpful college and community radui stations as distinguished from smoothness and npr fossilry.

It may please you to know there are lots of em and each is an indicator beacon of potential art space gigs, niche cd stores and so forth, a supportive ecotone.

I'm building a link set in my blog and already have more than 60 radio station sites that are likely to be helpful. Great set of essays.

the improvising guitarist said...

I'm building a link set in my blog and already have more than 60 radio station sites that are likely to be helpful.

Cool.

S, tig