Thursday, April 19, 2007

practicing: the journey (and the destination)

Is practicing (as in ‘exercising’, ‘training’ or ‘preparing’) improvisation a peculiar concept?

It’s a topic that fascinates me. What do you practice? That question elicits a spectrum of answers from improvisers. Take a couple of drummers: as far as CC’s concerned improvisation has no place in practicing. Rudiments and exercises, sure, but improvising? no. On the other hand, EK only practices by improvisation (no rudiments for EK).
My practicing is a little closer to CC’s (although I probably admire EK’s more). My current practicing ‘regimen’ is arranged as a four-day cycle. A lot of it, actually all of it, consists of exercises to followup on technically curious (there really isn’t particularly good terminology for this) gestures and structurings. By ‘curious’ I mean that there seem to be possibilities even if the gestures and structurings are, at the moment, musically incomprehensible. Additionally, these exercises evolve not through some grand plan, but by adding kinks and extra complications.

sjz, via a (mis)reading of Adorno, asks if “musicians who play repertoire” and those who do not, share the same musicality? Perhaps, in regards to practicing, the two musicalities are very different.
Here’s the deal: if I were a repertoire based musician, I would have some kind of known outcome—a destination, a goal—in mind as I practice and as I design exercises; but as a musician that has, at best, a very irregular relationship with repertoire, the possibilities, implications, or outcomes of practicing are never clearly evident. I’m not so much going on a hunch (which would at least imply that I had some vague notion about a goal), but mostly just interested in the journey itself. The journey ends when these gestures and structurings become musically comprehensible (at which point it’s time to abandon it or add another complication or two).

As far as uncertainties in this line of work goes (and I have no sympathy for those who glamorize the financial precariousness of a musician’s life), this one can be exciting and productive. Most of the time this journey (and the destination) was worthwhile…

…and that’s good enough for me.


peter breslin said...

Hey- It's never felt reassuring to me that the clients a shrink sees (or a lawyer) are called the shrink's "practice." When does the real thing start?

Before the recent Duology thing I did, I hadn't practiced the piano in months. Really, (and it may be quite apparent) in any aort of focused way, for years.

Good God! why is my 27 year old housemate listening to Yes?

Anyway, practice: technique, repertory, composition, improvisation. Technique (the most mechanical level) is (of course!) the most valued in our culture. Well, actually, *repertory* is probably the most valued. (It was always amusing to me when people would ask me: "what songs can you play on the drums?"). Many musicians I know learn technique solely to be able to play repertory. The technique is the means to the end of being "able to play." "Son of a bitch can't play" is the favorite critique of a lot of creative musicians and it often means "son of a bitch can't play changes/standards/real book" etc. (and it's almost always wrong).

After a while I've started to wake up to the fact that I am always practicing improvisation. What I perform is who I am. I'm not *only* a trained monkey.


the improvising guitarist said...

PB, thanks for stopping by.

…Technique is the means to the end of being "able to play [repertory]."

I think you’re right. In repertoire-focussed performance, technique is the collection of skills that form the ‘minimum requirements’ for execution. In non-repertoire-focussed performance, however, technique becomes something else, a hinderance to some, a helper to others. For me, technique (if it is a kind of interface between musician and, say, the instrument) is really the source of improvisation and creativity.

What I perform is who I am.

Identity as improvisation? That makes sense to me.

Thanks for the comment.

S, tig

Good Times said...

"The musicality which a musique informelle would require for this (i.e., the right of subjectivity to be present in the music itself as mentioned in the previous paragraph)would both carry the constituents of the old music in itself, but would also recoil from the demands of the conventions. In this it would resemble the musicality of the performer whose views and structural insights purify the score of that sullied layer of tradition, to trust in which passes for the seal of musicality.

In the course of such a process the concept of musicality undergoes a profound change. It would emancipate itself both from pojections which are purely subjective and from thing-like objectifications. It would legitimate itself in terms of its adequacy to its own material if the most progressive ears could respond to it at every moment as if it answered their own desires. All of this appeals to the aesthetic theory as a reaction to the plight of the actual experience of artists..."

Thus sprach Adorno on page 320 and 321 of the essay Vers une musique informelle

So there.