Tuesday, October 09, 2007

clouds of garbage cans

I’ve heard that another teacher of improvisation finds that new students in their class play ‘chaotically,’ and that their lessons initially proceed by pulling back from that cacophony. It may be that this teacher (who, I think it’s fair to say, comes from a more composerly background) has different tastes / sensibilities / politics than I, but I have the opposite problem with new students: I seem to be spending a great deal of time pushing towards noise, encouraging the class to produce (to use that Braxtonian term again) “clouds of garbage cans”.
Maybe a better way to put it would be that I try and stop them from stopping themselves; I try to get them to exercise less a priori ‘tastefulness’. Many students come with a tendency to preempt the musical play (if that makes any sense). If a musician comes from a certain tradition (jazz, rock, country & western, circus music, whatever), I want to be able to hear that—I don’t want, nor feel the need for, their histories to be suppressed. And if the result is apparently cacophony, chaos or turbulence, well, I figure that’s at least an interesting place to be, and an interesting condition to interact with.
Citing Robert L. Douglas, George E. Lewis writes that

…Eurocentric music training… does not equip its students to hear music with multidominant rhythmic and melodic elements as anything but “noise,” “frenzy” or perhaps “chaos”.
George E. Lewis (2000), ‘Too Many Notes: Computers,
Complexity and Culture in Voyager’, Leonardo Music Journal (vol. 10), p. 34.
Recently, MLM commented on the similarity of approach—a heterogeneous sound world—in both the free jazz of The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959), and the Art Ensemble’s rendering (or appropriation) of Monteverdi’s ‘The Lament of Arianna’ on Les Stances A Sophie (1970). Listening to these, I can imagine a critic, intoxicated on the ideals of unity, coherence and integration, complain that the tuning of the voices are not aligned, the rhythms are not locked together; both Coleman’s group and the AEC are just not together.
Well, maybe, but beyond those losses—loss of unity, coherence and integration—what do we gain that may be of value? Both those (pre- and after-) harmolodics sound worlds are deliberately heterogeneous ones, or, maybe more accurately, practices in which difference, dissent and contradiction are not silenced (deliberately). Perhaps the (West European Concert Music) composerly approach leads to a kind of composition-as-censorship. In contrast, the AACM’s composer-performer approach, say, is one of of composition-as-facilitator, or the N.Y. Downtown’s composition-as-play.

Anyway, as a belated celebration of improvising guitar’s first anniversary, I’ll throw up that first quote:
What happens is what happens; is what you have created; is what you have to work with. What matters is to listen, to watch, to add to what is happening rather that subtract from it—and 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.
Anthony Frost and Ralph Yarrow (1990), Improvisation in Drama (London: MacMillan), pp. 2-3

an (unanswered) question

Is this analogous to the old debate in algorighmic composition which, to caricature it, revolves around two approaches to generative processes: start with some arbitrary noise, rich with possibilities, and systematically filter out the undesirable elements, vs. start with processes that ‘intelligently’ generate complexity?
The results, sound or reception wise, may be surprisingly similar, but the discourses embedded in these—the rhetoric that supports them—are maybe analogous to the debate I’m talking about.

And incidentally…

Isn’t The Shape of Jazz to Come a fantastic record title? What formidable ego could stand under that moniker? Is it tongue in cheek? Simultaneously humbling in front of the artform (yes, jazz is something worthy of a future), egomaniac (and this is its future) and pompous (Jazz-as-Art), it borders on the apocalyptic (who knows, maybe Darius Brubeck is right; maybe that was the moment jazz died ;-)


jinx said...

happy blog-anniversary tig

peter breslin said...

happy blogiversary. Mine turned a moldy one year old last month. I did not celebrate.


matt field said...

was watching mtv 4 years ago or so and some generic pop punk band came on. when it was over i looked at the name of the cd and it was called "the shape of punk to come".....?!!??!!-was this the death of pop punk?-ha!

the improvising guitarist said...

“Death of pop punk”? Didn’t that happen a little longer than four years ago? ;-)


Anonymous said...

To add another level: