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October 13, 2011

About "finding your own sound".

A central concept in jazz improvisation is the development of a personal sound. The skilled jazz musician is expected to have developed a personal expression that distinguishes him or her from other performers. It is obvious that musicians such as Thelonius Monk, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Ornette Coleman were highly successful in developing their own musical language, and one which became a standard for following generations of jazz musicians. But what does it mean to develop your own language? The answer to that question is dependent on the style. Free jazz, for example, came about as an attempt to allow for even more freedom than what bebop allowed for. I find the intersections of style, idiom, tradition and personal freedom to be very interesting and, to a certain extent, we are dealing with the continuum between the conscious (style and tradition) and the unconscious (personality) although the topic is more complicated than that.

Gregory Bateson [Bateson, 1972] writes about art in general as an excercise in communicating about the species of unconsciousness. Perhaps we can speak of the improviser’s personal narrative as a reflection of his or her unconsciousness or as an interface between the conscious and the unconscious. And this is why improvisation has to remain in a contradictory relation to the traditional notion of documentation; because, only confusion can come out of the attempt to decode unconscious expressions in the language of consciousness. According to Besteson:

... the algorithms of the heart, or, as they say, of the unconscious, are, however, coded and organized in a manner totally different from the algorithms of language. And since a great deal of conscious thought is structured in terms of the logics of language, the algorithms of the unconscious are double inaccessible. It is not only that the conscious mind has poor access to this material, but also that the when such access is achieved. e.g., in dreams, art, poetry, religion, intoxication, and the like, there is still a formidable problem of translation.

Posted by henrikfr at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

October 11, 2011

Audience interaction

I played a concert in Lund cathedral last night with a group of extraordinary musicians led by the American vocalist, trombonist and composer Scott Stroman as part of the KOPAfestival 2011. One of the things that struck me with this performance was the audience and how we as musicians connected with them despite the formal character of the environment. Every improvising musician knows how the audience can influence a performance and what a difference it makes when things "are right". The same can be said from the perspective of the audience. It is unbelievably rewarding to listen to a magic performance. However, it is much more difficult to pin point the nature of this interaction. What is it that the audience provides and what does it get back? How is the musician influenced? Is it the rewarding feeling of confirmation that makes the musician play better? Or is the music in fact the same and it is only the feeling and the perception that is altered?

I don't have any answers to these questions but if we allow ourselves to compare group interaction in a musical performance with human computer interaction it is interesting that what is help in high esteem in HCI - user feedback - is rather different in musician-audience interaction. As a listener in a concert it is not important to me to understand the connection between that which I supply and that which I get back. Neither is it important for me as a musician to understand to symmetry of my interactions with the listeners. It is not even important that the interaction is balanced or equal. It is enough to know that there is an exchange going on.

Posted by henrikfr at 01:15 PM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2011

Improvisation and identity

In jazz improvisation the notion of creating "your own" expression is very important. Individuality in sound, phrasing, articulation and rhythm is held in high esteem. All truly great jazz musicians have created their own sound; Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Gary Peacock, Herbie Nichols, Roland Kirk, to only mention a few, have all set a new standard on their instruments. Their music becomes a vehicle for their identity. Individuality, however, is obviously not the only component because all of these musicians, while breaking with the tradition they operate within, they also build upon it.

In free jazz, as it was shaped by Ornette Coleman as well as the European school, musicians were encouraged to free the music of its harmonic, rhythmic, melodic and sonic predispositions. This was a step towards an even more individualistic form in which the 'self' was free to create without any ties to pre-existing musical structures. But in this movement lies also a motion away from the individual and the 'self' towards a universal, 'natural' music, loosly related to Stockhausen's experiments with intuitive music and John Cages chance music. Now, it should be noted that neither Stockhausen nor Cage made this connection, they saw their own art as distinct from jazz, free or otherwise. Cage wanted to imitate nature and chance was the method. He departed from music as an expression of the self and sought the music that we are surrounded with.

The self as something that is reflected in nature rather than imposed on it.

Posted by henrikfr at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)