Additional thoughts on improvisation

31 08 2015

i would like to update my previous post with some further thoughts. so i will invite the reader to read the previous entry beforehand and then continue with the following.

 

Further thoughts on improvisation

 

I would like to add a few comments in relation to the text I have written on improvisation and, once again, use another scientific understanding in order to illustrate my points.

 

We have seen previously that our interpretation of what listening is can vary greatly from one individual to another. And so, when considering the spectrum of practices from written/rehearsed music all the way to free improvisation via jazz and improvised soloing within set frameworks, we can see that the degree or type of listening that is required is relative to the context.

The further we go along this axis, from written music, all the way to free form, we follow a line that demands more focused and detailed listening skills, towards ‘deep listening’ and further even. We have seen that along this line that the deeper the listening, the less room for ego, and the more empathy is found in the exchange.

 

And so, similarly, we can apply this understanding of relativity when it comes to improvisation. Our understanding of improvisation is not always the same. There is an obvious trajectory here that can be analysed. Starting from written music, where there is no deviation, we move towards improvisation within a given framework, as expressed previously, such as in jazz, etc. And when we consider free improvisation, we move to semi-structured pieces that contain a certain degree of freedom towards a place where there is no defined framework at all, no harmonic or rhythmical predetermination. In the latter case, we could say that further improvisational skills (i.e. a wider range) are required together with more attentive listening.

 

So when we speak of what is improvisation, once again, it is all relative to the position we find ourselves along this axis. For most people, non-musicians or musicians who only perform written music, jazz improvisation may seem mystical or magical. However, for an experienced improviser, used to ‘deep listening’ and free playing, improvising within frameworks seems less magical, and more attainable – provided we have a good knowledge of the syntax of a given genre.

This does not mean in any way that one is better than another. I am only saying that different contexts require different sets of skills or inclination.

And what we mean by improvisation varies in degree of ‘freedom’ or ‘expression’ relative to the musical environment we choose to work in. It also means that the notion of improvisation is malleable.

 

This has many practical implications. I would like to direct the readers’ attention to a scientific research, in order to illustrate this point:

I am very interested in the work of Dr Charles Limb who is a scientist, medical doctor, experienced jazz musician and published researcher. His fascinating work focuses on the brain activity of jazz cats when they improvise. He finds that there is a parallel between what happens in the brain when we use language and when musicians improvise (see for ex. http://www.ted.com/talks/charles_limb_your_brain_on_improv?language=en).

I can see the similarity here, as far as jazz improvisation is concerned, but my guess is that the similarity between musical improvisation and linguistic expression is only relative to what we interpret improvisation to be.

 

Within jazz improvisation, I would agree with Dr Limb: that the brain activity is similar to the use of language. In this instance, musicians draw from existing databases and assemble data in real time, in order to produce coherent expression in a given context. So when we speak in conversation using a language well known to us, and also when jazz musicians improvise, we could say that there are a set number of pools of information that we draw from, such as grammatical rules, syntax, vocabulary, even morphology. To this we can add another pool of data that is a code accepted as emotional content such as inflections, tone, expression etc… The language metaphor stands.

So there is room for creativity here, of course. However, there is so much that we can do with a set number of building blocks and strict rules. There are only a limited number of combinations possible. Hence, jazz musicians started to play ‘out’, that is altering slightly how they use syntax and even make up words, to extend the metaphor. But there are still limitations to what is possible in order to keep within a well defined style.

In language, and in conventional music, if those rules are broken, it leads to confusion, misunderstanding or outrage. We are capable of creativity and improvisation indeed, but what degree of free is this freedom, really?

 

When we consider more open forms of expressions in music, I think that the connection with language actually collapses. As we venture further out along the axis defined above, with free improvisation, indeed, there can be recognisable patterns such as personal sound, stylistic trends etc. where musicians are still operating within a ‘comfort zone’ and drawing from known patterns of behaviour while adapting them to the context.

However, the linguistic metaphor stops working if we go further along the axis into pure improvisation (so called free improv), where all rules and expectations are put aside, when musicians are able to overcome the cognitive pull and allow themselves to completely let go, provided they are confident that their practice is adequate to support their playing, whatever the circumstances. In this case, we rely solely on listening (no pre-determined knowledge of the form) and our adaptive input may take any shape.

The deeper listening skills are at work, the more empathy is at play, the more players can relax into the communal sound making and respond instinctively, and therefore the less thinking, constructing, controlling is required. It also means, as Dr Limb describes, that less self-editing is at work in order to free our creative juices.

So as we free ourselves from expectations, or self-criticism, music tends to flow more freely.

 

Dr Limb has observed that:

“These are contrast maps that are showing subtractions between what changes when you’re improvising versus when you’re doing something memorized. In red is an area that is active in the prefrontal cortex, the frontal lobe of the brain, and in blue is this area that was deactivated. And so we had this focal area called the medial prefrontal cortex that went way up in activity. We had this broad patch of area called the lateral prefrontal cortex that went way down in activity, and I’ll summarize that for you here.

 

Now these are multifunctional areas of the brain. As I like to say, these are not the “jazz areas” of the brain. They do a whole host of things that have to do with self-reflection, introspection, working memory and so forth. Really, consciousness is seated in the frontal lobe. But we have this combination of an area that’s thought to be involved in self-monitoring, turning off, and this area that’s thought to be autobiographical, or self-expressive, turning on. And we think that at least a reasonable hypothesis is that, to be creative, you have to have this weird dissociation in your frontal lobe. One area turns on, and a big area shuts off, so that you’re not inhibited, so that you’re willing to make mistakes, so that you’re not constantly shutting down all of these new generative impulses.”

 

Here again, I personally believe that this is relative to whoever is performing and what is their mind state at that moment. We all are more or less self-conscious and critical at times, and we all have a capacity to cripple our creativity with doubt, anxiety caused by perceived expectations and so on and so forth.

 

 

But I would be very curious to see how much brain activity occurs when, following on shakuhachi masters’ wisdom, we let go of the world desires and expectations, when (and if) musicians are able to approach a near meditative state. And my guess is here that the metaphor referring to linguistic activity collapses.

 

In my own experience, this is only possible when I am not forced to reflect on the music and react. The presence of ego in the mix forces you to step down from a higher state because you have to then think about what would be best to participate.

If someone does not play fair, if a game of power occurs, it forces you to rationalise and negotiate, rethink your position, try to fit in, make projections, etc. against something that is clashing or jarring.

There is something perverse in that ego attracts ego. One has to fall back into a cognitive mode to the detriment of the creative flow (when the cognitive brain kicks in, it implies that less brain power or less energy is available to be creative in the moment).

 

Of course, working harder to make the music succeed can be ‘interesting’ to witness, on an intellectual level. But strictly speaking, it impedes on the creative flow, and as a result, I feel the music is not as good, not as deep, and is less ‘moving’ or captivating. And this is true both for the musicians involved and for the audience.

In order to attain a ‘heightened experience’, uninterrupted flow is necessary. All musicians have to be on the same wavelength to avoid being pulled out of the pure creative zone. Of course, this does not mean that an intellectual approach to music is not creative. It’s all relative and depends on the listener’s expectations. I guess that for the listener too, one has to let go in order to move more deeply into the vibrational world that is presented to you.

But I feel strongly that a live performance should be an experience, not an intellectual exercise.

 

I sincerely believe that this mind state (or the state of no mind) is the highest creative potential that can be achieved, when effortless and perfect communal creation occurs, when communication is balanced and every single sound falls perfectly in place and everyone involved has all the space they need for expression. There is no need for negotiation, justification, control or friction. Alone or in groups, perfect spontaneous creation happens thus.

And this is why I would argue that – contrary to the following quote from Dr Limb:

“Artistic creativity is magical, but it’s not magic. It’s a product of the brain.” (see link to TED talk above) – I think that creativity is not a ‘product’ of the brain. Creativity can be structured by memory and practice (using pools of available data as detailed above), but ultimately, it is best channelled by an empty mind.

Of course one could argue that in order to move fingers (and play music), there is some degree of brain activity occurring. However, I believe that experienced players can have integrated such movements required as ‘finger memory’ so that music may flow just as easily as one breathes.

 

Therefore, brain activity comes in when there is a need to rationalise, construct or control, when we need to allocate energy into the process of negotiating our place within constraints. I can see here the parallel with the need for justification and validation that forces us to inscribe our actions in the safe zone of known patterns. Whereas in pure flow mode, everything has its place naturally. We effortlessly participate the right sound at the right time, or remain silent and leave space for the others. There is no desire or need, only empathy and reverence for the communal sound – whatever is in the best interest of all involved.

 

Once again, this state of selflessness is life in its pure, unadultered state. It is pure creative potential in as much as there is no form in emptiness, no limitation, no blockage to the flow. This is compassion, the empathy of deep listening. And in my experience, regardless of what you play, the positive impact this has on all participants is the greatest.

 

 

additional bibliography

 

Limb, Charles. Many publications and public lectures on the brain activity of musicians :

http://www.ted.com/talks/charles_limb_your_brain_on_improv

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/the_musical_brain_novel_study_of_jazz_players_shows_common_brain_circuitry_processes_both_music_and_language

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0088665

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Thoughts On my experience of Improvisation

29 08 2015

On improvisation

 

This is a subject that has been close to my heart and central to my artistic practice for a long time. It is with great pleasure that I now decide to take time and reflect on what constitutes, in my experience, important aspects of the art of spontaneous creation.

 

Of course, many great thinkers and artists, musicians have written at length on the subject, and in no way do I intend to make a critique of previously published material. This piece of text is merely intended to represent my own personal experience, sharing my research, in the hope that what I postulate here will resonate with the reader and invite constructive exchanges.

 

Many musical traditions have improvisation at the core of their practice. Often, improvisation appears within the frameworks of long standing traditions, sets of rules and theory. And there are as many degrees between composed work and improvisation as there are styles and musical practices.

I would like to present the idea that nothing is completely independent. Against the contemporary fad in pursuit of the ‘new’, nothing is purely novel, nothing is unique.

With this understanding of the law of causality, it is also important to consider the law of conservation of energy.

 

Some may recognise the fact that I often refer to the terminology of Buddhist teachings, and I will draw parallels here with science in saying that nothing is ever created anew, nothing disappears, but everything transforms. This implies that every action, every event, every phenomena is the result of previous experiences; every effect has a cause and often it is difficult to separate cause from effect. We are all interconnected. This highlights the central point in the Buddhist mind that everything and everyone is inter-dependent. This law of causality is known as dependent arising.

 

To further the parallel with the Heart Sutra – a central teaching on the nature of emptiness – I will add the following points:

Nothing is completely independent in that all things arise from a cause, that is why it is said that things are empty, that is empty of themselves – empty of inherent existence, as there lacks an ultimate blueprint that dictates what it is or is not. Things are empty of real existence because they are such only as the result of multiple causes and not by ultimate design.

 

As stated above, everything is interdependent. Similarly, the practice of music within certain traditions and styles, or approaches, are dependent on many factors. Some will say that one factor or another is more important, but I will insist here that all factors are important. It is just that certain traditions focus on a particular cause more than another.

It is most obvious that the history of a given genre is very important in the teaching of that particular practice. Each musical current has a history specific to its genre. And it is of course important to understand the past in order to make sense of present practices and conceive of future developments.

There is no need for me to attempt to write about the history of musical genres, as others will have done this much better elsewhere. However, the following are some of the traditions that feature improvisation in their practice.

 

In the western tradition, it is mostly jazz that springs to mind when talking about improvisation. However, eastern European music also uses it. [see also the discussion in the comments below on how improvisation used to be part of our western tradition]

When talking about jazz, one has to take into account the importance of African music, which also has aspects of improvisation. In the classical cannon, Indian music, ragas have a strong connection to improvisation within strict frameworks.

Others will argue that, more than history, theory is most important – and that without a strong theoretical background, one would not be able to improvise within a given style.

Another factor that comes into play is the practice of a given technique – or sets of techniques, which very much inform the practice of a given genre of music. But if one was to look further into each of the above topics, they will find that they are indeed deeply connected, in that certain techniques arise from the history of a culture and so on.

So, although free improvisation, by definition, should be free of any imposed style, formulaic technique or annexed to any time, culture, tradition or history, I believe that a certain degree of knowledge of ALL traditions and an understanding of techniques specific to many genres should be ascertained in order to be a rounded improviser in the modern world of cross-cultural exchanges.

 

From the onset, and very early in my relationship with the practice of free improvisation, I was aware that there were very recognisable styles of playing and schools of thoughts which are associated with locality and points in time. So how can it be that improvisation should take on predictable forms? Can it still claim to be experimental, avant-garde and improvised strictly speaking? Can one claim they improvise if they play the same bunch of notes or sounds or even ‘structures but in a slightly different order? Or play with the same idiosyncratic style but a bit slower or faster, a bit more this or a bit more that, is it still improvisation?

 

Well, it is obvious that there are different degrees to what is referred to as improvisation. It is evident that jazz improvisation (the spontaneous performance of solos within specific and strict sets of rules) is not the same as the said free improvisation that has no pre-established rail to direct its narrative.

It is important to understand at this point that throughout history, the notion of excellence, a commodified value that validates one’s musicianship and ability to perform has been strongly associated with one’s ability to develop a personal style. There is enormous pressure in developing one’s sound. Of course, this has to be seen within a culture that is obsessed with individualism and ‘personality’. The dark side of this coin is the creation of proxy in one’s dependency on attitude (mistaken for personality) and egotism (mistaken for personal worth). Of course, this fact goes against the Buddhist ideal of selflessness just as well as the communal act of creation, based on communication, central to free form playing.

 

Sadly, most music schools, jazz in particular, put extreme importance on reproducing and mimicking the playing of known practitioners while at the same time advocating personal development – in theory.

In practice, many players find it difficult to dissociate with this mimicking trend when there is much pressure in playing standards in the commercial scene.  And one has to earn a living indeed. Well, this is another topic altogether.

Ironically, we will notice here that all the famous jazz players became famous for their individual styles and due to their own original creations, not their re-enactment acts of classics.

 

But it is important to take into account that no-one is born an improviser and we all come from certain traditions and started playing specific styles before having the required experience and technique to improvise. Here also, dependent arising applies. In a culture where control, predictability etc are central to the commodification of products, improvisation has to be ‘re-learned’ as if one has to free oneself from the norm, and free-flow is not the desirable standard.

It is a fact that children are more open-minded and enthusiastic and are therefore better equipped to let go, and improvise. However, like any other art form, to be proficient at improvising, one has to develop enough confidence in their skill – which requires, as presented above, much practice and research etc. To develop this level of confidence require the development of skills. However, one could argue that skills are developed through ‘play’.

Of course, it is possible to become reasonably good at playing an instrument without exposure to a specific education. But I will argue that, in order to be really proficient and have enough vocabulary for varied and true improvisation, not limited to a certain range of playing techniques, it is very important to practice in the traditional way as well.

And I am presenting this argument in the genuine belief that I am not biased towards the subject of education:

I will say at this point that I am entirely self-taught, in that I have had not one single lesson in my entire life in the practice of my instrument (apart from the absolute minimum introduction to the recorder, badly taught in 80’s French schools). So I have developed my own practice routines (both on guitar then saxophone and shakuhachi), my own exercises and (very slowly) progressed on my own path, with my own sound.

And still, I am adamant that in order to perform even experimental sounds or approaches such as known ‘extended techniques’ for example, one has to practice traditionally, that is scales etc. across the whole range, in order to develop the necessary skills and control. I do not particularly spend time practicing such extended techniques, but I know that in order to master ‘multiphonics’ on the saxophone, it is essential to develop an adequate embouchure and so on – and that is through the practice of scales and long tones across the range of the instrument, and more scales, and more scales and….

 

To finish on the topic of stylistic approaches, I will say that there are many styles of improvisers and we all have a certain background. Looking at the rich scene that has thrived in the city of Sheffield, in the north of England, I could see that musicians I played and performed with had retained a flavour (rather than a defined style) in their improvisations that were reminiscent of their musical culture.

And improvisers come from all sorts of contexts: free jazz may be the most obvious, but also modern classical, folk, country and western even, or noise, rock, or electronic music. And as a matter of fact, like any other music genre, improv is merging with other avenues such as new music, contemporary classical, experimental electronics, field recordings, noise art. You name it.

But in the end, it is up to the individual musician to balance fairly their musical education and taste, the idiosyncratic sound they have developed (based on other players or not) and finally, what they feel is improvising within certain constraints or completely freely.

So consequently, recognisable movements develop that seem to ‘stick’ to a particular approach or personal style. And improvisation then negotiates its freedom within such frameworks – where sound has replaced musical genre. For example there was a strong attraction in London for abstract minimalism so much so that anyone playing a ‘note’ would be looked down upon. I feel that this is where style becomes a limitation, and is counter-productive. However, this is down to the behaviour of individual players and is not a feature of improv per se. Fortunately, such fashions or schools come and go. Styles do not define improvisation because it is not a style, but rather, for me it is an approach to creating music, regardless of the style chosen, if any.

To quote a master in a totally different discipline:

« At best, styles are merely parts dissected from the unitary whole. All styles require adjustment, partiality, denials, condemnation and a lot of self-justification. The solutions they purport to provide are the very cause of the problem, because they limit and interfere with our natural growth and obstruct the way to genuine understanding. Divisive by nature, styles keep men apart from each other rather than unite them.»

Bruce Lee

 

 

So once again, I feel the need to draw parallels with the early references I made. We have seen the importance of history, theory and technique. And we have seen that the creative act of improvising is dependent on all or some of these factors. However, some people do improvise without exposure to theory. Others deny technique and do their own ‘thing’, thanks to the liberating punk attitude of the late 70’s.

Styles change, merge and pass away.

 

So if we look into detail and examine with a microscope, what is improvising? Is it defined by history alone? No. Is it just theory? No. Technique? No.

Music, and improvising are not just theory. Theory is a framework. Music is not just notes on a score. It is not a formula. So what is it then and where can it be found?

It is striking how similar this line of questioning deliberately follows the Buddhist analysis of what is self. Self is not the mind, it is not the senses, it is not just our emotions, etc…

And through the close study of the very deep, detailed, and complex text that is the heart sutra, one has to come to the conclusion that the self (and by the same token, that improvisation) does not exist.

The self is therefore said to be empty of itself, and can only be understood to be the observable result of complex streams of causes and effects.

 

So improvisation does not ultimately exist. It is the product of an unruly history of practices and traditions that logically lead to the present state of affairs. Right.

But where did music come from? Was music the art of improvisation and then went a different way? What was the first improvisation? Did the caveman sing or play his bone flute spontaneously? Did (s)he spontaneously think I’ll make a flute out of your bones? What was his framework? Did (s)he go to jazz school? Did the bison say “that’s not proper chord changes that”?

We have to look further. Is the self inscribed in our very cells? DNA? Does music predate man? And we can go on ad lib, and we will not find the answer, because there is no beginning and there is no end, and nothing was ever created nor disappears, and everything is interdependent, as nothing has independent arising, and so was the ‘big bang’ the first chord or harmony? Well, no because the big bang (and wait for this cos this is going to piss you all off) was not the beginning, and it, itself, the big bang, has no independent arising, and it can only be the effect of an existing cause. That is the law of physics and Buddhists did not have to scalpel the hell out of the atom to understand this 3000 years ago. There I said it. We are all improvising.

 

In order to find true improvisation, we have to look further.

And just like the self has to be found and observed outside of thought, outside of concepts, outside of the framework-limitation that is our oh-so-superior cognitive, linguistic skills…

So Improvisation has to take root outside of theoretical, conceptual frameworks.

 

 

To further the comparison between the practice of improvisation and meditation, and introduce the idea that deep listening is absolutely central in that it offers a gateway for complete immersion into sound and allow oneself to be part the the vibe, or soundscape that is spontaneously created.

Secondly, I will say that empathy is absolutely essential in the practice of improvisation and this goes much further and deeper than the absolutely essential listening skill required in the practice of musical improvisation. Compassion is the utmost state for a true Buddhist practitioner, just as the empathy of ‘deep listening’ should inform all musical communication.

 

I would like to share with you my personal experience of improvisation. One that I would argue is free from theory and tradition. One that is free to dare play notes when others think improv should only be abstract sound. One that has to be loosely, from a distance, supported by skills developed from traditional practice but… but… one improvisation that has to completely let go of such frameworks, that has to let go of all expectations and peer pressures, that has let go of a need to please. Only then can you be completely free. The only limitation would therefore have to be structural to whatever instrument you play, and to what abilities you have integrated.

Improvisation, in this, is like meditation. And through improvisation, I have, personally and undoubtedly experienced moments of deep spirituality, both alone or shared with other skilled musicians.

 

There are references to this is various contexts, although the subject is very rarely talked about. In jazz, some cats talk about ‘the zone’ or ‘when the music is good’ and those moments are regarded as special. Steve Coleman, of all the jazz cats I know, seem to incorporate ‘the zone’ into his creative process and there are a few references to this in interviews on his Mbase site.

But his music is so complex, it has to be written. It is clear that that improvisation ‘in the zone’ is used to generate material which Steve then integrates into compositions. In order to read music from the page, or to follow complex structures, a certain level of cognition has to take place. So, even highly skilled musicians cannot be in deep meditation while performing when mental processes are required.

However, Steve Coleman seems to strike a very interesting balance between the two, even stating in a recent interview about the performance of complex structures written for large ensembles, that spontaneous creation still has a large part in the performance of complex music. But evidently, he insists that much ‘preparation’ is required. “Spontaneous has a method, has a way”.

The reason I spend so much time discussing (and listening to) Steve Coleman’s work is that his music has a striking spiritual depth which balances his obvious knowledge of music theory, the history of different traditions and of course very impressive technical skills. I believe that it is this balance that reflects real harmony.

 

 

People’s experience and interpretation of the zone varies immensely. There is a tradition, very close to my heart, that takes this much deeper. In traditional shakuhachi playing, Buddhist monks used the bamboo flute as a tool for meditation, more so than for making music. There is a wonderful article about this by master Kiku Day (see biblio).

There are also writings that coined the term ‘flow’ by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi that may be of interest in relation to spontaneous creativity. However, i feel that this term has been associated with commercial, business like approaches where using the flow is a means to an end. This loses touch with the whole purpose and integrity of meditation, and the notion of flow becomes artefact, superficial commodification of spirituality.

 

So it seems that musical traditions and improvising on the one hand, and spiritual practices (that involve a scientific approach to meditation) on the other are always separate whereas I feel that both coexist in reality on a level very few people can conceive of. Or at least this is what it seems because it is never talked about: the ‘s’ word is always a bit of a taboo.

So I would say that it is essential we explore and study further the creative potential of meditative states, or mindful playing in the performance of music. It is an essential factor (even if the practitioner is unaware of what is really happening in the process of improvising) that needs research and practice, just as much as developing playing technique does.

 

Here, I can only narrate my own experiences on the subject. In a very personal, solo project called ‘sounding out’, I have been, over the years, recording improvisations in a number of outdoor sites – that is outside of the studio’s controlled environment.

The principle that was to improvise with natural acoustics, and interact with the environment, developed into something much more – that is very hard to describe with words. Just like meditation cannot be defined or taught, it can only be hinted at with guidelines so the practitioner finds their own path. This is purely because meditation is a state that resides entirely outside the realm of intellectual analysis, outside language, outside the Imaginary or the Symbolic. It is pure experience of the Real.

This can only be achieved when a number of circumstances converge so that no distraction, emotional context, external pressures etc. take away the necessary complete focus. Gradually, the mind clears just like sediments settle and murky water becomes translucent. It takes time and discipline, just like the practice of music.

There have been very special places, with outstanding acoustics, but mostly with a certain quality of energy, that take me there, and suddenly, one is suspended in the elevated feeling of fluffy nothingness. Boundless, weightless spaciousness.

All is sound, all is vibrations. All is empty. Emptiness is form, form is emptiness. And the only reality feels like compassion because compassion is the very structure of pure life and creativity.

The space where I play expresses itself and vibrates the soul. Music plays itself. Narratives form and follow their own paths. There is no style in improvisation because form is empty. Even the idea of style becomes irrelevant. No desire. Vibrations arise and interact. Music is communication. This is the natural order of things. It is pure physics.

 

Sounding out is not improvisation on acoustics or birdsong. It is letting the rock and the walls of sacred sites sing through my instrument. It is the music of that place, at that moment. It is meditation on the now. It is being the now, being the place. It is telling its story, not mine.

 

To truly improvise, in the purist sense, one has to be a skilled musician (see beginning of this text) but also has to be an experienced meditator.

You have to let go.

You have to let the music flow.

You have to let the instrument play itself.

You have to let go of ego, and accept to merely channel the music of the moment and of the place.

 

All the theory and the practice that we are so attached to are, in the end, just there in the hope that you are good enough a musician to be able to keep up with what’s going on. And you have no control over it other than to try and not bum-note it. All those years of practice are summed up right there. It is the only preparation, the only net not to fall flat on your face and try to keep up with the flow.

 

Control, security, certainty, performing excellency and predictability are all illusions that form the ground for commercial, commodified entertainment. It is not life, it is not music and it is certainly not improvisation.

 

Ride the wave my friends, be the cool surfer balancing on the flow of life. Enjoy the view cos there is no good, no bad, theory, expectation, style or anything to burden your mind with.

 

Only a peaceful clear mind can be completely and truly creative.

Improvisation, like compassion, is life.

 

Be happy my friends. Meditate. Ride the wave.

 

Peace.

 

Hervé Perez

28 august 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1990

 

Coleman, Steve. http://members.m-base.net/

 

Day, Kiku. Mindful playing, mindful practice: The shakuhachi as a modern meditation tool. 2014

http://www.kikuday.com/

 

Hancock, Herbie. Harvard lecture series

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPFXC3q1tTg&list=PLFT-q6IUNLEEIdVFXylP8q41axib6ycOn

 

 

Heart Sutra. Traditional Buddhist scriptures. Many publications and comments also avail. online from reliable Buddhist sites such as

http://fpmt.org/

See the 3-days lectures by HH the Dalai Lama

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRJ2WFcHPcA

and

Chandrakirti. Introduction to the Middle Way. Boston and London: Shambala publications, 2004.

 

Lacan, Jacques. The Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic.

In

The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book I: Freud’s Papers on Technique (ed. J-A Miller), N.Y.: Norton, 1988

 

Lee, Bruce. The Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Ohara Publications, 1975

 

Oliveiros, Pauline. Deep listening institute workshops.

http://deeplistening.org/site/

 

Sounding Out.

https://sndsukinspook.wordpress.com/category/music/sounding-out/

https://soundcloud.com/herveperez

 

 





Four movements

7 04 2011

 

i.

senses awakened

like flowers the touch of silk

on her naked nape

 

ii.

inside the cool spire

sheltered from the sun, i find

seven lost flowers

 

iii.

As rain drops drum sounds

the pavement cries for mercy

birdsong melody

 

iv.

blue ice hangs like fruits

and crackly sound from afoot

landscape drawn with chalk





Le terrorisme culturel est-il toujours de rigueur?

20 03 2011

le choix du silence

Le terrorisme culturel est-il toujours de rigueur?

« At best, styles are merely parts dissected from the unitary whole. All styles require adjustment, partiality, denials, condemnation and a lot of self-justification. The solutions they purport to provide are the very cause of the problem, because they limit and interfere with our natural growth and obstruct the way to genuine understanding. Divisive by nature, styles keep men apart from each other rather than unite them.»

Bruce Lee

La question se fait nécessité alors que la dérive culturelle postulée par Walter Benjamin menace de s’échouer contre une académie d’un popularisme absolu (un popularisme de la connaissance et de la technologie qui permet d’appréhender la sécurité d’une production dont l’existence est justifiée par la consommation systématique d’objets fixés dans la culture selon les schémas méthodiques de l’industrie du divertissement). Le monopole de production en masse n’est ainsi pas forcé sur l’individu mais au contraire insinué dans les schémas de comportement, par défaut.[1]

Face aux formules fixes et absolues qui ont pour fin d’éviter quelque risque ou doute qui puisse menacer la production, la création libre a peu d’espace ou d’opportunités de capter, voire garder l’attention d’un public fragilisé, devenu dépendant d’une facilité de l’échange dont l’épitomie est la télévision: omniprésence, accès facile et instantané nourrissent le besoin de plaisirs immédiats – in media. Le coût réel des instances du service-tout-compris est obscurci par l’acceptance de la multiplication de non-évènements (la douloureuse ne sévit qu’une fois l’an, souvent assumée par la carte de crédit, prélèvement automatique et maintenant, la somme se fond dans le coût de l’immobilier – toute maison se doit d’avoir une tv – pourquoi sortir ?). Aucun effort physique, intellectuel ou émotionnel n’est requis. Volonté et concentration sont victimes de divertissement, transférés vers une immobilité diffuse dans le temps. Le besoin de silence résonne d’échos télévisés de vide, un temps mort qui multiplie l’absence d’esprit.

Cette description d’un état culturel assiégé de complaisance est bien péssimisée quand on considère les options laissées aux artistes [et j’entends par là, non pas les techniciens créateurs d’une industrie de la surproduction technologique, non pas les interprètes d’un corps de métier simplifié et formalisé – de la star académie au conservatisme académique]. Les symptômes évoqués par Walter Benjamin obscurcissent la ligne de flottaison entre recherche et renforcement comportemental. Mais ces artistes, participants créatifs a une communication, intègres d’échanges réels sont eux aussi frappés d’appauvrisme culturel, du manque de sens qui marque le post post-modernisme, et ainsi sont limités a une prise de position.

Le manque de signification qui stigmatise l’art contemporain est dû a un refus de voir une œuvre comme commentaire, comme métalangage sur la fonction de l’art car, quand l’œuvre n’est considérée que comme expérience pure dans sa simplification, le contexte – son placement dans le temps et dans l’espace – n’est qu’accessoire puisque variable. On voit bien que la validité d’un travail ne se considère que par son mode de consommation, car l’œuvre, contrairement au contexte, contrairement à la relation au moment, la relation d’échange, peut bien être commodifiée, objet de commodité, assujettie a une appropriation propice. On voit actuellement les effets dont je parle ici : c’est un positionnement polarisé nécessaire face à une impossibilité de travailler, c’est-à-dire de fonctionner, d’évoluer, par exemple, en tant qu’improvisateur : manque de lieux, manque de fonds, d’un public déjà aseptisé. Et si c’est l’aspect fiscal qui prime dans les discours, le contrôle outre financier s’effectue de façon bien précise et systématique sur le contenu, sur la production d’une signification réduite à la validité d’un produit technologique.

Ainsi, la multiplication de semblants artistiques, une répétition étirée dans le temps, donne l’illusion de cohérence. Cette cohérence n’est bien sûr que faux-semblant puisqu’elle sécurise le développement, de façon ironique, dans la fixité. La position de l’artiste qui en réponse va favoriser l’instant, le spontané, le changement, est stigmatisée de résistance, c’est à dire de terrorisme. Dénué de l’effet WOW, la fascination pour la technologie (ce qui remplace le zèle de technique), le travail de l’artiste aura du mal a revisiter l’éthique du ‘techno tou biou’, maintenant déplacée, dépassée par un progrès hâtif.

Le langage, propice et actuel, relate l’action des média, dirigée par les élans politiques dont le désir de contrôle est rendu public. Cette dernière, relation politique, inclut industriels et financiers qui systématiquement déforment, déconstruisent et désincarnent les actes de résistance sociale et culturelle afin de les aliéner de la pensée commune. Diviser pour mieux régner, le modèle militaire est bel et bien actif puisqu’il multiplie les manifestations du travail de l’ego – fragmentation, transfert, refoulement – sur tous les plans de l’existence.

D’une position d’affaiblissement, les actes de résistance se doivent d’être courageux, clairsemés et succincts, ciblés. Mais afin d’être efficaces, les actes d’ouverture doivent éviter la menace du doute, de l’insécurité, cette peur de l’inconnu inspirée par un refus d’approfondir, d’appréhender la signification : éviter à tout prix le stigmate de l’agression, de l’invasion de l’intimité, de l’exploitation émotionnelle qui seront instinctivement refoulés puisqu’ils font écho à la structure de l’ego et à celle du capitalisme. En suivant cette avenue, l’artiste du futur se trouve dans l’impasse de l’expression sanatisée, de la communication à l’abri des émotions, dépourvue de sens, de l’échange à l’abris d’écrans géants. Si les fréquences officielles croissent (le La de concert se resserre vers les 442Hz) ainsi augmentant les intervalles, les distances qui séparent les individus, les familles, les cœurs, servent bien l’age de la communication virtuelle. Peut-être voit-on là une dérive naturelle vers l’entropie, ou, comme Freud, une atrophie des fonctions vitales, l’instinct de mort d’un système malade – unisson dans la fugue.

À ces difficultés auxquelles l’improvisation se heurte s’ajoute un problème qui touche tout le monde de l’art. Tout d’abord, on le ressent dans le transfert des structures et des placements de fonds dédiés à l’art et la culture. Le pouvoir de décision des gouvernements locaux est globalisé d’une part, ce qui rend l’accès plus difficile pour l’individu et favorise les schémas de ‘corporations’ où l’individu se fond. D’autre part, le passage de multiples sources à une source nationale s’accompagne d’un amoindrissement prévisible du montant global disponible. De plus, un transfert latéral s’effectue en délégant le pouvoir de contrôle de la création artistique vers des industries multiples (des go-between qui se sucrent au passage et décident des critères de choix) outre celles de l’art et du divertissement  qui ne peuvent plus assumer leur enjeu: c’est maintenant l’art au service de la science, l’art qui justifie les plateformes de la communication moderne, art-objet publicitaire, assujetti aux plans financiers de corporations (voir Beyond oil: the oil curse and solutions for an oil-free future.pdf (pp. 20-3) from: http://www.carbonweb.org/index.asp

see also: http://www.platformlondon.org/).

C’est à dire que les subventions disponibles aux artistes sont soit de l’ordre privé et donc assujetties à des intérêts ‘justifiés’ qui contrôlent mode de production et objet final, soit ces subventions restent publiques (mais fortement amoindries) et d’autant plus ciblées… et ne sont accessibles qu’aux institutionnels. Comme dans le commerce, les petites et moyennes entreprises disparaissent dans une dérive vers la médiocrité alors que les décisions et choix qui tracent le chemin de la culture ne sont plus d’ordre moral ou esthétique mais purement financier.

Et bien sûr, historiquement, le développement des technologies du divertissement, ainsi que celles de la science et de l’industrie joue un rôle de feedback très positif pour la recherche militaire. Art comme justification à la guerre, à la production hystérique qui réduit la notion de sens, de contenu d’un travail à sa relation au format choisi (ou l’art n’est qu’un pré-texte), au contexte de la diffusion. Les exemples sont multiples, le compositeur contemporain ne trouvera qu’encouragements dans le développement de ‘patchs’ ou autres effets d’interfaces académiques, dans l’exploitation des plateformes de communication comme l’Internet ou les téléphones portables, l’exploration de technologies de diffusion, etc.… toutes dépendantes d’une commodité. Des compagnies de téléphone qui subventionnent les vidéastes du contenu d’une minute, le format pop est aussi ‘in’, et c’est son règne qui domine. C’est aussi celui de l’invitation systématique à la consommation, à la réduction du sens, des sens, dans la satisfaction immédiate.

L’ensemble de ces schémas trace le contour d’une culture de l’entreprise commerciale, seul point nodal entre société et communauté, et donc gérant la nature de toute corrélation entre les deux. Ce qui nous mène très rapidement vers une systémisation de la communauté en tant qu’organisme ; un univers rigide informant toute pratique, où toutes relations sociales sont appréhendées comme au sein d’une entreprise, par le biais de financement, d’appropriation, de bénéfice ludique. On observe, en effet, comme les individus adoptent un comportement similaires aux corporations, une officialité qui valide et justifie l’être.

La boucle du langage, ordre de la symbolique par excellence, est bouclée alors que toute communication linguistique (outil né du commerce) sera marquée du sceau de l’échange intéressé. Dans un contexte d’une telle toxicité, on peut envisager que par extension, toute communication sera réduite au pseudo échange, au financement d’intérêts émotionnels, personnels. On ne peut échapper au travail de l’ego… puisque le refoulé revient au galop.

La réduction formulaique touche aussi la réalité des projets subventionnés qui de façon aussi systématique s’embourbent dans les marécages de la bureaucratie, dépensent plus dans la justification et le compte-rendu qu’ils ne passent dans le développement ou la production et souffrent toujours du petit mal de la date limite. C’est ici que se ressent le manque d’attention pour le développement du travail mais aussi de l’artiste qui devient simple producteur à la demande, exploitant d’art, artisan exploité.

Dans un tel consensus, faut-il opérer systématiquement en dehors et a l’encontre des structures établies, officielles  afin de pouvoir être efficace et productif dans son travail? Foucault préconiserait une réflexion sur ce qui est nécessaire, sur l’économie[2]. Mais sa recherche met aussi la lumière sur les relations de pouvoir à la formatisation, normalisation et sur les principes qui gèrent les établissements qui multiplient les instances de fragmentation, de transfert, donc du refoulement de l’expression libre, de l’activité fluide et créative. Il n’est donc pas étonnant de voir la création reléguée en ligue du superflu, et divertie de son cours.

À l’age de la communication, l’échange réel se fait rare, au détriment de la politique langagière de la finance. Dans Les mots et les choses, Foucault nomme le même phénomène qu’a observé Schaeffer dans The Soundscape; la codification limite toute communication (linguistique ou musicale) l’appauvris dans la pratique et l’habitude jusqu’à la perte de reconnaissance (manque de mémoire-association pleine-riche), la perte de connaissance, c’est-à-dire de la relation au sens, à la cohésion qui reste cachée, bannie derrière la simplification arbitraire du signe. Monopole des schémas dysfonctionnels, ralentissement et perte de temps et d’énergie passée dans la résistance aux blocages ; la similitude à l’état de névrose est frappante. Et nous ne pouvons nous retenir d’évoquer ici la notion d’inconscient collectif, considérée maintenant alors que l’on observe les actes sociaux ainsi que les relations organiques dans leur équivalence.

Le collectif, la société comme système actif, vivant et donc soumis aux modulations du changement qu’elle tente de contrôler en réprimant toute instance d’ouverture, de potentiel créatif pour favoriser la répétition, la fixité, la sécurité, ou tout autre méthode qui mène au blocage, acte ultime de contrôle. Le ça-voir est absolu dans le monde visuel de la fuite et du trompe-l’oeil. Les métaphores de l’ordre symbolique se multiplient, se renforcent, se synchronisent, et résonnent à l’unisson.

Il semble même que quelle que soit l’intention d’un organisme, d’une association, son statut officiel l’assujetti aux règles de fonctionnement imposées, la rend dépendante des structures mères, des pratiques pré-établies. Implications et frais multiples associés au ‘bon fonctionnement’ (on ne va pas questionner l’absolu…) sont une fois de plus portées par l’artiste consommateur de biens et services, et plié au bon vouloir d’organisateurs ou autre point nodal du réseau de financement de la culture.

La question n’est pas, faut-il participer ? Car chacun devra décider de la validité de ses actions en considérant le contexte et en observant (ou pas) les bons conseils du père Foucault, par soucis d’efficacité. Ce qui me fascine ici est le phénomène de renforcement disharmonique, fruit des années perdues, de la fascination dans l’horreur qui a marqué les années 80 – années décisives dans la division des cellules sociales, des individus. Un renforcement du réel dans l’acceptance et la répétition de contrats de travail immobilisant l’élan artistique dans des actes déterminés, appauvris par l’effet Benjamin a l’ère de la reproduction mécanique de formules fixes.

J’invite donc le lecteur a une réflexion  sur les phénomènes bien connus, en musique comme en physique, de résonance (sympathique), d’entraînement, de renforcement, de feedback positif ou négatif, en relation au comportement, aux effets de notre participation a l’action des corporations, etc. C’est-à-dire de considérer chaque instance, chaque acte signifiant et formateur au sein de systèmes de champs vibratoires hiérarchisés. Trop souvent les pulsations les plus prononcées, les plus présentes l’emportent, entraînant les plus faibles vers une standardisation, une fixité dans la formulation, au détriment de la formation de savoir, d’expériences. Libérée de l’enclos chromatique, la recherche musicale peut-elle être libre ?

19 Jul 2010

Bibliographie:

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of the Mechanical Reproduction. 1935

Chanan, Michael. Repeated Takes: A Short History of Recording and its Effects on Music. Verso: London, 1995

Foucault, Michel. Les Mots et les Choses. Gallimard : Paris, 1966.

Foucault, Michel. What Is Enlightenment?.

http://foucault.info/documents/whatIsEnlightenment/foucault.whatIsEnlightenment.en.html

in:

Rabinow, Paul. The Foucault Reader. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984

the Repressive Hypothesis in:

Foucault, Michel. Histoire de la sexualité. Gallimard : Paris, 1994

Lacan, Jacques. Le stade du miroir. 1949

http://pagesperso-orange.fr/espace.freud/topos/psycha/psysem/miroir.htm

see also:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Lacan

Schafer, R. Murray. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and The tuning of the World. Destiny Books: Rochester, 1977

Moore, Wes. Television: Opiate of the Masses. http://old.disinfo.com/archive/pages/article/id1149/pg2/index.html

Beyond oil: the oil curse and solutions for an oil-free future.pdf (pp. 20-3)

http://www.platformlondon.org/

http://www.carbonweb.org/index.asp

Lee, Bruce. The Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Ohara Publications, 1975

Jung, CG. Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol.9, 1ère partie, 2nd ed., Princeton University Press, 1968

Freud, Sigmund. L’interprétation des rêves. PUF, Édition de 1900


[1] “[…] it did not set a barrier, it provided places for maximal saturation” Foucault, the Repressive Hypothesis.

[2] We must try to proceed with the analysis of ourselves as beings who are historically determined, to a certain extent, by the Enlightenment. Such an analysis implies a series of historical inquiries that are as precise as possible; and these inquiries will not be oriented retrospectively toward the “essential kernel of rationality” that can be found in the Enlightenment and that would have to be preserved in any event; they will be oriented toward the “contemporary limits of the necessary,” that is, toward what is not or is no longer indispensable for the constitution of ourselves as autonomous subjects. MICHEL FOUCAULT in What Is Enlightenment?

(http://foucault.info/documents/whatIsEnlightenment/foucault.whatIsEnlightenment.en.html)





Schizomorphic song

20 03 2011

 

 

she’s a dream, she’s a nightmare,

she’s a beam, in the night’s stare,

she’s the sun, the dark side of the moon,

she’s on the run, frustrating fleeting boon.

 

she’s the sea, and the hidden cave,

she’s the tree, the unspoken stave,

the stealthy wolf, by the blood river’s bank,

a never ending gulf, she’s an abysmal pang.

 

she stepped in my way, god got mixed in the strings,

stood me on stage one day, she was put in the wings,

to fly once again, retire to her land,

of milk, honey and pain, she’s alone as she’d planned.

 

she’s the brick, in my pane,

she’s the ice, and the cooling frame,

she’s a trick, she’s insane,

she’s a ghost, in my open grave,

she’s a lure, an eternal game,

a flying star, an escape in vain.

 

she’s Phaedra’s Isle, and Eden’s hair,

she’s Medusa’s smile, and the Siren’s stare,

she’s heavenly sent, and a call to Hell,

she’s my only repent, and my tolling bell.





Clio

20 03 2011

vast cleavage in a glorious landscape

the mount resounds

in renowned chants

like traces of time

she harps on stringent calls

stricken into motion

the chords of souls

relieved from the cave and

slowly up the slope

singing along from memory

with a tremor like

tetra lines

expanding corners

opening the shape

like tentacles

in sinusoid stand

reaching and arching

for unknown pleasures

in the acrid breeze

the voices repeat,

walk with acumen

to a sleep long forgotten.





Leda

20 03 2011

gritty smile rides a

high pitched kiss and

frenzied lips like

wavery hands

drapes the rack,

she hangs on low

to a box beat – to a heart

teased

her pinched phrases

are relative relationships

between absent boundaries

insistent instances

of scratched skins scattered in

scathed landscape

plastering holes in a wall of sound

the snow covers her

pulse

slowly reaching

bodies bound in

shape and form

the textured speech of a

binary torture

swirls

pearly shine

strident

confident

solitary soul

in a pout of blue