sounding out scotland – north west coast 2017

19 10 2017

 

 

A visit to Scotland was long due. And this is my favourite area. The trip took us from north west coast sea lines through wild moors and lochs to the very northern point. This post however will focus on a specific section of the western coastline, following the path of the steam train – the jacobites.

The first stop was in Arisaig. A large church towering above the town with a view – tucked between green suburbs and a road out to the sea front.
The very high ceiling and wide open space inside the church made a strong impression and it was like stepping out into space. The slow sound inside was indeed very stilling. A single bell marks a warm welcome and the improvisation flows.
When giving tracks titles, one in particular reminded me of an experience i had nearby meditating on the rocks overlooking the sea. so i chose an image i took that day of a view over to Skye with the sun setting over the calm water.

In the harbour town of Mallaig, i found a shelter from the day for a short exploration of this small church on the edge of town. It was like stepping into the 70’s. Both amusing and welcoming, i felt at home in the cosy carpeted warmth. And nudged into motion by the nearby steam train parked at the station and some building works, i let the saxophone sound out this clear close space.

The next stop was the church at Morar. The place looked cosy, but the vibe of the place was not quite right and the space was not responding. I played for a while but could not get into it, and the sax felt raw. So i did not stay for meditation and instead moved on to a more welcoming location.

For contrast, i returned to Arisaig and bathed in that grand space. After a sweet meditation, i revisited the acoustics. A different day, a different light and still the wonderful immersive stillness was very inspiring.

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first bell
alto saxophone, 22 august 2017
arisaig church

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forest of peaks
alto saxophone, 22 august 2017
arisaig church

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silent silver sea
alto saxophone, 22 august 2017
arisaig church

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open skies
alto saxophone, 22 august 2017
arisaig church

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a gentle descent
alto saxophone, 22 august 2017
arisaig church

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interlude
2.1 hochiku shakuhachi, 22 august 2017
arisaig church

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steamline
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
mallaig church

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white orbs and billows
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
mallaig church

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contrary measures
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
morar church

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counter currents
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
morar church

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slow rise
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
arisaig church

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a raft in the other shore
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
arisaig church

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mixed feelings
alto saxophone, 23 august 2017
arisaig church

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sounding out north yorkshire moors

30 06 2017

 

The first stop for this trip was Lastingham. A beautiful village with a splendid church, opening onto the North Yorkshire moors.

The exploration of this church started with the usual meditation: A timely break from the summer heat, enjoying the fresh and quiet space. The meditation was both gentle and strong. Constructive.

From the first notes, the space reveals its understated richness. the dome and arches gently roll the sound into a perfect resonating sustain. never overwhelming, always enriching each phrase, inspiring pastoral calm and devotional entrain with a certain degree of adventurous reverence. ’tis just poetry for the jazzer’s ears.

Lost in sound and in rapture of the moment, i spend over an hour improvising along the accidental local birds, the punctuation of quarterly bells and the whispers of stones who have lived long.

 

After some time along the coast, drawing inspiration from the tides and the sea breeze, the journey continues onto another location i had visited a long time ago. Here also, it is this first time i connect to this place with the alto saxophone, and the latest addition to my panoply of instruments, some home made shakuhachi.

Lady Chapel is in a wonderful remote location overlooking the valley. Tucked in the trees and greenery, it is an intensely quiet place. Always open and welcoming, the remoteness of the place, it’s short reverb time, seem to inspire more intense playing. Something like the spirit of gospel, in the tradition of John Coltrane’s stream, a breathless flow of spirited harmony.

What i mean is that with no less reverence to the place, here i feel i can experiment more and move away from a traditional harmonic approach. A perfect opportunity to try out structural playing. Merging symmetrical harmonic shapes which flow into a self-generating narrative, always moving, always morphing.

For the last few minutes, i enjoy another moment of suspended quiet. An opportunity to try out some shakuhachi i made, gradually tweaking and tuning the bamboo until i find the right balance. I seem to be close now, although the instruments respond differently outdoors than at home.

Here, the 2.85 feels a little rough, and some of the notes catch a little. However, both the latter and the smaller 2.1 are sounding pretty good. And some phrases, listening back to the recordings, sound like the real thing. On one track, i even venture some multiphonics and high overtones – which are quite difficult to hold on the shakuhachi. Little by little, and every time i record something, i feel i made a little progress. It is difficult to put the saxophone down at times, but with more practice and more dedication on carrying the shaks, i probably could come up with some interesting exploration of natural acoustics in the near future.

In the meantime, you will find below tracks recorded in the two places described above. I hope you enjoy listening to those documents, as much as i enjoyed listening to the stories of the places i visit.

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topography of moor lands
alto saxophone, 17 june 2017
lastingham church

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dome and arches
alto saxophone, 17 june 2017
lastingham church

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summer sun on the moors
alto saxophone, 17 june 2017
lastingham church

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refuge in the coolness of the crypt
alto saxophone, 17 june 2017
lastingham church

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stellar scalene
alto saxophone, 19 june 2017
lastingham church

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acute pastoralis
alto saxophone, 19 june 2017
lastingham church

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coastal path
2.85 shakuhachi, 19 june 2017
lastingham church

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coming tide
2.85 shakuhachi, 19 june 2017
lastingham church

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returning
2.1 shakuhachi, 19 june 2017
lastingham church

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Sounding Out returns to the wintry North

26 02 2017

Traveling to a short retreat in a secluded and wild area in the North of England, i stopped at a wonderful site i had visited before. Christ the Consoler church in Newby is quite a unique space of impressive presence. The architecture is both grand and intimate as it is a commissioned church on private grounds.

The acoustics are similarly subtle and elevating at the same time. The feel of the place and its sonic quality provide a very interesting balance to my playing. The space requires the usual reverence inspired by the religious sites i have explored, and yet, its private, quiet and somehow isolated quality provides a sense of freedom and adventurous exploration.

So on that day, my playing was similarly balanced between the soulful melodic approach that sacred architecture often inspire, but also featured contemporary angular aspects of my recent research which has started to come through in a more marked way. In a recent article, i have presented a series of simple composition ideas that act like a springboard for my explorations in symmetry. I am now starting to witness how this latter approach is blending with a melodic sensitivity.

This is good progress, and hope to see the technique develop into a smoother method for improvising narratives, free from predictable harmonic movements. At least, this is the aim, and i do play in this freeflow way most of the time. But right now, my fingers are particularly focused on trying things out. I just can’t wait for the time the exercises have sunk in (and the new approach to harmony is finally memorised – which takes a looooong time), and i finally can step away from the practice into a proper freedom of narrative development.

 

This is really exciting for me as i am developing a sound i like, with a coherent method, achieving freedom of creativity, all without falling into the pit of predictability, the usual jazz clichés and patterns, or going through the motions of playing changes, as is often heard. So the aim remains the quite lofty method of freely developing coherent melodic and harmonic narratives in improvisation.

And my experience of Newby Church was inspiring enough to trigger this modality of playing. The space was allowing for both contemplative moments and free flowing sections. The reverb was rich yet subtle, grand yet intimate, and in the flux of sound that traveled the spiritual space, i could place both fast and slow, single pointed melody and harmonic play, abstract and structured approaches. A well balanced session, and a very liberating experience.

So it was only fitting to once again return to the use of water footage i have filmed recently and use the metaphorical association of waves which when combined create complex forms. Obviously, this applies to both sound and water; and the video acts as a metaphor as it puts both together in a random way, forcing the mind to make associations. And of course, synchronous movements inevitably happen.

At times, the video montage looks like sound and inspiration are crashing and flowing across the space, through me and my instrument. This exactly how such experiences feel to me. So the juxtaposition of the video clips live in the performance space with water abstraction works perfectly.

 

By now, and having read the previous presentation, the theme that runs through the titles of this triptych will become quite clear a reference to Foucault’s most inspiring work “Les Mots et les Choses” (transl as the Order of Things), with the added layer of meaning taken from the buddhist understanding that forms are empty and therefore highlighting the irony of obsessive taxonomy of empty forms, projected meaning of the modern technological world. Indeed, attachment to forms lead to suffering or rather unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) in the understanding that there is chaos inherent in all compounded things. This association hints for me at the cultural drift towards decorporated abstract thought, symbolism and the virtual, and the dissociation from the experience of reality which starts with Language and a propensity for projection.

Now that i have thrown together Foucault, Saussure, Walter Benjamin, Lacan and Freud all into the same bagful of buddhist teachings, just in the space of one paragraph, let us get literal and on a lighter note. Presenting the light filled Church of Christ the Consoler and musical notes and sounds that it inspired…

 

 

 

 

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as usual you can hear the full audio:

the order of things
alto saxophone, 04 feb 2017
newby church, christ the consoler

 

 

 

 

 

contemplating circles
alto saxophone, 04 feb 2017
newby church, christ the consoler

 

 

 

 

 





sounding out in the south of france 2016 ctd

18 06 2016

Auvillar1bAuvillar2bCieutat1bCieutat2bGedresbLuz1bLuz2bStMartory1bStMartory2b

 

During the second half of my stay in France, visits to locations were a little more leisurely and i took the opportunity to revisit other know locations.

The town of Auvillar towers over the Garonne river, located on the travel route to Compostelle, it features an old covered market square built with measures for grain and cereals – some of which are now rare.
It is a busy place with tourism and local trade, and similarly, the church is buzzing with bursts of activity. In between visitors and prayers, i managed to squeeze a little empty space with melodic overtones…

While travelling across the pyrenees, a few places punctuated the journey. in Barèges, spa town situated high up in the mountains, a powerful torrent crosses the town. After an energising meditation by the water, i stopped in the small local chapel to keep my practice fingers running along. And of course, inspired by the gentle yet powerful vibe, i recorded a couple of pieces.

In luz, it was a pleasure to revisit the 12th century building of the fortified Templar church. The solid outside wall are drenched in sun and exposed to wild elements while the inside, in contrast, is dark and completely still. This displacement mirrored a space i could feel between the force and gentleness of the natural elements, so present and powerful in the area.

My head still in the rushing waters of torrents and high mountain glaciers after a day walk. i stopped for meditation in a small town, on the road returning from gavarnie. for once, i did not have my saxophone with me and decided to put to use a brand new shakuhachi i had just finished making. Its frail and gentle sound filled the grand space of the church and suddenly echoed the force i’d felt while watching the creation of a new waterfall from snow melting.

The last day in the mountain area, i had to make a couple of stops, just to review an amazing church i remembered from my previous trip. In the small passage town of Cieutat, the church was still just as overwhelming, but the more active feel of that particular morning removed some of the mystical quality. These last two visits were punctuated with flower duty, water changes and general church bustle. As i settled into the feel of the place, i caught myself playing similar chord structures and colours to what i had played during my last visit there. Was this harmonic movement really in the stone? Part of this place… For a second, i had a weird flashback, and yet made no effort to repeat the material from memory. And of course the improvisation took me somewhere else, but i could sense that that same colour / feel / tone was in the music, only slightly different – like a person you know well and meet again further down the line of their personal history.

Rushing down the mountains and on the road back to civilisation, on the way to my next gig, another quick stop took me to St Martory church… The flower duty and water changing provided background and clear marks where the atmosphere was saturated with the underlying sound of the nearby river. At first, the drone of passing water merged with traffic entrained me to play long overtones and focus on the interplay between harmonics contained within the breath sound. Soon, a pulse developed, water rippled, melody splashed. gesture. movement and form.

 

 

 

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le repos des plaines
alto saxophone, 02 june 2016
église de st sardos

 

 

 

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jours de lente
alto saxophone, 02 june 2016
église de st sardos

 

 

 

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roads and waterways
alto saxophone, 27 may 2016
église de st martory

 

 

 

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new flowers
alto saxophone, 27 may 2016
église de st martory

 

 

 

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the journey of water
alto saxophone, 27 may 2016
église de cieutat

 

 

 

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crest lines
alto saxophone, 27 may 2016
église de cieutat

 

 

 

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ripples from falling pebbles
2.1 shakuhachi, 26 may 2016
église de gèdres

 

 

 

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contrepoint de rivière et vent
alto saxophone, 25 may 2016
église de luz

 

 

 

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courte descente libre
alto saxophone, 25 may 2016
église de luz

 

 

 

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road squiggles
alto saxophone, 24 may 2016
église de barèges

 

 

 

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torrent under a low sky
alto saxophone, 24 may 2016
église de barèges

 

 

 

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sarrasin champart
alto saxophone, 17 may 2016
église de auvillar

 

 

 

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millet avoine
alto saxophone, 17 may 2016
église de auvillar

 

 

 

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sounding out in the south of france 2016

14 06 2016

PBuff1bPBuff2bStSardos11bStSardos12bStSardos13bStSardos14bVerdun11bVerdun12bVerdun13b

This year, my trip to France has been much focused around a series of concerts with my friend Henry Herteman. And i will share many documents of these in a future post.

Sounding out is of course always active as i have my saxophone everywhere i go, and if not, some new shakuhachi is near at hand. So any opportunity, or rather, any possible place i encounter is always a pleasure.

But this time, only a few choice cuts are on the menu. i have instead concentrated my efforts on old favourite locations and a few surprise finds. Each recording is also shorter and more focused.

In this post i present the first half of my explorations while at the beginning of my journey. and it begins very early on, after driving through the night, and a coffee break after dawn, i found myself walking around the picturesque town of Pierre Buffière and discovered the church was open. So not quite into the first leg of my trip, and still in transit, i decided to make a morning call and enter the dark resonant space that offered a cool haven and a change of pace.

A sense of movement is still in me, slowly tuning in to the stillness of the place. A clash between the bright day starting outside and the dark interior. Feeling tired and displaced. My mind wanders and continues its journey into imaginary landscapes. Traveling light and swift.

Soon after settling down into my new home, i visited the local church that remains a favourite with its vast sound. St Sardos is a quiet village with outsized church design. Its magnificent reverb is inspiring and lifting while calming and instilling silence. A strange combination that seems to bring out of me the most gentle melodies and adventurous harmonic work made possible by the very long tail.
As soon as i started making a sound, i slipped into a timeless zone. all is suspended.

And finally, the third location i present today is the deep blue interior of Verdun sur Garonne. This place is so very poignant, it always had a deep effect on me.
The strange feeling of a known place. But a different one that has traces of memory so fine it escapes the touch.
There is no other way to describe this session, but with a quote: it is the time my saxophone gently weeps.

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paysage connu
alto saxophone, 06 may 2016
église st michel, verdun sur garonne

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mémoire augmentée
alto saxophone, 06 may 2016
église st michel, verdun sur garonne

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des phi au point de faille
alto saxophone, 06 may 2016
église st michel, verdun sur garonne

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cascade de blues
alto saxophone, 06 may 2016
église st michel, verdun sur garonne

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l’oubli
alto saxophone, 06 may 2016
église st michel, verdun sur garonne

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first shade
alto saxophone, 05 may 2016
église de st sardos

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painting in relief
alto saxophone, 05 may 2016
église de st sardos

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the convent
alto saxophone, 05 may 2016
église de st sardos

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if i knew
alto saxophone, 05 may 2016
église de st sardos

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raining red
alto saxophone, 05 may 2016
église de st sardos

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silent flower
alto saxophone, 05 may 2016
église de st sardos

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by night and by day
alto saxophone, 04 may 2016
église de ste croix, pierre buffière

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by vales and hills
alto saxophone, 04 may 2016
église de ste croix, pierre buffière

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sounding out in the south of france

2 11 2015

StSardos2bMazerescampan

summer 2015. i retrace my steps from a previous visit in the region, finding new venues to accommodate meditation and music. here are documents that follow new explorations of architecture and sacred sites, sounding out wonderful spaces of magnificent splendour and spirit. i feel once again that the path has led me through increasingly deep experiences and i hope that you will enjoy this new page. indeed this set of recent recordings show that the music keeps on growing and so is my experience of deep listening. getting closer to the underlying concept of this whole project, i keep learning and discovering, finding new understanding of what is happening in the space between improvisation, sound vibrations and our harmonic relationship with the environment. and the more i find it difficult to discriminate between art and life.

needless to say, each and every one of these experiences is very special to me. and much is due to the amazing and inspiring locations i visit.
i really hope that these audio documents will carry an impression of this for your enjoyment.

StGironslagrasseVerdun

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lapis sky
alto saxophone, 07 august 2015
église st michel, verdun sur garonne

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nocturne
alto saxophone, 07 august 2015
église st michel, verdun sur garonne

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mouvement céleste
alto saxophone, 07 august 2015
église st michel, verdun sur garonne

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prayer for silence
alto saxophone, 01 august 2015
église st michel, lagrasse

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prayer for the sun
alto saxophone, 01 august 2015
église st michel, lagrasse

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prayer for icecream
alto saxophone, 01 august 2015
église st michel, lagrasse

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marking time
alto saxophone, 28 july 2015
église st giron

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le passage
alto saxophone, 28 july 2015
église st giron

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abbatiale 1
alto saxophone, 27 july 2015
abbaye cistercienne de l’escaladieu

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abbatiale 2
alto saxophone, 27 july 2015
abbaye cistercienne de l’escaladieu

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abbatiale 3
alto saxophone, 27 july 2015
abbaye cistercienne de l’escaladieu

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habitat des moines 1 grand salon
alto saxophone, 27 july 2015
abbaye cistercienne de l’escaladieu

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habitat des moines 1 paysages
alto saxophone, 27 july 2015
abbaye cistercienne de l’escaladieu

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rapture
alto saxophone, 27 july 2015
église de cieutat

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third passage
alto saxophone, 26 july 2015
abbatiale de st savin

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the rock
alto saxophone, 26 july 2015
abbatiale de st savin

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waterfall in blue light
alto saxophone, 26 july 2015
abbatiale de st savin

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empty streets
alto saxophone, 25 july 2015
église de campan

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dummy town
alto saxophone, 25 july 2015
église de campan

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silent crossing
alto saxophone, 25 july 2015
église de campan

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retour en arrière
alto saxophone, 21 july 2015
église de mazères

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saline flotation
alto saxophone, 21 july 2015
église de mazères

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medieval meanderings
alto saxophone, 20 july 2015
église de rieux sur volvestre

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filmic gestures
alto saxophone, 16 july 2015
église de montbeton

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the space between
alto saxophone, 16 july 2015
église de montbeton

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it is said
alto saxophone, 16 july 2015
église de montbeton

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pastoral departure
alto saxophone, 09 july 2015
église de st sardos

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mountain road
alto saxophone, 09 july 2015
église de st sardos

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the wild
alto saxophone, 09 july 2015
église de st sardos

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mer de nuages
alto saxophone, 09 july 2015
église de st sardos

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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