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Lab report July 10th 2008: fitting the square piece into that triangular hole

It’s good, I think, to think tactically about improvisation, and group improvisation in particular. You know, however, that you’ve lost the game in improvisation when you’re preempting the music. You don’t want to be thinking this is how it should be, goddamnit, and I will fit that square piece into that triangular hole. Much more fruitful is to approach the problem almost like resource management: given our context, what can we do? given our current location, where can we go? given where we’ve been, how we’ve travelled, what exciting places could this route(s) lead us? This becomes a question of possibilities—what we can make of what we have (and who we are).

Okay, let me walk you though my misguided attempts at putting that square piece into that triangular hole on July 10th.

you have to answer them

Go to the recordings from July and have a listen to Tony O’Connor and my duet (entitled ‘you have to answer them’) that opened the Lab.

Duets are hard, and listening back now, I think Tony did some very fine playing on that.

On the other hand, I’m not at all impressed by the guitarist’s playing. Like I said, I still can’t shake that post-Campbell pseudo-bluegrass. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, so I figure I take that bluegrass line for a walk. Unlike June, however, this time the results sounded a little too forced (triangular block into circular hole). I’m still trying to figure out how much milage I have on this collection of disparate techniques (held together by their idiomatic associations), and, from my point of view, my playing never quite took-off in the July Lab.

At the time of performance, in fact, it was Tony’s contribution that was more interesting to listen to. At points, it felt like I was only providing filler material.

One thought that flashed through my mind during that duet:

This might be a good time to pause; have a change in texture / density / orchestration / social make-up; let Tony have a solo….

Good idea, huh? Except doublethink kicks in:

Uh-oh, wonder if Tony’d feel like he’s stuck out there by himself… Seconds thoughts, better not drop out right now.

I’ve talked to some of the Stet Lab (ir)regulars about this off-line, but sometimes I seem to be the one holding the group back in performance. Listening back to, for example ‘evening echo’, it’s the guitarist holding the group back. Marian Murray, Neil O’Loghlen and Veronica Tadman do not need me to make concessions. They know how to swim, and I don’t need to provide the floatation device.

And that’s my problem during my duet with Tony: an unjustified lack of trust in Tony’s abilities. I think I’m still stuck thinking that I’m performing in a classroom context, and not in the big bad world.

I really gotta unlearn that!

Now, when Eoin Callery joined in (on ‘let me have the funny hat’), that was a different story. Not exactly musically successful perhaps (but let’s not dwell on that), but at least I didn’t feel like there was a lack of trust. Wonder why…

exactly like next time

Mike Hurley’s solo (‘heard in my foot’) was fantastic. One of thing I caught in his solo was a kind of physicality—a corporeal logic—in its construction. However accurate this observation was, I (right or wrong) felt an affinity towards this mode of musical construction; an affinity that maybe bordered on familiarity.

So far, so good, but here’s where I make a mistake: I think

Hey, I could do that!

When, before you go up on stage, you imagine how compatible you might be with what is on-stage, you’ve doomed the possibilities. It’s like being a little too enthusiastic on your first date by, say, jumping straight to talk of marriage; the multitude of possibilities of what that relationship could be collapses.

It didn’t work out too badly (on the appropriately enough entitled ‘exactly like next time’), but my playing misses something. It misses, for example, the interplay between Eoin Callery’s and Mike’s pianos. It misses Tony and Neil’s busy bass frequency sounds that threaten to (but never quite) blow every other sound out of the room. Again, I was preempting the music.

The best thing I did was to bow out, and let the quartet finish the performance.

some random observations

The closest thus far that Stet Lab has got to a free jazz gig: ‘it’s gotta be worth something’ and ‘bass player have a light?’

Curating Stet Lab is an art, not a science…. No, better yet, curating Stet Lab is like organizing a faith exercise; like running a klugy, ill-thought-out cult meeting: now we breathe, er, now we go over here, um, light some candles, not we chant, and, er… oh, now we go back and sit in this little box…and, er, chant some more…. I’m still figuring out the ropes, folks, and this change to a more formal space of the Ó Riada Hall didn’t help none. I’m never quite sure how much hand-holding and stage direction we need or want (especially as I want to only put enough topdown direction as to make it run without hitch, but little enough so that the performers can initiate direction).

Marian starts-off both ‘it’s gotta be worth something’ and ‘they’re going to demolish the music department’, yet the two performances go very, very different directions. (Certainly Kevin Terry was not about to go into the free jazz realm.) Wonder how she felt about that? Her playing on ‘they’re going to demolish the music department’ was very different from her usual nonstop bursts of scratches and noise. A lovely, relaxed, chill’d (almost lounge-like) end to an exciting evening of music with Mr. Hurley.

Even taking into account Marian’s very valuable contributions, jeez, was this the most male Stet Lab (at least since January’s)? The last minute change of venue and earlier start time seems to have also played havoc with our testosterone levels.

one question

Was this too much music to absorb as an audience member? Melanie L. Marshall remarked that improvised music requires a lot of concentrated engagement from the audience, and that, as wonderful as the music was, without the bar breaks, it was perhaps a little too much information for the ears. What do you think?

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] with the tactics, strategies and lexicons I’ve deployed at Stet Lab. Minor criticisms here and there of course, but nothing that seemed to warrant a wholesale rethinking of what to play or how […]

  2. […] my reaction may have not been a million miles away from that ‘I can do that too’ reaction when Mike Hurley performed at the July ’08 Lab, but the effect was different. Perhaps […]