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Lab report December 9th 2008: when is a cliché a cliché

We rocked.

I think I did some pretty damn good playing on December 9th. Nothing life changing perhaps, but I think it was a reasonable contrast my contribution to October and November’s Labs. But here’s the question: how do I know when I’m getting a little too… complacent is the wrong word—comfortable?

Let me clarify this: I’m not talking about the fact that ‘sure you’re feeling sick?’ kicked-off with one of my standard gambits (a small interval flutter that I half stole from Parker and half stole from Ligeti). I know from following, say, George E Lewis’ playing over the years that where you start can be as trivial as you make it (as long, of course, as you end up somewhere interesting).

Anyway, how much of these musico-personal clichés are really a hindrance? Take, for example, the bowed-swell-slide that opens ‘has “it” happened?’. The slide goes up in pitch rather than down. I don’t know if I ever start one of those going down. Not really a problem though is it? certainly not one that I’m going to lose sleep over. I’ll take it as a quirk. Ornette, for example, always sounds like Ornette; I’m not going to fool myself into thinking that I have a transcendental musical personality.

Actually, there is one habit of mine that I will be happy to be rid of. That damp-string-yank-neck-swell whump can go (you can hear it at around the 3:44 mark on ‘i read many literary forms’). It’s a lazy (pointless in its current form) trick and I’m tired of hearing it.

I’m also not talking about ‘shaping’ or ‘form’. I think ‘it’s a miracle (like Moses)’, for example, has a very captivating, moment-by-moment geometry—a result of real-time (re)negotiations and (re)configurations.

Yet I’m reminded of Mats Gustafsson’s recent performance with The Thing. Why are all the phrases the same length? why are all the ideas of the same quanta?

Things I had to watch out for in the December Lab: for whatever reason, Bruce Coates and I shared the same rhythm. It would have been faaar too easy to enter and exit in (boring, homogenous) sync. For a large part of the first set (‘it’s a miracle…’ and ‘i read many literary forms’) I spent my time staying out of Sarah O’Halloran’s way, and trying not to overlap too much with Bruce. This was trickier than it might sound since I feel reasonably familiar with Bruce’s sound (not surprising considering that we’ve played together quite a bit over the last 12+ months, and I’ve had time to study his playing a bit).

Aside: from my vantage point, Sarah seemed to navigate (create?) her own space without difficulty. Wonder if it felt like that was the case from her side?

And that’s my issue with my playing at this month’s Lab: are my gestures the same size? are my ideas-per-minute constant? I think, on a good day, on the microscopic level, my playing exhibits (complex / interesting / infuriating / contradictory) variation, but I fear that, on a macroscopic level, it’s often (simple / boring / predictable / coherent) uniformity that rules the day. Am I getting too comfortable in this space?

…And am I right in guessing that this performance was a kind of last hurrah before the (Franziska-driven) change?

I don’t, however, want to end on that note: we played well—heck, some of the strongest Stet Lab moments happened this month—and I’m happily listening to these on my iPod. There’s a good rapport between Bruce and I; Neil O’Loghlen’s addition made certain surprising group dynamics available; and Sarah, as I said before, was funny as hell.

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  1. […] the results, well… I’ve wondered about this before, but I’ll ask again: am I getting too comfortable (complacent)? I want to give […]