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Lab report May 11th 2009: parking your idiom

Somewhere in Belfast, May 16, 2009

Snippets from a conversation between three musicians:

“Man, I should play more free jazz.”

“It’s not an idiom at all…”

“…a tradition? …a practice?”

“Just play all over the keyboard.”

“It is so much fun.”

“Why don’t I do this all the time?”

“There’s nothing better.”

“There really isn’t.”

“And it’s the simplest algorithm: play all the time, and keep out of each others’ way.”

“That’s right; that’s the algorithm.”

Stet Lab, Cork, May 11, 2009

Bruce Coates, Jonny Marks and myself:

‘is that it? (because I’m going crazy)’

this is getting familiar…

I’ve played with Bruce on and off for a few years now. After the first few not-exactly-problem-free performances (getting to know each other—Fizzle, Birmingham, November 7, 2006; interesting navigations—FrImp, Birmingham, November 1, 2007; competent but polite—Stet Lab, Cork, November 8; first crash and burn—Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork, November 9), we’ve found our vibe.

We have, all things considered, relatively quickly learned that we can’t easily break each other, and we can throw in the kitchen sink without (too much) fear—without worrying about whether we can handle the result.

…But the results, well… I’ve wondered about this before, but I’ll ask again: am I getting too comfortable (complacent)? I want to give that question a slightly different spin this time: if, as I’ve stated elsewhere, difference is both sustainable and necessary (or at least desirable) in group improvisation, then should the mode, or context, of expressing difference (a kind of on-stage political protocol) also be variable?

…Does that make any sense?

taking the back seat

With Jonny delivering so much of the drama (and comedy), I feel I can take a back seat—a position that I’m happy to occupy (to own). I can coax certain elements from back here—highlighting this, discouraging that—all the while safe in the knowledge that all ears are on the two standing in from of me. This reminds me (tactically, not musically) of my days in the rhythm section of the (truly mediocre) university big band….)

Since I heard, a few weeks prior to the gig, that Jonny was a throat singer, I’ve wondered how much of my playing would (should?) evoke a kind of compatibility… no, better, affinity. There is, for example, a quasi-jaw harp effect that I do (used to be a (near-)cliché with the Church of Sonology performances) that somewhat resembles (to my uncultured ears) certain forms of overtone singing. Fast forward towards the end of ‘is that it? (because I’m going crazy) part 1’ (about the 10:50 mark). I arrive at at this quasi-jaw harp effect, trying to tempt Jonny to do that thing. When I feel he has caught on, I gradually pull back, making the result a little more oblique.

That, incidentally, is a gross simplification: there was a lot more going on—hedging of bets, tactical anticipations and adaptations—but I want to tell a simpler story today.

I do this, not with any particular mission to interrupt, but because I want the listening experience to be rich and interesting. If you’re sharp, you’d have caught it, made connections, and patted yourself on the back for being a clever listener; if not, well, no biggie, hopefully there’s enough complexity to provide ear-candy and (unintended) connections.

Somewhere in Belfast, May 16, 2009

Snippets from a conversation between three teachers of improvised music:

“I don’t know why students feel the need to park their idiom at the door.”

“Who play ‘real’ music….”

“There’s this fantastic musician who’s a fantastic… they can do bossa, they can….”

“…they can play….”

“Yeah, they can actually play, but when it comes to improvised music, it’s all bloop-bleep….”

“What’s with that?”

Stet Lab, Cork, May 11, 2009

Bruce, Jonny, Paul Dowling, Owen Sutton and myself:

‘loosened up a whole bunch of stuff’

questions for loopers

Based on a conversation between Paul, Owen and myself after ‘loosened up a whole bunch of stuff’, here’s three questions for all you delay-heads and loopers out there:

Why is it that when many of you deploy these devices, the loops are in beautifully crafted, well defined simple meters? I’ve got no problem with simple meters, but many of these electronic devices will happily loop 79/16 or √2/2 until it is blue in the face (except, to make a Zappa-esque observation, it’d never get blue in the face).

Why do so many of you never abruptly stop (or mute) a loop? Surely that effect could be stark, unexpected and, potentially, dramatic.

Why are the majority of loops in the medium scale (in the region of one to six seconds)? Why don’t you loop in units of the very short, or, with modern devices, the very long?

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