Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Scripted Improvisation

I am inquiring on improvisation- particularly as an instrumentalist musician, but hopefully this inquiry will be an adaptable discussion to all art forms. The definition of improvisation is obscurely stated as created without preparation. It seems in music there is a myriad of preparation to improvising, from learning chord changes and structure, to the years of mastering an instrument’s control. Craft and structure prep aside, I want to address the contradiction to this definition, which is at the core of the collectively accepted concept of musical improvisation. Preparing “licks” and phrases, and piecing them together in a premeditated way to create the narrative. I have difficulty resonating with the telos and concept of these solos that are collectively praised.  I call it the “The Circus Act!” The concept is a visual/aural super human ability that strings together pieces to woo an audience or listener. I accept this approach as a form of improvisation surely (a kind of “paint by numbers solo” whose painter’s skill to draw inside the lines are impeccable). But to me improvisational intent and concept should be based on a narrative with a risk and an unknown outcome. In other words instead of thinking in a pseudo-panoramic view as I usually tend to do, I think in terms of “I don’t know where this is going, but I trust a narrative will organically take place.” The risk involved in an improvised piece is paramount to authenticity. Can you discipline your mind during improv to be only as far forward as the concept you are creating at that moment, thus allowing a deeper connection to that concept which then organically directs you on to the next segment of the story. I think selflessness plays a huge role here. I can feel those Type-A musicians fear, not getting the “game winning lick” in. The sort of “Look what I can do!” part of the story- if not the whole story. The intent and telos should always maintain music as the only objective. Simply ask yourself “why is what I played musical?” And see if you can respond objectively to that question as opposed to narcissistically. Is what I played an expression of a crammed agenda, or an organic risked filled narrative? The narrative is what connects us to the human experience. Listening to an improvised solo I resonate deeply to a storied journey with a performer rather than a crowd cheering woo fest. It seems demeaning to take the transcendence of human expression in live performance and reduce it to a “circus act.” I much rather be awed by connection than awed by self-absorbed impressions.


Can we affect our lives by improvisational virtue? Can we stay in the moment, let it lead you, take risks, and let go of the outcome? When I do I am much more connected to my experience and others. I am free. It is my narrative. It is my practice.

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