I met up with Heather today, who runs a music group for visual studies at the art college. We got chatting about improvisation. It was interesting how many parallels there are between improvising jazz and improvising tango dance:
Firstly In the way it is learnt: you have to narrow down the scope to just a couple of notes to play, or a couple of steps to make in order to get started. Too much freedom is paralysing and is met with fear, terror sometimes if the person is not used to thinking in this way.
The next step is repetition. A phrase of music or of movement is repeated to set up a rhythm or just as a framework to build from.
Then comes breaking out of the repetition, this requires us to take a risk. A foray into the unknown, with each note or step occurring spontaneously, judgment of whether the sequence was successful or not comes after but not during.
Heather is interested in the nature of improvisation as a life skill, and an education tool. Given that many of the skills you need to improvise; the spontaneous action, repetition for comfort, occasional risk taking by pushing oneself, are skills needed in life, she argues it would be beneficial to encourage improvisation from a young age. She talked about changing the way music is taught to encourage and nurture the freedom she witnessed in her 2 year old niece, who was happy to play notes without worrying about the outcome and how it would be received. For some reason, possibly the way we are educated, we tend to lose this freedom to express ourselves freely as we mature. Our focus shifts from process to outcome and we produce finished pieces of work.
The similarities in the way one learns to improvise were interesting, but even more fascinating was the similarity in our descriptions of why we like to improvise, what rewards us and keeps us going back to it as a means to find this reward. We both agreed that improvisation solo could put us into a pleasurable state of mind and we could feel quite swept away in it, but an interesting discovery was that improvising with a partner or group is when we have had the most powerful experiences.
On particular occasions we have both felt, Heather through improvised music with another person and I through improvised dance with a partner, something we described in remarkably similar ways. A sense of extreme intimacy, that we ‘got’ each other. As if only in this state was our deepest truest self simultaneously revealed and understood.
I got home and started surfing the net, as I do, and came across these pages, all to do with improvisation and collaboration. some to do with flow, which I guess is what I’ve been talking about. There has been much talk about flow, but I have only heard it described as something possible to achieve when engaging in an activity one is very skilled in alone, I’m interested to find out more about this particular flow that you feel when you are working collaboratively in the same activity.
http://www.nancystarksmith.com/start.htm – Nancy Stark Smith apparently wrote extensively on flow in dance, I haven’t found any papers yet but I will keep looking.
http://proximity.slightly.net/ a magazine devoted to new dance/movement and improvisation practice.
http://www.dancebase.co.uk/pro-news/opportunities/mary-prestidge-contact-improvisation.html – Mary Prestidge: attending to the moment and keeping open and responsive to the signals within and outside of the body. Moving in contact with another person offers many options in terms of direction, and speed, resting and listening. It allows for the interplay of different energetic states creating unique partnerships and conversations.
Starting to look at improvisation Jazz theory: http://www.petethomas.co.uk/jazz-theory-beginners.html