Thursday, February 1, 2018

Collective Improvisation and Structure

Very interesting thoughts on the dynamics of large-scale collective improvisation, from an interview by Jon Abbey with Keith Rowe and Radu Malfatti:
Abbey: ...for me, we've almost gotten to a point ... where I almost feel like it's impossible, or close to impossible, to make a great collaborative improvised record anymore. ... Of course, there have always been solo records, there's always been composed music, there's always been collective improvised music, there will always be all of them. It's a question of which are more interesting and which are actually doing something, and to me the balance there has shifted in the last few years. And I guess what I wonder about with your perspective, because this is my perspective: do you really think it's possible that an area like free improvisation which theoretically at least has an incredibly wide range of possibilities, I mean it's not jazz, where there are defined boundaries. So despite this seeming openness, do you think nevertheless that we've come to the end or are coming to the end of that era?
Malfatti: Well, first of all, I don't think so. But maybe the definition is to be questioned, but again, that's why I really don't distinguish between composed music and improvised music, because you have very boring composed music, obviously, and you have compositions full of cliches of the cliche of the cliche of the cliche, and you have that in improvised music as well. The most interesting part for me today is what are the three most important aspects in music, but not only in music, in different areas as well, is the material and the structure and the form. ...
But what do I do? I have a big space, and I decide I want to build a house in it. And then there are many possibilities, I can build 273 rooms, so every room is just a square meter or something, I can decide I want 3 rooms, or even just 1. So the form from the outside is still the same, but the structure is what you are doing. But for me it is like I have a sound, a note or whatever, a sound, and how do I structure it in relationship to the other sounds. So in that case, with a full understanding, I wouldn't be afraid at all to do a collective improvisation with 20 people, if those 20 people have a similar, not the same, but a similar concept of structuring. Which means, in other words, there is no single way of thinking, there is no "let's fill this space", there is no "what else can I do?", but for the sake of the overall building and produce your sound and willing to listen to the other sounds for half an hour maybe. And I don't feel the need, that there is something missing and I take the opportunity to be listening to other sounds, and this for me is what is very interesting in composed music if it has the same aspect. One building with one or two big rooms, instead of all the little cells in prisons, maybe even locked doors. 
So for me this is the most interesting part, and therefore I don't see a very big difference between improvised music and composed music, because in composed music you can arrange the sounds in a specific way. In improvised music you can as well, but you really need all the other people with the same understanding, the same feeling. But that's nothing new, because that always has been like that, even in free jazz or Dixieland, you need the people to produce a certain thing. So as I said, I think the main topic, the main interest, is the space and the structure of how to place rooms or commas or sounds. For me, this is the most interesting bit today. 

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