Thursday, January 22, 2015

Solo Gig VI What is musical free improvisation


Improvisation in music traditionally involver elements which are not improvised; characteristic forms and tonalities, rhythms and harmonies, idioms and genres to be played within or in relation to.

Limited forms of improvising are standard in many Western and Eastern classical musics, and in jazz, rock, blues, songs of all sorts; in any music which hold expectations of some particular yet extemporizable content.

By contrast, free music improvisation means playing spontaneously-derived music with no pre-determined content whatsoever, with the intent to liberate musical context from being any given "type of music," and even from any model of what music is supposed to sound like.

This process opens up tremendous possibilities for sonic languages and structures, replacing the role of pre-existent form with a highly malleable type or "real-time" structural organization

Shape-shifting deal. In practice: drop the "to" from "improvising to..."

All this constitutes an apparent break with musical composition; a dismissal of the need to pre-organize musical content (composition), combined with a drastically widened comprehension of sound in a musical sense.

However, though free improvisation is 'freed' of any need to be composed, it nevertheless has a governing intent and methodology, and thus ironically is still a type of composition. "Instant composition"; this is why free improvisation is actually classical music.

It also resembles some sort of massively eccentric folk music, being highly adaptable to even the most ad hoc of unrehearsed situations. In any event, s a mean of making music, free improvisations tends toward musical forms thar are far too changeable to categorize by sound.

This is to say that improvisation is a goldmine of kinetic irony. It can also be a spiritual thing.

All illustrations from Henry Michaux

Dave Williams


Based in a noted musician's decades of personal experiences, his book Solo Gig: Essential Curiosities in Musical Free Improvisation (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011) examines some crucial and far-reaching aspects of musical free improvisation, with particular regard to live performances. In this illustrated collection of narrative essays, the author looks both into and from inside this uniquely paradoxical, challenging and rewarding way of making music, within the context of an inherently eccentric milieu. 
Available here. (U.S.A.) (Europe)