This text is a rather rough pasting from our correspondance. Please read it like you do with emails which contain the old correspondance: starting backwards and gradually moving up section by section!
----- Original Message -----
From: "Carl Bergstroem-Nielsen (DK)"
To: "hans fjellestad"
Sent: Friday, February 03, 2006 3:49 PM
Subject: Re: PS
> Dear Hans,
> thank you for continued good conversation !
> Well, our discussion seems to be grounding out in things we have common
> interest in.
> The idea about going to very small details of the improvised sound I'll
> forward to myself as a composer! I previously thought about that as
> belonging too much to the old written tradition, but now I see it can be
> done more selectively and, not least, differently.
Fra: "hans fjellestad"
Til: "Carl Bergstroem-Nielsen ((DK))"
Emne: Re: PS
Dato: 14. januar 2006 01:53
On Jan 12, 2006, at 8:24, Carl Bergstroem-Nielsen ((DK)) wrote:
> I'm keen to find such literature and build up our collection.
Then also keep your eye out for my friend George Lewis' upcoming book
about the AACM. It's likely to be finished and released later this
year, I think on University of Chicago Press.
and here are two non-music books that I've found quite useful in
developing new ideas relating to improvised forms, sometimes
"Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior" by Phil Jackson
"The Anarchist In The Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and
Control Is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System" by Siva
Now for more music talk...
Just to clarify, I certainly don't devalue the usefulness of a text
or "pieces". But in my own research, alternative notational systems
and other formal efforts to corral open or spontaneous forms haven't
yielded the most satisfying results. I suppose people like Bailey
(R.I.P.) and others might see those more traditional compositional
methodologies as vestiges of an auteur/hero mythology devised by the
West and imposed upon improvisative practices that are rooted in
diasporan Africa, which one could argue may be fundamentally
incompatible, or at least problematic. Perhaps in some ways, the
discourse is analogous to the "centralized systems" vs. "distributed
networks" binary and all the attendant contradictions; Handel's
"Messiah" vs. the African-American "Ring Shout"! Too dramatic?
Probably. In any event, I understand those arguments, but I prefer a
more inclusive approach and to look at these as various facets of the
same set of things. So I suppose I'm just saying that while I may be
twisting our conversation into areas that I tend to think more about,
that shouldn't necessarily be interpreted as a contrary position to
the approaches you propose.
Now, when I referred to Bordieu's concept of "habitus" in a previous
message, I was thinking about how that relates to graphic notation or
game piece instructions. When a player is presented with an abstract
notion (f.ex. a graphic image on paper) that is to be interpreted and
transformed into a musical statement, one must recognize that there
are limitless options for action that the individual player would
never hit upon, and therefore those options do not really exist as
possibilities. So, in reality, the output is quite limited. In
choosing a solution to the musical problem posed by a given
instruction, our player generally relies upon an established store of
knowledge, scripts and patterns, which present her with a very
specific picture of the world and how to behave within it. So that's
when I began to wonder how fruitful would it be to mine the context
as a method for discovering more of those options that wouldn't
normally surface in my improvising, and thereby enhance the richness
of my own musical vocabulary.
I'll try to describe some examples...
Take a simple duo setting. My partner sounds out three forceful notes
in her highest register. What are my choices? What is my intuitive
response? Can I answer instinctively then wait for the next call?
Can I augment my answer into seven notes, or a continuous loop of
triplets? Can I match or contrast the dramatic dynamic she proposed?
Can I begin laying down chords that turn her three notes into some
kind of introductory material, thus framing it as a conventional
accompaniment/solo space? Can I ignore her altogether? The possible
options are limitless. But which ones actually spring to mind? Which
ones feel the most natural or appropriate? And then I ask myself
"why"? If there is a score in front of me, does it have any answers?
I'm not so sure it does. It might have helpful, prearranged musical
solutions, and it certainly raises interesting questions about why
the "composer" made the choices that she made, but it doesn't
necessarily offer individual solutions to the performer that would
challenge her assumptions or preconceptions and break her out into
new undiscovered topographies. It is very difficult to spontaneously
invent actions outside of one's experience that might destabilize
conventional notions of personal, physical and institutional space.
But as a "public interventionist", that's exactly what I would aim to do.
So I decide to investigate the underlying context, the "meta-score",
and see if there's anything useful for me there. I ask what's
happening in this hypothetical duo moment and hit upon a prospective
"call-and-response" context. We know that this form came out of the
religious practice among African-American slaves in the pre-war
South. It can be parsed along four dimensions (code, function, mode,
and initiator) and modern examples are found in contemporary funk,
hip-hop, electronica and numerous other musical genres. It manifests
in myriad unexpected places. For example, it is also a pedagogical
device sometimes used to teach language. The teacher (initiator)
breaks a complex word into syllables that sound like a different,
more familiar word. (To teach the pronunciation of the word
"Paleontologist", the teacher begins with the call, "You owe Leon
money!", to which the student responds, "Pay Leon!", etc.). So this
helps me think of a new variant in my musical vocabulary, where I
invent a bit of future music and break it down into smaller, more
accessible parts that are sounded out and gradually transformed into
the more complex, unified target expression. This isn't a huge
revelation or anything, but it is one small example of how a bit of
insight into a socio-cultural context can produce a musical option
that may not have occurred to the performer otherwise. I'm certain
infinite other options could be discovered thru investigations into
gender politics; How might my gender-conditioning affect my
decision-making in this instance? Does it even play a role at all?
What are the feminine/masculine connotations encoded into the history
of the instruments being played? etc. Perhaps race, technology,
religiosity, quantum mechanics, chemistry, copyright law, geography,
psychoacoustics, cognitive science, and so on... all might reveal
other meaningful ways to think about musical expression.
Or not. But I find this area of research fascinating, and I get the sense
that this material is already present in our "meta-score" and I'm simply
trying to discover new ways of identifying and reading it.
I agree that in some cases, a text/score can produce similarly
creative results. I can imagine a composer instructing the performer
(s) to keep a specific musical statement in mind, but to introduce it
as if it is a terribly out-of-focus visual image that gradually
sharpens. Perhaps that could help the performer enhance their musical
lexicon in similarly useful and imaginative ways as the previous
call-and-response example; another means to a like end. But I do find
that the "meta-score" methodology I'm describing tends to result in a
portability that I find valuable. That is, one might more easily apply
these new solutions in a non-musical situation, like for example, cinema.
Since my art practice routinely involves multiple media and different
disciplines, I appreciate more portable, flexible information systems.
I should also mention that the way I've framed improvised musical
practice above, is by no means monolithic. Many of my fellow
improvisers analyze their process according to different criteria,
as do I depending on the circumstances. The idea that each specific
slice of time/space presents a list of possible options, and to
develop and acknowledge a greater number of options is to increase
the quality of your musical output, is but one approach. I can also
imagine the improvising ensemble as a complex region of interactions
with multiple sociological loci, where the movement and flow of
information defines a multi-centered public space. In this location,
social capital takes the form of musical statements and expressions,
of audience interactions, of acoustic phenomena within a physical
space, or of the corporeality of the performance itself and the
performer's individual/collective gestures... a complex corridor of
transactions and negotiations that flow (ideally) with athletic
mobility and convertibility of opposed distant situations. Instinct,
intuition and awareness may have more to do with the quality of
output than any analytical choice-making scheme. Or more likely a
combination of all of the above and much, much more.
I think that's all I have in me for the moment...
Med venlig hilsen,
> And to the composition discussion! You're very good at analyzing
> and making your points clear.
> It's hard not to agree very much about the great values of the
> indeterminate flow of improvised music - to use a very classic
> terminology in addition to your impressive list of good comparisons
> and references ;-) Clearly there is often a "meta-score" - but if
> meta-score and score were always fused and identic, it would make
> no sense to release CDs with improvised music. Some people, in
> fact, claim exactly this, but I disagree. They seem unable to
> explain why listening to them can be so exciting and inspiring to
> me sometimes ! (Also to explain why they sell so relatively well ;-)
> Now, as you point out, my article is "a study in mediated
> improvisation". So the big issue seems to be this: do we, in any
> way, creatively, aesthetically etc. need "pieces" in addition to
> free improvisation ? In that case, strategies dealing with the
> "inner world/logic" of the music sound itself acquire some
> relevance in their own right. If, on the contrary, we, like Derek
> Bailey, would like to do completely away with "pieces" (including
> all kinds of spoken arrangements), then strategies might, at most,
> refer to strictly individual ideas.
> We had a good discussion earlier in 2001 which I printed out... and
> there you stated that with your ensemble pieces you would like to
> create "a unique space where the performer can offer their own
> story into the mix and also open them up to the kind of things I
> want paid special attention within a very specific musical event".
> So I would think from this that you are also sometimes concerned
> with the properties of a certain "text" to which the context is
> dialectically adding its contribution and which has, consequently,
> also an inner logic that may be reflected on.
> Thinking about my pieces and context and "meta-score", there is an
> immense variation in the way one single piece is made. One piece
> called "Postcard-Music" from 1976 I have heard for choir, for
> classical, jazz, rock ensembles - on tour with many different
> gymnasium classes ... a fantastic variety, yet it remains itself. I
> think this could be interesting to audiences also.
> More points about the value of "pieces" are that
> - they permit great variety in concert programmes while free
> often differ in very subtle and organic-complex ways
> - they convey insights and ideas I feel happy to be able to re-
> trace and
> experience. There's even an unbroken chain way back in history.
> So, don't you have some own ideas about principles of creating the
> "unique space" which is a "very specific musical event" being only
> relatively dependent on context?
> very best,
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "hans fjellestad"
> To: "Carl Bergstroem-Nielsen ((DK))"
> Sent: Monday, January 09, 2006 10:09 PM
> Subject: Re: PS
>> hi carl, below are some links to things that might be of interest to
>> you, and also some comments inspired by your article... og godt
>> nyt aar!
>> * Japan Tour Report
>> * I found some interesting philosophical insights that fold into
>> musical practice and theory in two books by Gilles Deleuze:
>> Cinema 1: Movement-Image & Cinema 2: The Time-Image
>> * My new cd was just released: Kobe Live House
>> * David Borgo's book just came out...
>> Sync or Swarm: Improvising Music In A Complex Age
>> RE: SHARPENING THE PROCESS. ON MUSICAL COMPOSITION - INTERACTION,
>> COMMUNICATION, METHODS (2003)
>> Your article seems to place an emphasis on strategic devices, and the
>> mind(s) of the musician(s) as well as the interior world/logic of the
>> sound image itself. I think this can be a useful point of departure,
>> particularly as a study in mediated improvisation, that is, learning
>> how to interpret external, abstract criteria (f.ex. imagining a
>> geometric center in a sound) and translating such things into
>> meaningful musical expression. This approach might also focus
>> attention on the consequences of one's musical actions (or non-
>> actions). I think this is important in the study of improvisation
>> generally. Regardless the context, the individual must learn to take
>> responsibility for what s/he contributes to the space.
>> But, to appropriate Sartre, "every image is surrounded by an
>> atmosphere of world." Every expression (in this case musical) is
>> perhaps situated within a cultural context that determines a certain
>> range of possible options and ascribes meaning to those choices. I
>> suppose here I subscribe to Eddie Prevost's notion that "no sound is
>> innocent." Or Pierre Bourdieu's concept of "habitus", which
>> understands both the limitlessness of potential choices and the lack
>> of possibilities in reality; the push and pull of capital within a
>> complex social system. In other words, upon entry there is already a
>> kind of musical score in place, a "meta-score", which is like a
>> constantly evolving map incarnated at a specific time/space. Or maybe
>> it's something like the musical equivalent of Heisenberg's
>> "uncertainty principle" in the sense that it is impossible to
>> precisely define the position or momentum of any single element in
>> our meta-score at the same time, so that our musical trajectory is
>> more precisely defined in hindsight and according to the observer's
>> point of reference. And the idea that this "score" cannot be fixed is
>> quite attractive to me.
>> My musical practice tends to revolve around analyzing and
>> experiencing this meta-score, and I find that this is really only
>> successful in a public setting. Like you, I have become less
>> interested in the traditional role of composer/performer, so maybe I
>> would prefer to cast myself as a kind of "public interventionist"
>> attempting to construct an emergent temporal space; to create a
>> temporary circuit, and produce a creative tension that gives an event
>> momentary life and uncovers unexpected narratives. Improvisation is
>> the methodology. In your article you seem to describe a flow of
>> information comprised of three primary nodes: Score/Text, Musician/
>> Ensemble, Output/Product. But there isn't any discussion about
>> environment, audience, space, context. Clearly this simply wasn't
>> what you chose to look at in this particular article, but for me the
>> public space is essential, so it's difficult to leave it out of the
>> conversation. Ultimately, music is about building community and
>> sharing narratives. Improvising can be an effective method for
>> discovering these meaningful narratives. And for better or worse,
>> that's the area I tend to gravitate toward in these kinds of
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