Destinations Podcast: 08. An Introduction Into Free Improv

Free-improvised music has a bad reputation and it's quite justified, since more than half the people I've heard playing it are doing it badly. They think it's enough to apply the concept, to play freely and without any regard to the traditional forms of music, to stop thinking; just go with the flow and that's all there is to it. But this attitude is just a reaction against the tradition. It still keeps the tradition as a point of reference which it's rebelling against. There is little substance and very small doses of virtuosity and personal expression in all those hundreds of albums.

If done properly, free-improv is clearly one of the highest forms of art. You've got master musicians playing in intriguing combinations and attempting a sort of instant composition, they're trying to build, not to destroy. They're trying to assert the particularity of the present moment, to leave their subjectivity behind and to form a sort of telepathic bond among each other. The results are often amazing and it's clear they couldn?t find that kind of balance and interplay if they tried to pre-plan it. They couldn't have thought of that particular result. It's active force. Freedom exists in the field of the pre-personal, and not in the field of the individual or personal.

Words & mix by Bogdan Scoromide


"At its core, improvisation, as I practice it, means applying musical methods and thinking that have their origins in actual performance. Some ideas may only be hinted at in a concert yet they plant a mental seed that is then developed back at home, in the routine of private experimentation. The results can be fed back later, forming an ever-evolving loop of experience-experiment-consolidation-experience. I?ve found that many practical ideas have first appeared comparatively spontaneously, through trying to forget that I?m playing a saxophone and instead thinking ?what sound and contribution do I want to make at this point in the music.? All of this leads to the store of ideas and memories one draws upon, and anything that might prove workable in the longer term has usually accrued in small increments. Slowly, the pieces come together. Big ideas are of little value in improvisation.

A characteristic of much improvisation of the last four or five decades has been the utilization of ?new? sound. Musicians and composers in all realms usually have a passion for sound in the abstract, but improvisers have a special, and practical, recognition of how less common sounds lead to new concepts of performance (and visa versa). With conventional instruments the term extended technique is often used and it is one I particularly dislike. It seem to derive from the reducibility of the pen-on-paper composer?s world where an instrument plays fixed notes and, after referral to the published lists of possibilities, certain extra colors and articulations are then bolted on. Because they are rarely derived from the player?s own needs and personality they invariably end up sounding like the awkward appendages they are. One wouldn?t describe Jimi Hendrix?s use of feedback, Son House?s percussive attacks and bottleneck, or Albert Ayler?s over-blowing as extended techniques. They are all an intrinsic, inseparable part of the music and a completely necessary part of the artist?s sound."

*quotes from Freedom and Sound - This time it?s personal. An essay by John Butcher

**photo: Ship to Gaza, by Dror Feiler


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  • Sonny Sharrock - Like Voices Of Sleeping Birds
  • The Thing - Better Living
  • The Apophonics - London Melodies
  • Zeena Parkins - Vibratory
  • Okkyung Lee - Meolly Ganeun
  • Peter Evans & Nate Wooley - XLV
  • Thymolphthalein - Pim

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