January 30, 2018
Improvised music is about failure. There is no reason to engage in the act of improvisation if you know what you are going to do and what is going to happen. Therefore, if you do not know what you are going to do nor what is going to happen, you better have made peace with the possibility that things will not go as you would like, that peace is an inherent acceptance of failure, and over the course of a performance or a career, greater or lesser degrees of failure permeate all good work. Improvising depends on failure.
The difference between good and bad improvised music hinges on the amount of failure a musician or ensemble is willing to take on. Some bands have calcified identities as improvisers: free jazzers, minimalists, dronos, noiseys, whatever. I’m not interested in those musicians because they’re not actually improvising - they’re just recreating a style of music using a pre-established alphabet of sounds. Their genre has set a perimeter for the amount of choice they have, and the result of their music is simply one of permutation within that perimeter. I contend, that can’t fail at all: the pre-existence of their genre and the decision to stay within it pre-empts the possibility.