Improvisation in music means using sounds in a process that involves a simultaneous creation(inventio), production (dispositio), and performance (delivery). Many classical players fear improvisation. Some might even have an attitude of disregard towards it. It is natural, since classical players are rarely presented with opportunities to learn to improvise. And even if they do, the context in which is presented has strict harmonic borders that keep the musician limited by presets of rules.
Sometimes, improvisation takes place within some kind of given constraints or frames related to some established tradition (e.g., jazz, heavy metal, baroque music or flamenco). Other times, the improvising does not take place within some specific tradition, but it is still limited by certain rules that have been laid out in advance, such as directions from a composer or director. The improvisation I am interested in is the one in which even the rule of “do not have rules” doesn’t exist. Having said that, I have to make clear that I do not have the intention of creating a chaotic musical extemporization but rather to have the freedom not only in choosing the notes, speed, dynamics, densities, etc, but also in shaping form and meaning. This off course is subjected to proficiency and evolution, the more you do it, the better it becomes.
Improvisation is a known practice for those who specialize in the interpretation of the music of the baroque period. Its practice comes in the form of ornaments, diminutions and with the practice of the basso continuo. I dedicated hours of practice to making ornaments. I saw some people writing their ornaments in the score, or memorizing them and repeating every time the same one. I didn’t want to do the same because I thought it was against its spontaneous nature. I decided to practice a variety of ornaments for the same musical passage, as I had seen in a method of the Italian composer and violinist Arcangello Corelli. The objective was to prepare myself to build a sort of bank of possibilities so that when the impulse to put an ornament appeared while playing a composition, the result would sound free and not premeditated. Also during my hours of practice, I sometimes engaged in improvising with the objective of finding new sources of sound from my instrument, the so-called extended techniques. Furthermore, in the development of the e-recorder I used improvisation as a method to discover the potential of each of the electronic sensor’s setup. I had already an idea that what I wanted to achieve was the creation of a physically coherent manner of dealing with the set of sensors. Something that with practice could become as coherent as the technique used to play the acoustic instrument itself.
The Dynamic Field
We have learned that artist’s work involves a mixture of inspiration and technique. Making decisions in the process of creation, in this case music is a psychological interplay of organism and environment in which mind and body work together in taking structural decisions. Humans behave as open systems in active interaction with the environment where the interplay between the individual and the situation, in the sense of a dynamic field, determines experience and behavior.
When improvising, the ideal is to construct musical limits by maintaining total awareness of the collective. Furthermore, we have to understand that the psychological state of the musician remains the same independently of the style of music that is being performed. This psychological state works as a dynamic field in which there is an active interplay between the conscious and the subconscious. In music, hearing is the key to this dynamic field. Good decisions taken while improvising come as result of well-balanced mind and body actions, which involve the agility of listening. Ears have organs that require some time to send the impulses received from moving air to the brain. The brain receives the impulses, decodifies it, and perceives it as sound. To be an effective improviser, one has to obtain a control on the process of making fast changes between listening targets. This will create an awareness of the general output of the group providing the improviser with more interactive possibilities.
I realized that during improvising, my brain was very busy in making diverse connections between form, or any sort of organization, and meaning. Both form and meaning had a very dynamic interplay and both could influence each other i.e. at the starting point of playing an improvisation, I generally follow the impulse to produce sound, this sound will manifest itself and take some sort of form, meaning comes immediately after. Later in the same session, the opposite happens, meaning will dictate what kind of change in sound is going to happen. These comes as a result of a simple structural analysis. I decide what I am going to communicate after having made the first meaning clear, and, consequently, which kind of sounds and structures are the best to use as a vehicle for delivering it to the audience.
In its wide sense, improvisation is always present in creative processes. For example, the first idea of a musical composition is a result not of a rational objective process but of a subconscious one. Also, improvisation is not a practice restricted to the musical world. In painting, for instance, there are artists that use what is called spontaneous painting. A very good example of this is the paintings of the American artist Jackson Pollock.
Improvisation today, as any other musical practice, requires training and acquiring control upon new possibilities of our instruments. It is a process that needs a great deal of empiricism to begin with. The difficulty of it lies on the fact that we are not used to adopt such subjective processes. It is not taught at institutions so it can be considered an “off-road” musical practice. The truth is that free-improvisation is widely presented in theatres around the world, has a growing public and it is broadly discussed. You may ask what the need is to get acquainted with such a way to express yourself? We are creatures of change; the more we learn the broader the mind expands. It is our nature to keep developing skills and trying to turn the imagination into reality.