Improv Collective is a series of monthly workshops run by Tura New Music where local and visiting artists share their music practice in a group setting. Trombone player and music educator Simone de Haan was the featured artist this month and here are some of his ideas:
Space: You have no choice over the sounds already present. You can still decide on how to engage with it: Do you ignore it? Does it become part of the piece? Do you play in opposition to it? Whatever your decision is, there needs to be a connection to the space.
Listening vs Hearing: Listening is hearing with intent
Take risks during improvisation: extend your own abilities, have an attitude of search and discovery.
There are no differences between extended and conventional instrumental techniques: all sound comes from silence, every sound has meaning; commit to the sounds you are making.
The more you classify the more you close your options.
When playing, hone in to the sounds being made: be present, avoid over intellectualising – focus on what is being played
Pace yourself: It’s ok to wait and wait and wait and wait... it’s ok to leave space and slow down the rate of your ideas
Try to develop a common language: in a successful improv everyone gets something out of it.
Focus on the ensemble: the human interactions, seek a total connection with the moment
This workshop featured as much playing as it did reflection, Simone is someone who asks direct questions and wants musicians to develop an awareness of their own contribution to a group performance. He demands a commitment to the sound you are make: a “No Bullshit” attitude that will ensure improvisations do not languish into clichés that go on and on.
The challenge to extend your abilities resonated with me. A performance can either be a job you know well or a surprising experience for musicians and audiences alike. Risk is something musicians and audiences need to embrace as active participants. In this experience, space is of great importance as it will affect how you play, how the sounds are projected, how they develop, and how one listens: A musician can change the character of his or her sound by simply moving somewhere else. Space can be considered a medium and an instrument in itself.
The more I engage in improvisation I notice that listening is a determining factor in a successful performance, sounds arise from silence and to rise them up from that state you better have something meaningful to say. Think about how your contribution sits within the general character of the piece; the use of silence is effective, it allows possibilities within the group, it inspires the mind. I find that the best improvisers listen constantly and possess an acute intuition, a compositional sense that is flexible enough to adapt, change, oppose, or surrender.
Instrumental technique is as important as a curiosity for sounds. I like the attitude of approaching your instrument as something you see from different angles (literally!). Seen as objects, musical instruments reveal more material for expression, they can be extended or modified, they become a tool dissociated from its habitual use. Such approach can yield surprising sounds and an unmistakable identity as a musician.
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