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Re: Musicianship, live technique, etc...

>Hello Loopers,
>I have some thoughts I'd like to share with you and I'd like to get your
>input on them, if you have any.
These are great questions that any improvisor has to face, and the problems
are made worse by the dense and often static nature of looping music.

>First of all, when working with other musicians, how important is
>communication while playing, especially when all of the material is 90 to
>100% improvised?  I mean like giving each other cues, or just staying in
>touch with the other guy/guys to see where they're at.
For one thing, you don't have to look at each other to communicate.
Ideally, you should be able to communicate all of your intentions entirely
musically. That said, it doesn't always work. In my trio, with 2 musicians
that I've played with intensely for 7 and 9 years respectively, we rarely
look at each other, because we've learned to get to that "deep listening"
space pretty quickly. Usually, we only communicate visually to start or end
pieces. But it takes a long time to get to that kind of state with other
musicians. When playing with people with whom I'm less familiar, I do tend
to rely more on visual cues, body language, etc.

>The reason I bring this up is that I've noticed that when I work with my
>new partner, that we almost never make eye contact and musically I'm
>finding it hard to connect - it seems like we're having two monologues
>rather than a conversation.  I know that in some types of music this is
>desireable, but I can't imagine that this will have satisfying results
>when this is the only way people work together.
You might consider a few exercises in improvisation. Some of these feel
really forced and self-conscious when you first try them, and can be
surprisingly difficult even for experienced musicians. The idea is to
develop a set of tools for improvising, kind of like licks that you fall
back on while thinking of your next brilliant statement in a solo.

Here are some things off the top of my head that I've tried in various 

Call and response: instead of both of you playing at the same time, try
aalternating phrases, where one player initiates a phrase and the other
completes it. Call and response is one of the deepest musical structures
there is, it almost seems hard-wired into our consciousness, look at most
traditional african music for example. You can set up call and response
phrases while both of you are playing also, by alternating
background/foreground roles within each phrase. This is a GREAT exercise to
get you started listening to each other.

Another thing that works is to set up a game plan for the improvised piece
before you start. Try thinking of a structure, like alternating crescendos
and decrescendos, or somthing. Try writing out improvisational structures
away from your instruments and then playing them. This may feel
counter-intuitive to the process of improvising, but the idea is to develop
your sensitivity. Think of it as the equivalent of doing scales.

Try setting up musical cues in advance, for example, say you decide on a
certain phrase that when played by one of you triggers a dynamic change, or
the end of the piece.

>Secondly:  I'm beginning to understand breaks in composition.  I mean
>dead spaces, quiet spaces, quieter spaces - increasing dynamic range.
>When we work together, one recipe we use is one person will do a complex
>drone, the other will do rhythmic sequential stuff.  One problem I've been
>having is that the music just goes on and on and there aren't any
>breaks... it feels like a need to keep the music going no matter what, and
>this seems really tiring after a while, like "hey, we're trying to
>overload your circuits, relentlessly".
>I find it easier to work with people's attention when one takes down the
>levels and gives their brain a chance to breathe, then re-engaging them in
>the process.
Again, this comes down to a matter of listening and communicating. Again,
by trying some explicit exercises in dynamics can help develop your
sensitivity.  You can try things like saying in advance, "We're going to
change dynamic levels drastically every 60 seconds", and try to stick to
that. Try doing some extreme dynamic playing, alternating playing as loud
and hard as you can with playing as quietly and gently as you can. When
you're doing the structure you mentioned above, with one player doing a
drone and the other playing rhythms, try to introduce dynamic shifts within
each of your parts, whether or not the other player tracks the shifts it
will still make the music feel more varied.

>I'm very interested in how you loopers deal with this, since looping
>essentially means endless music.
>Romeo F.
>PS: A little side note - I was asked to provide some sound installations
>for an event I was also playing at.  I decided to come up with some audio
>"fountains".  I made a tape of my modular synthesizer, plus mixing in
>some other tape material.  The idea was to play them on some custom tape
>decks that will play a cassette endlessly, in mono, not repeating the
>music for 4 hours. I also kept in mind that these "fountains" would be
>playing in quieter spaces, away from the main events where people might be
>relaxing or having conversations, so I made a point of letting the music
>play, but then recording - often minutes - of dead silence or very quiet
>passages.  The music would stop as some fountains do periodically.  I was
>hoping this would provide both entertainment and relaxation or refuge.

This sounds like a very cool project!

Dave Trenkel, NEW EMAIL ADDRESS: improv@peak.org
self promotional web-site: http://www.peak.org/~improv/
"A squid eating dough in a polyethelene bag is fast
and bulbous, got me?"
                                     -Captain Beefheart