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Re: Musicianship, live technique, etc...

>>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.

True. Really excellent monitoring (and knowing the people you are playing
with) can be an ideal substitute for eye contact. I was in one band for
awhile where we would play in a cramped storage shed behind the leader's
house. It was so cramped, we could not set up in a way that would also
allow line of site between us. Headphone monitoring gave such intimate
detail on what each other is doing, however, that it worked fine (as long
as everyone is being sensitive - _very_ important).

In the band I play in now, I know if I can't hear myself clearly through
the monitors, I start throwing in more and more sounds, and usually end up
making a more dense, less sensitive contribution. Even after two years with
the ssame guys.

>>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.

Until you build a real connection with the other person, you will need
other tools such as eye contact. Realize that some musicians never get into
the give and take situation of sharing space with someone else in a
realtime context - doesn't mean they're bad; it's just where their head is

Another interesting challenge has been the introduction of actors/readers
into the band, who don't have a history of communicating in an
improvisational musical context. We spent a lot of time trying to read
their body english to see when they were going to come in and sit out; they
eventually learned the ebb and flow of the band so they knew where the
better places to come in where.

OTOH, when people are being sensitive and using common sense, it is amazing
how things can click together.

Fripp and Summers claim before they did their album together, they spent
hours sitting directly in front of each other, staring at each other,
playing just acoustic guitars - to make sure they know it would work.

Eye contact and a nod never hurt.

>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.

I heartily agree with this. Some people are so focused on being artists
100% of the time, they either succeed spectacularly or fail spectacularly.
If they can't think of what to say (musically or vocally) in an improv
setting, sometimes they try to force through something inappropriate, end
prematurely, etc. I think in moments like that, it is great to have a
toolchest of things to fall back on when inspiration isn't striking in

Being a looper, it is nice to be able to fall back on the loop to carry
your roll, and then only add in other statements when you feel inspired.

>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.

Our band leader calls them a "flight path." The details aren't spelled out;
just the general energies and spaces - the arc of energy through 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.

Our band leader has hand signals for things like less dense, more dense,
rhythmic, ambient, etc. that really help sometimes.

I am a person with few traditional musical skills, who did everything with
exacting precision (and obsessing) in front of a computer. I have joined
improv groups on a few occasions, and after the intial "without a net"
feeling of panic (which can last for months at first), I greatly enjoy it
and revel in it. The main things are to know your instrument (whatever it
is - from an acoustic guitar to a complex rack of signal processors) so you
can get what you want out of it quickly, have confidence in what you can
do, and to be relaxed with those you are improvising with. And not to have
any bad eggs - nothing is more depressing than being in an improv group
where, say, three people are really in sync, and the fourth isn't happy and
is purposely trying to throw in musical monkey wrenches (happened to me
years ago).

Oh, and record everything!!!

 - CM

\ Chris & Trish Meyer/CyberMotion: Motion Graphics Design & Effects
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