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Re: memory and improvisation

Very true, this thread is what this list shines at the most.  Bad English,

Nonetheless, if I might, I'd like to put forth a bit on improvisation, 
we all agree is a vital part of looping music.  There are, as a warning, 
sides to this, jamming/improv/composition, and performance.

In the process of learning how to play in front of people, I repeatedly
found myself placed in the position - mostly up at the tunnels you've heard
so much about - of coming up with something that perhaps empathically
reflected the mood of the group listening.  I was the one apparently 
with not despoiling the uh, mood of people at shall we say was a critical
time of the evening.  A peak and after-effect, if you will.  I knew that I
had to not venture into areas that were negatively-charged, unless they 
short, and finished in an up-tone manner, a kind of end of the trip through
the woods.  My only tools due to technical restraints were my e-Bow, an
acoustic steel-string, and the reverberation I'd get off the tunnels.

For weeks before each tunnel trip, for the first couple of times, I worried
about what I would do when those moments happened.  Would I be responsible
for someone having a bummer, because I didn't pay attention and succumbed 
something darker while playing?  You know the drill.  After a while I
learned how to let go of all of that crap, and become what I termed
"transparent", or if you will stripped of the layers of pretention, while
playing.  The end result became a more responsive reflection of how people
felt listening to me play; and once I had a hook on that, I felt that it 
possible to lift everyone up.  I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, and
I hope you know that.  I'm pointing to the fact that, when I stopped trying
to control it, the music would happily occur as a reflection of the mood
that was there.  And, the more transparent I was to the playing itself, the
happier I was with the playing also.

It was those bi-yearly trips up in the San Gabriel canyon, between
1992-2000, that taught me a lot about where I was playing-wise, with 
to improvisation and "just letting it happen."  Up there also, when the
crucial period of the evening was over, I would mentally go back and 
some of the riffs and such found in those sessions, playing from around
midnight until as late as 5 or 6.  By that time of course my fingers hurt a
lot, after all that riding the strings and stretching 'em; but I didn't
really mind.  I'd found music in the process, and after redoing some of the
themes in the early hours after most had fallen asleep, I embedded them in
my psyche.  Those themes resulted in pieces that appear on the forthcoming
"Songs From A Tunnel" collection; and I usually returned to them in the
"post fever dream" period of the evening/morning.

This would lead then to the performance of pieces that one has done before.
In the pursuit of performance craft, I began to realize that sometimes
people want you to play stuff they've heard on your CD etc.  For some 
I don't have difficulty popping up and playing a piece quite exactly as
recorded - at least as far as my work goes.  The framework exists, over
which the riffs and notes occur, each reminding me of the next.  For those
of you who read music and learned that way, well, I didn't.  I'm one of
those cursed guys for whom everything's by ear.  But I remember it
nonetheless, a kind of holistic image if you will.  But you didn't want to
just bash it out time after time - you get bored, the audience gets bored
too, though not as fast as the player I think.  Well, I'm my own worst
critic I suppose.  But instead of crucifying myself over it, I took instead
a tip from the way the Grateful Dead played: they always played a song
differently, never the same way twice from one night to the next.  End
result?  People could go to three-night show sets, and still have a great
time whether they were partying or not.  So the essence of the piece would
remain, the part listeners remember most, and the rest would happen on top,
at least mentally.

I'm not saying this as if I created this method by any stretch of the
imagination - I'm just saying that this is what I came up with and it makes
me happy with the music I play.  Is this improvisation?  I think not.  But
then, what do I know, huh?

Stephen Goodman
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