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I'm in the process of creating a working methodology for ensemble improvisation. This will be completely new project and a collaboration.

In the years I've played purely improvised music, I've noticed certain trends repeat themselves no matter who I'm playing with.

A; The lack of inspiration that can come with improvising with the same group over a period of time. Things inevitably start very well and is exciting, but over the long term can become mundane and occasionally laborious.

B: How to determine when a piece is actually finished. Sounds funny, but it's actually very tricky. It's all very well to keep playing because it's enjoyable, but I want to move on from self gratification toward audience gratification. And so this is, ironically, the ultimate self gratification. The Chinese say "men secretly like the smell of their own farts" - I'd like to stay away from fart sniffing conceptually speaking that is :mrgreen:

C: Leaving space. Particularly tricky to achieve in spontaneously composed music.

D: Dynamics

I'm looking over John Zorn's Cobra, for some ideas, but that's a highly detailed approach, and probably too much so at this point. So I'm working my own out.

I'm starting with color diagrams representing the different players - drums, guitar, computer, horns, bass, and working on a system to implement dynamics and changes without interfering with the musician's instincts.

Comments, ideas etc welcome
 

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I don't have anything to contribute to methods. I just want to say that I'm intrigued by this thread topic. Many years ago, I played purely improvised music in a group context. It's a tricky thing to do well and in the words of Rodney Dangerfield, it don't get no respect. Just look at some of the comment in threads in SOTW. Anyway, I understand your concerns in A. lack of inspiration over time, B. when is it over? C. leaving space, and D. dynamics. My thoughts about C and D are the way to leave space and have dynamics is to consciously try to leave space and create dynamics. When is it finished? I guess when it feels finished. If it's spontaneously composed, then it has to spontaneously ended. But there can be much communication among the musicians, through eye contact, body language, hand signals, and even talking to each other - bring it down, let's modulate up a step, change the rhythm, etc. Nothing's wrong with that. It's all part of the process. In fact, nothing much is wrong in purely improvised music. The only wrong thing is when it doesn't go anywhere or have any meaning beyond navel-gazing noodling. But in terms of A, lack of inspiration from playing with same people over time, I think that this can be used to your advantage and to create enjoyable improvised music together. There's nothing wrong with falling into patterns and structures and lines and rhythms that you have used before. You can communicate to the other players with them and use them as building blocks to develop a piece further. And the biggest rush comes when you all fall into musical places that you've played together before and work it into a peak experience of improvisation and even ecstasy.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Not worried about the respect part MMM. You're right about the possibility it becoming just a noodling exercise, but being a career improviser - so to speak, it's a very recognisable trap and fairly easily avoided.
I've just started putting my ideas down on paper today, so this could take a while, but once an idea is committed to, the ideas beging to flow. It's a great help too to have Cobra; Zorn's system, available as a reference if needed.

Re your response to C & D; easier said than done I think. One can be so engrossed in the act of making music, that it's easy to forget it's just a small part of the whole, and continue blithely playing away.
The idea of patterns is a good one, but must be handled with respect, because it's a device that's readily available as an antidote for the tedium that can ocurr with playing this sort of music with others over a period of time can bring. Our guitar player uses his loop box too often.

Thanks for the response. Let's keep chasing the ecstasy.
 

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IMHO...
A. from what i've seen/heard, this is expected. everyone has their own capabilities and vocabularies. we all grow when we are inspired by new things, but we are finite. seems like many bands/musicians tend to mix and mingle to work on this. also, bands (with same members) that are noted for longevity and creativity (ie: beatles) seem to expose themselves to varieties of experiences. success in growth seems to come from new people, new ideas, and/or very creative individuals.
B. seems like this "jazz" idiom will have this tendancy more than most. other styles (ie: rock/folk) tend to (not always) get to the point and conclusion with more clarity/predictability. jazz seems to enable a person to babble on for hours (which is a "skill" in itself). my son told me yesterday that i sounded like "a teenager who was talking a lot but didn't know what he wanted to say". when thinking about it, i realize that i'm not thinking ahead about a "point"(climax) or concise idea - i'm just cruising along from short idea to short idea and interacting with the developing melody. as a result, ideas just run together from one to the next, and a "story" (start, middle, finish) becomes more of a road trip with mother-in-law.
C. i find that leaving space is harder when i think about harmony from chord-to-chord, rather than from a target/destination viewpoint, which allows me to ignore some chords (regarding soloing) in view of the motion they invoke, apart from the solo.
D. dynamics go back to telling a concise story with a point, or climax. this filters down into smaller elements, too, like phrases.
 

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..but I want to move on from self gratification toward audience gratification. And so this is, ironically, the ultimate self gratification...
improvised music does not have to be hard to listen to, particularly hard to play, or very experimental sounding.
improvising does not mean you mustn't use a steady beat or elements of music that are "pop".
this is a band of mine that improvises in a realm of music that rarely sees improvisation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWXxDBv0FQQ
you said: "spontaneous composition".
this could very well mean getting as close to a sound that sounds rehearsed, like a real "piece", with an ensemble effort and no solos.
This requires a lot of sensitivity from all musicians.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I've got most of it written down. It's actually very very simple. Hard part was getting started.

I'm using colours and symbols along with numbers which represent volume - at this point. It'll most likely be modified a lot before it's used live.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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I've got most of it written down. It's actually very very simple. Hard part was getting started.

I'm using colours and symbols along with numbers which represent volume - at this point. It'll most likely be modified a lot before it's used live.
I like the idea of colours, not so sure about numbers for volume though, it seems too regimented. I think this can be done via graphics.
 

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I like the idea of colours, not so sure about numbers for volume though, it seems too regimented. I think this can be done via graphics.
Some useful graphics for dynamics are the crescendo and decrescendo symbols. And the ppp to fff symbols are useful for volume. These are pretty universally understood. Not sure why you need to reinvent the wheel here, but then I don't have the whole picture of what you're trying to do with your method.
 

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I think looking at John Zorn is a great start.

B
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I like the idea of colours, not so sure about numbers for volume though, it seems too regimented. I think this can be done via graphics.
You're right. I think I would like to stick to symbols and colours. I think I was just getting lazy with the numbers thing.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
We have an animator/visuals guy on board with us along with a programmer who is a microbiologist at the university here. The possibilities...oh my.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Some useful graphics for dynamics are the crescendo and decrescendo symbols. And the ppp to fff symbols are useful for volume. These are pretty universally understood. Not sure why you need to reinvent the wheel here, but then I don't have the whole picture of what you're trying to do with your method.
By "graphics" I did mean to include conventional dynamic notation, but without being confined to those.

I presumed the OP is in regard to free, avant garde and/or less conventional forms. I agree that in those styles it's still ideal in many cases to use conventional symbols as you say, but there is also room for experimentation.

If a conventional symbol exists, no need to reinvent the wheel, use it.
 
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