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Schedule for Time Changes: Improvisation, History and the Body

Time Changes: Improvisation, History and the Body

June 20-21, 2015, Vancouver, British Columbia

UBC Robson Campus Room C100

10am – 5pm Free

Time Changes is an academic symposium including presentations from artists, performers, scholars and community members from across the continent, with keynote talks by percussionist-composer-improvisers Gerry Hemingway and Billy Martin, who are both performing at the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

The colloquium will focus on social, cultural and artistic encounters with, and depictions of, time and the times in which we live. What does it mean to create in the moment? What are the implications of keeping time or of transgressing time? How does the human body sound its time and place? Can improvisation bring about tangible social or cultural change?

 


 

Saturday, June 20th

All presentations will take place in UBC Robson Square Room C100.

 

10:00 am

Artist Talk

PrOphecy Sun: The Body, Chance and Improvisation

 

10:45

Panel: Race, Rhythm and History

Emma Cleary, Staffordshire University

Jazz-Shaped Bodies: Mapping Space, Time, and Sound in African American Fiction

 

Barry Long, Bucknell University

Freedom Songs at the Intersection of Jazz and Journalism

 

Brian Jude de Lima, York University

Synth-copated Rhythms: Reanimating Dissonance as a Tool for Rhythmic Prolongation

 

Brent Rowan, Wilfrid Laurier University

The Impact of a Jazz Improvisation Experience on an Amateur Adult Musician’s Mind, Body and Spirit

 

12:30 pm         Catered lunch

 

1:00 pm          

Keynote

Billy Martin: Wandering

 

2:00 pm

Film Screening and Discussion

Ornette: Made in America

Moderated by David Lee, University of Guelph

 

3:30 pm

Artist Presentation

Rupert Common and the Freestyle Rap Alliance: Improvisation in Hip Hop

 


 

Sunday, June 21st

All presentations will take place in UBC Robson Square Room C100.

 

10:00 am

Artist Talk

Julia Úlehla: The Dálava Project: Meditations on (musical) evolution and (cyclic) time: activating past, present, and future through song, body memory, and improvisation

 

10:45 am

Panel: Interfaces – Contact Technologies

Kiran Bhumber and Bob Pritchard, University of British Columbia

Neelamjit Dhillon, California Institute of the Arts

 

12:00 pm

Chapbook and CD Launch

Ammons: A Sheaf of Words for Piano

Kevin McNeilly and Geoff Mitchell

 

12:30 pm      Catered lunch

 

1:00 pm               

Keynote

Gerry Hemingway: Expression in Music: A Look Inside the Personal Language of an Improviser

 

2:00 pm

Panel: Impacts and Changes

Kathe Gray, York University

All time exists in the present: Utopian moments in improvised music making

 

David Lee, University of Guelph

Improvised Music in Canada: High Modernism and the Artists Jazz Band

 

Tom Scholte, University of British Columbia

AYSYNCHRONCITY AND THE EMERGENCE OF MEANING IN THEATRICAL PERFORMANCE: Cybernetically Improvised Performance Texts and their Hermeneutic Impacts

 

3:30 pm

Artist Presentation

Ben Brown and Michelle Lui: MAM Music and Movement Improvisation

 


 

TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival

For the complete Jazz Festival schedule, click here.

 

Innovation Series Concerts (featuring conference presenters)

The Ironworks Studios 235 Alexander Street

 

The Pugs and Crows (Ben Brown)                                   Friday June 19th 9:30 pm

Destroy Vancouver (Billy Martin)                                      Friday June 19th 11:30 pm

Samuel Blaser/ Benoit Delbecq/ Gerry Hemingway      Saturday, June 20th 9:30 pm

Dálava (Julia Úlehla)                                                          Saturday, June 20th 11:30 pm

Paul Plimley/ Joe Williamson/ Gerry Hemingway          Sunday, June 21st 11:30 pm

Extraordinary Presences: Women, Poetry, Art Song

Following the performance of The Muted Note: Songs Based on Poems by P. K. Page by Scott Thomson and Susanna Hood, the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation is convening a colloquium called “Extraordinary Presences: Women, Poetry, Art Song” from 2:00 to 5:00 on Thursday, 16 October 2014 in the Dodson Room of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at the University of British Columbia. Two panels of poets, composers, performers and scholars will talk about their own work and their collaborations. Presenters will be investigating the cultural politics of contemporary composition and performance by women: are there particular constraints or challenges that contemporary women artists face? Are there specific musical, textual or performative strategies that women employ in their creative work when faced with such challenges? Is it still necessary or even possible to address artistic work, as performers, composers and listeners, with attention to the complex cultural politics of gender and sexuality? In addition to the two discussion panels, there will be a performance by Lisa Cay Miller of her text-based improvisations for piano, “Lessing Stories.” Admission is free, and the colloquium is open to all, students, artists, academics and the general public.

Colloquium Schedule

2:00-3:00 Panel: Extending the Poetics of Song

Scott Thomson, composer and improviser, Montréal and Toronto

Susanna Hood, vocalist, choreographer, Montréal and Toronto

Sandra Djwa, P. K. Page biographer, Vancouver

Phanuel Antwi, Department of English, UBC

3:00-3:30

Lisa Cay Miller, “Lessing Stories”

3:30-4:30 Panel: Collaborations and Challenges, Sounding Out

Rachel Rose, Vancouver Poet Laureate

Jacquie Leggatt, composer, Vancouver

Bronwyn Malloy, Department of English, UBC

A downloadable PDF version of the colloquium schedule can be found here: Extraordinary Presences schedule

Toward an Improvisational Pedagogy 1

Over the last decade, using various undergraduate and graduate classes as provisional testing grounds, I have been trying to develop what I have come to think of as an improvisational pedagogy. By “improvisational pedagogy” I don’t just mean teaching about criticism of improvisation and the performing arts (music, theatre, dance . . .), although such work certainly forms part of what I might do. And I don’t necessarily mean teaching classes on how to improvise, although techniques derived from the hands-on practice of various forms of improvisation constitute significant elements in a nascent methodology. I mean, I think, an educational practice that engages in real time with its own cognitive, creative and critical horizons, the self-attentive work of thinking on your feet, both before and with other people.

In forthcoming posts over the next few months, I’m planning to write in better detail about what I feel are some of the significant learning outcomes of such a pedagogy – including remarks on technique and nascent methodology, on student reactions, on literacy and critical canon, and on what others in the emerging field have called “the ethics of co-creation” – but for now I want to restrict myself to laying a little personal groundwork for this field of study. I have been participating this past week, telematically, in a think-tank at Memorial University, convened by the new International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, aimed at producing a draft curriculum for a potential graduate program for the study of improvisation. Some tangible results of our discussions and our collective commitment to this process will no doubt emerge in the coming year as this program takes shape, but for the moment I want to note how apparent it became during our meetings that we needed not only to define our field but to do so in a manner that distinguishes its salient characteristics, the traits and tactics that set it apart.

This conceptual winnowing, however, is particularly challenging around the study of improvisation because of its ubiquity: a fact that makes it both essential to study and seemingly impossible to frame as an object of study. At its core, improvisation articulates a deliberate elusiveness; whatever else it does, improvisation defines itself across a vast array of social and cultural practices as a refusal of the definitive, as excess. Whatever else – to repurpose an unsettled line from the self-troubling poet Irving Layton – whatever else, improvisation is freedom. It inclines, in all of its multiple and incommensurate forms, toward “whatever else,” toward not being an “it” at all, constantly worrying at and unknitting the hard knot of that “is” in definitions such as this. It’s a modality, for me, of creative undoing.

In a 2007 lecture called “Improvising Tomorrow’s Bodies: The Politics of Transduction,” George Lewis – who for many of us has become one of the major figures in shaping the field – reflects on how

improvisation is everywhere, but it is very hard to see. That’s because improvisation is not really a philosophical Haltung for a few people living the artist’s life, but a fundamental mode of being in the world that all of us share.

Everybody improvises, all the time. But next to no one appears to attend with much care or acuity to the implications of the forms and practices of improvisation; like Lewis, and despite my privileging of aesthetic in my own teaching and writing, I don’t mean to aggrandize the role of the critic or the artist or the pedagogue in raising such reflexive awareness, but rather – through Lewis – to affirm the political necessity of such study within democratic space, within the culturally and socially managed domains of that sharing. Improvisation, Lewis asserts, “is the ubiquitous practice of everyday life, a primary method of meaning exchange in any interaction,” but that primacy remains largely unaddressed and under-scrutinized. The task, as Lewis understands it, is first of all to illuminate “the condition of improvisation,” and then to interrogate its affective and material impacts on the conduct of human life:

My overall view of improvisation, which can be described (if not defined) as exploration, discovery and response to conditions, part of a ubiquitous human practice of real-time analysis, generation, manipulation, exchange, and transformation of meaning, mediated by (among other factors) the body, history, temporality, space, memory, intention, material culture, and diverse methodologies. My claim is that improvisation is fundamental to the existence and survival of every human formation, from the individual to the community, through the postnational body to the species itself.

This is a big claim for what has been, by his own admission, a neglected and marginalized field of study, but I want to be clear that I hear his interdisciplinary sweep not as apologetics or as rhetoric, but as a genuine imperative. Improvisation names a fundamental human relationship to temporality and to historicity, and offers a distinct and crucial means – however plural and however elusive – to address who and when and where we are.

In an effort to stabilize improvisation into something like a concept, I want to invoke Michel Foucault’s reworking of the Aristotelean ἐπιστήμη or “science.” In The Order of Things, Foucault deploys the term episteme to refer to a way of knowing that pervades specific cultural or historical epochs:

In any given culture and at any given moment, there is always only one episteme that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge, whether expressed in a theory or silently invested in a practice.

As a “field of scientificity,” an episteme doesn’t define a particular science (Latin scientia, “knowledge, a knowing; expertness”) so much as the range and limits of the truth-value of science as such: what counts and what doesn’t count as knowledge. This formulation strikes me as too inherently rigid, but in as much as improvisation both shapes and evaluates the immediate production and dissemination of knowledge in our present age, in as much as it might name historicity as such – a ubiquitous set of human relations both to and within ordinary time – it strikes me that it might be useful to think it through as one among several entwined episteme of our given moment, as a name for the enactive articulations and mobilizations of knowledge in the human present. Thinking improvisation along these lines – despite Foucault’s early and I think untenable tendency to want conceptually to reduce and to homogenize – might offer an opportunity to describe, if not to define, a finite set of modalities within an extemporaneous science, modalities of knowing less prehensile, less closed and enclosing, than we might expect,— including listening (or better, aisthesis), practicing, collaboration, intersubjectivity, reciprocity, alterity. Improvising might be better understood neither as a method nor as a discrete modality of knowledge creation, but more as a resonant network of commensurate modalities. This list a merely a starting point, and such modalities would need to be much more rigorously investigated and situated, but at least for the present such terminology may offer a means of settling on something approaching a basis for thinking through improvisation.