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The collective trajectory of this year’s colloquium links practicing various forms of improvisation to nurturing various forms of intersubjective well-being. By attending—carefully, critically and briefly—to solo and to collaborative electro-acoustic performances by the British saxophonist Evan Parker, I want to gesture at the nascent work of remediation that Lisbeth Lipari has recently called “an ethics of attunement,” a close listening that cultivates compassionate alterity within an attentive body: an akroasis—an audition, an audience—that provides a resonant and differential basis for the possibility of what Jean-Luc Nancy has provocatively named an “inoperative community,” a version for me of what Alphonso Lingis calls The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common, of our conflicted and diverse human species. Nancy’s philosophical interrogation of listening to music (as “the art of the hope for resonance”) offers contingent conceptual support with which it’s possible to assess the sensibly vibrant sounding of interstices, both between and within each human frame, that constitutes Evan Parker’s improvising.
http://www.npr.org/player/embed/309047616/309304660Rollins appears to be suggesting that, when you listen to yourself as you play, you lose your through-line, lose the formal sense of your music. But his point, I think, isn’t to romanticize or mystify his artistry—he focuses on his lapses, not his genius—but to assess the cognitive velocity at which that agon, that deliberation, can even occur. What Lipari calls compassionate openness wants to happen not as immediacy but on the fleeting lip of the present, closer to reflex than reflexive. Jean-Luc Nancy refers to “sonorous time” as “a present in waves on a swell, not in a point on a line; it is a time that opens up, that is hollowed out, that is enlarged or ramified, that envelops or separates, that becomes or is turned into a loop, that stretches out or contracts, and so on” (13). The challenge, the risk posed by such a hysteresis, is not merely the neglect of what is other—and this is perhaps why thinking about solo music, about the improvised solo, helps us to re-conceptualize otherness as such, not as a condition of the co-presence of individuals but even as a porosity of self, of voice—but also an issue of technique, of the virtuosic coordination of enharmonic singularities as they pass in and out of our membranous bodies. Listening, writes Nancy, “—the opening stretched toward the register of the sonorous, then to its musical amplification and composition—can and must appear to us not as a metaphor for access to self, but as the reality of this access, a reality consequently indissociably ‘mine’ and ‘other’ . . .” (12).
Writing in the early 1990s, John Corbett describes Evan Parker’s seemingly linear, monophonic instrument as more of an “assemblage” of body—“[f]ingers, mouth, tongue, teeth, lungs”—and horn—reed, ligature, keys, pads, bell—“constellated in such a way as to break the seeming unity of melodic expression” (82). But in Evan Parker’s solo playing, both live and on recordings, those fractures are not ends in themselves, and rather initiate—as what Lipari describes as “challenges” to passive listening—the possibility of tonal and linear multiplication, of what the reedist calls, with measured self-deprecation, a form of “polyphony”: “There’s a more complex sense of linearity,” he says, “to the point where the line folds back on itself and assumes some of the proportions of vertical music, and some of the characteristics of polyphonic music” (qtd. In Corbett 83). Combining circular breathing, cross-fingering, tonguing and biting the reed, Evan Parker is able to generate layers of overtones and nearly-simultaneous contrapuntal arpeggios at high velocity, effectively producing a continuum of cascading choruses from a single breath. But while Corbett is keen to endorse Evan Parker’s virtuosity and instrumental mastery, he also notes, as the saxophonist himself does, how accident and uncertainty find their way inevitably into any performance, subverting claims to absolute technique or intention and undermining the “notion of the unitary, intending subject”—that is, of self-expression—in improvisation. As Evan Parker puts it succinctly in a 1997 interview with Martin Davidson, “It’s to do with layering stuff that I don’t know on top of stuff that I do know.” Here, I think, is exactly the looping of self and other, of expressive intention and unruly, noisy sound, that Jean-Luc Nancy describes as listening. Evan Parker’s descriptions of his improvisatory practice align remarkably closely with Nancy’s philosophical investigations of listening:
Roulette TV: EVAN PARKER from Roulette Intermedium on Vimeo.
Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1991.
|Aram Bajakian, Francois Houle, Samuel Blaser, Torsten Mueller|
|Francois Houle, Samuel Blaser (The camera seems to have auto-focused
on the back of pianist Benoit Delbecq’s head — who was sitting in front of me.)
The two-horn line can seem spare and linear, but both Blaser and Houle have a fullness of tone and a sensitivity to space, as well as a willingness to let melody and line resonate and open out into the room. The music builds on close, intimate, mutual listening, mixing counterpoint with thickly vertical harmonizing; playing two clarinets at once, Houle instantaneously concocts Pythagorean-sounding harmonies that make me think of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata and Kirk’s performances with trombonists Dick Griffin and Steve Turre. I don’t mean, by mentioning all of these other players, to suggest that this music is derivative: Blaser and Houle produce music of striking originality and boldness. But I also hear a deep sense of history and of performative inheritance that locates their work alongside that of some of the greatest and most challenging improvisers of this past century.
|Aram Bajakian, Samuel Blaser, Torsten Mueller|
|Aram Bajakian (Torsten Mueller in the corner)|
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.
PrOphecy Sun: The Body, Chance and Improvisation
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
Billy Martin: Wandering
Film Screening and Discussion
Moderated by David Lee, University of Guelph
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.
Julia Úlehla: The Dálava Project: Meditations on (musical) evolution and (cyclic) time: activating past, present, and future through song, body memory, and improvisation
Panel: Interfaces – Contact Technologies
Neelamjit Dhillon, California Institute of the Arts
Chapbook and CD Launch
Ammons: A Sheaf of Words for Piano
12:30 pm Catered lunch
Gerry Hemingway: Expression in Music: A Look Inside the Personal Language of an Improviser
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
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
And here is a duo version Taylor Ho Bynum recorded with Anthony Braxton in 2002 at Wesleyan:
A version of Houle’s composition “Seventy-Three” followed, a tune originally recorded on his album In the Vernacular (Songlines, 1998), which is dedicated to the music of John Carter. Carter, Houle said afterward, would have been seventy-three at the time of the recording. Much of the music, besides its in-the-moment spontaneity, was vitally self-aware of its own historicity, its sense of a present deeply enmeshed in lineages and antecedents, but dynamically and restlessly so. Houle also mentioned Carter’s duets with Bobby Bradford: forebears who continue to open up new and challenging possibilities for this music, as part of a living tradition of experimentation and forward motion. The duo played “Shift” from Taylor’s suite Apparent Distance, and then closed with a blistering and challenging reading of Anthony Braxton’s Composition 69c, a sinuous monody combining bluesy flatted fifths with angular sonic geometries. (At the set break that followed, a little out of breath and a bit unsatisfied with his performance, Taylor recalled speaking with Kenny Wheeler about how difficult and even lip-splitting playing Braxton’s compositions in the quartet could be.) For the second set, the duo returned with versions of two Carter pieces (played originally with Bobby Bradford): “Comin’ On” and “Sticks and Stones.”
The concert closed with an extended trio; Houle invited tenor saxophonist Nils Berg to come up, and they offered a ten-or-more minute extemporaneous tone poem, with Berg’s contributions recalling the restrained lyricism of late Lester Young, or perhaps even Warne Marsh in a reflective mood. Beautiful things: bright moments, as Rahsaan might have put it. Here is Taylor’s field recording of the trio, so you can hear it for yourself.