rule based improvisation

One of the things we had already tried as a trio is to set up rules for the improvisation. At one of our sessions in November we had set up quite simple rules, usually in combinations of three, such as:

  • Dark
  • In tempo
  • Long tones

This method is something we wanted to try with Katt too. Immediately, however, in the first day of rehearsals on January 20 we expanded the concept. (Why did we do that? What was the particular reason that we evolved these quite simple rules into more complex and interdependent setups?) The rules we worked with that turned out to be quite effective was (see also this post for a recording):

  • No one may play louder than the violin
  • The drums should always play when the piano is not playing
  • The saxophone should attempt to play the opposite of what the piano plays

Oddly, this was the first attempt to create a context for us to play in and we used it throughout the whole week. Also, due to the first rule, No one may play louder than the violin, it set a certain, quite low dynamic for us that pertained during the whole week.

A set of rules like this obviously becomes a kind of composition not unlike a piece by John Cage or some other composer from the 50s until now. What we found striking though when we listened back to our attempts to perform this “composition” is that the rules are unimportant to the understanding of the music. In other words, what is commonly held in high esteem in composed music – that the composed structure is an important complement to the understanding of the music – has no meening here. Even in jazz it has some significance that I know that I’m listening to a rhyth change rather than som freely improvised structure.

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