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Chapter 6
Tastes and Distinctions: Sub-styles of Improvised
In Chapter 2, clear aesthetic and ideological divides were identified between American
and European Free Jazz, Free Jazz and European Improvised Music, and European
Improvised Music and Berlin Reductionism, posing the question of whether such divisions
were still meaningful from a contemporary point of view, and what other styles of
Improvised Music might have replaced or augmented them in the meantime.
Even from the point of view of the late 1990s, to assert that the Berlin Improvised
Music scene was constituted of a group of like-minded performers dedicated exclusively
to a homogenous form of music-making (and sharing a set of common aesthetic and
ideological goals) would be a wildly optimistic proposition. And, whilst these various
sub-styles nonetheless have many aspects in common, in this section I identify and
summarise the various sub-genres of improvisational practice that arose during the
course of fieldwork in 2013. I define these terms as they were used by musicians and
listeners themselves, and, in doing so, I endeavour to show that the term ‘Improvised
Music’ encompassed a range of distinct yet interconnected practices, and that these
distinctions were both more numerous and more subtle than those of the 1960s, and the
No doubt these definitions will appear contentious - I am aware that there may be more
(especially outside of Berlin and as time passes) and I am also aware of the issues of any
such terminology and of the perils of summarising so ruthlessly. I do hope, however,
that my understanding of these distinctions will be useful, both in the long term (for
future research delineating Improvised Music practices) and in the short term (for the
sake of clarity, in the chapters that follow).
Aesthetic distinctions fell into eight aesthetic categories (or sub-styles):
– Jazz, Free Jazz, Post-Free Jazz, ‘Free Jazz’ (German pronunciation)
– Free Improvisation, Free Improvised music, Abstract Improvised Music, European
Improvised Music
– Berlin Reductionism, Post-Reductionist Improvising
– Electro-Acoustic Improvisation (EAI)
– Durational Music
– ‘Textural music without a jazz association’, Textural Improv
Aside from the fact that it appears to refer to a such a range of musical practices and aesthetic
criteria, many musicians found the term Improvised Music problematic because it continually fell short
of explaining what they were actually doing - firstly, in terms of the mechanics of its production (see
Chapter 8), but, secondly, because no-one outside of the scene had the faintest idea what the term
meant - the most common response begin something like, “Ah, it’s like jazz then?”, or, “Oh, Free Jazz?
That’s that thing nobody likes!”