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Playing Together: Four Levels of Improvisation and Two Axes of Appreciation
on the super-fast ‘sub-conscious’ level that Voutchkova described as essential to ‘real’
Jan Roder estimated that while ‘real’ improvising he gave at least 20% of his attention
to structural concerns, describing how:
I try to overview what is happening, but at the same time I try to let go
as much as possible - to open up the space for intuitive reaction or... to be
a little more ‘now’. Not to think about what am I going to do - “Now I
see he’s doing that, and when he’s doing that then I’m going to do this”,
because then I’m not playing now ! That’s the problem if I improvise that
way. [...] The other 80% is... a lot of listening what the others are doing,
and then basically letting go of what I myself am doing.
JD Zazie explained that:
I like the idea to have a corridor with many doors coming off it, and each
time, in the structure, I just open one door. [...] I show what’s going on
there, but I don’t just stay there - I go on and on with my interaction, and
I open another door and so on. [...] It’s really just about showing different
possibilities, directions [and] perspectives, from little tiny details, to bigger
and more complex structures.15
As a further tool for developing awareness, several improvisers referred to ‘The Music’
in the third person or as an entity existing its own right, and such musicians often
pictured themselves as audience members, diverting their attentions almost entirely
from their own activities. Clayton Thomas described one concert where, “I just did it
watching from the outside, and the music absolutely took care of itself”, and Olaf Rupp
added that:
It’s my music. It’s like a living being, and it comes alive when you do
this [laughs and mimes playing]. [...] I always would like to hear what the
audience hears.... to listen to all the instruments at the same level and with
the same attention. [...] I listen to my music like another player, like a third
All in all, then, this discussion proposes yet another definition specific to Improvised
Music-making - the idea of being ‘in the moment’ not implying being ‘lost’ in that
moment (as Soules and others have suggested),16 but pointing to a state of awareness
that encompassed both the present and its entire context (structural/formal elements,
collective histories and experiences), and which could be experienced and assessed either
Tobias Delius also explained that, “I do hope to find open doors and open windows, and if I do find
them, make sure that they stay open, rather than shut them down.” See also p. 164.
See p. 61. Only two musicians (and, perhaps interestingly, the only two with known hard drug
experiences) mentioned becoming ‘lost’ as being a desirable outcome, and even in these cases, this was
not felt to be desirable all the time.