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Playing Together: Four Levels of Improvisation and Two Axes of Appreciation
Two Axes of Musical Appreciation
With this statement, Roder alludes to one of Improvised Music’s greatest conundrums
- his admission that “It cannot work!” raising all manner of questions as to why an
audience should pay money to hear music that doesn’t work, why the musicians don’t
try and make it work better, and, from an even more basic point of view, what it means
to say that an improvisation ‘works’, or doesn’t work, at all.
A recurring theme throughout fieldwork, musicians and listeners alternated between two
levels of appreciation and analysis (in addition to the differentiation between individual
and group levels outlined in section 8.1), and these axes of appreciation directly suggested
the need to separate the musical/aesthetic/sounding outcomes of an Improvised Music
performance from the processes and interactions that generated it.
As well as facilitating the subsequent discussion of levels of improvisation (section 9.3),
this section acts as a precursor to Chapter 10 (which explores what musicians and expert
listeners considered to be ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Improvised Music in more general terms), and
proposes a theory which allows for a meaningful differentiation between performances
with good ‘musical’ outcomes, and those which exhibited good interactional processes
but which ‘failed’ on the ‘sounding’/aesthetic level.
These axes of appreciation were by no means mutually exclusive, and, just like the four
levels of improvisation that this chapter is concerned with, an understanding of these
axes necessitates the clarification of Improvised Music-specific definitions of ‘working’
and ‘good’ music, as well as concepts including ‘risk’, ‘honesty’ and ‘searching’.
Axis 1: The ‘Musical’ Level and Unified Sonic Outcomes
Improvised Music performances that worked on the ‘musical’ level were generally
considered to be musical outcomes so clear, well-structured and united that “every note
fits - it could have been written out”,27 where “everyone actually finds their absolute
place in the thing”, or, as 48-year-old Greek drummer Yorgos Dimitriadis described,
You have your place, your space, what you’re supposed to do [and] so does
everybody else... it’s like rock... [when] everything clicks together, and when
it all clicks, it rolls. [This] happens also with our music. [...]
What I love, is this kind of groove that you cannot put your finger on, you
cannot say “OK, bass drum goes ‘boom boom’, the bass goes ‘da da’, guitar
goes ‘jagada jagada’. ” [...] It locks together, it changes all the time, but it
See also Rudi Mahall’s comments on p. 157.