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Playing Together: Four Levels of Improvisation and Two Axes of Appreciation
much more aggressive, but also very static. But the thing is, we moved on
on material too much... we [would] get somewhere and then one of us would
We weren’t recognising the same things. I mean he would probably say of
me that I missed the boat on something with him, but it’s more like I heard
this thing and he was hearing these crazy [things], and I was like... “we
could stay here for a couple of minutes”. But if someone leaves, then it
doesn’t work.
Over the course of fieldwork, I heard numerous examples of concerts where, as the
musicians themselves often confirmed, things weren’t ‘happening’, and where for long
periods of time nothing appeared to be ‘working’, ‘locking in’ or ‘grooving’ between
performers. These periods of ‘searching’ remain, of course, one of the qualities of
Improvised Music often most difficult for the ‘lay’ or new audience to grasp, and the
second axis of appreciation, described now, seeks to explain and justify the necessity
of such ‘non-working’ sections, as well as suggesting a second listening strategy from
which an alternative appreciation of Improvised Music might be drawn.
Axis 2: Interaction and Process
Aside from relatively rare occurrences where the musical level ‘worked’ consistently over
the course of an entire performance, most ‘real’ Improvised Music concerts incorporated
various degrees of ‘searching’, where the musical result was far from ‘happening’,
‘grooving’ or ‘locking in’, and the aesthetic outcome was far from united.
As Els Vandeweyer put it, “sometimes there’s these really searching periods in the music
where there’s nothing much happening”, and, in the words of Anna Kaluza:
Maybe there are amazing things happening at some point, but then there
will be very strange moments too - it can’t be avoided, and it shouldn’t be.
Such “strange moments” appeared to be factored into the expectations of many musicians
and expert listeners, who would content themselves with the promise that their patience
would be rewarded later, and in such cases, the resulting ‘working’ music was usually
deemed to be of a sufficiently high and unique quality to warrant the preceding vagueness
and uncertainty.31
Kaluza’s “amazing things” didn’t need to be many, listener Cristina Marx telling me
Klaus Kürvers described how, “For me, bad music is music that’s predictable. When I know, or
think it’s going to do a certain thing, and then it does it... then I start to fall asleep... When I think it’s
going to do a certain thing and then something totally different happens, then I’m awake, that interests
me. [...] You hear that in all good music.”