In grade school, one of my favorite things was when the teacher would give us a sheet of paper with a curved or squiggly line on it and told us to make it into anything we wanted.
It was just enough MORE than a blank sheet to give you something to work with and allow for open interpretation - and yet not too much that might lead lots of people to "create" the same thing.
Some kids hated it.
I loved it.
I want to bring that into my music. My performances.
Up till now - I've mostly performed my pieces as I wrote them. Slight changes in tempo and attack notwithstanding - they are mostly the same performance to performance. There's nothing wrong with this - this is the way nearly all pop music is "performed".
I realized what I ultimately seek from my music - is liberation. The freedom to express what's there in the moment.
At the moment of composition a mood or emotion might be present that simply isn't there at the time of performance. Do we go ahead with the piece anyway? I've always thought - yes. Go ahead - play the piece that was written in from a _____ mood or idea - even if you don't particularly feel that way at performance time.
Having a batch of compositions ready to perform is wonderful. But even as new as I am to this- meanign there's still much to be learned - I feel the limitations of performing pieces. There's really no freedom in that. And freedom is what I'm searching for.
The first step is to build into my pieces sections for improvisation. Empty spots - so to speak, which will require me to move from "performing memorized music" to "improvising music on the spot" within the same piece. Having short sections of nothingness in tunes is putting my toe in the water with this idea.
There's certainly much much more to be done in this area. But I'm looking even further out.
If my standard musical sketch results in a largely pre-composed piece within which exists a smaller section set aside for improvisation & interpretation - than my instinct moving forward would be the photographic "negative" of that.
In other words - the majority of the piece is un-composed and would be improvised in performance - leading into smaller sections that are pre-composed. Picture pre-composed islands in an ocean of extemporaneous composition.
This is, in essence, liberation from form, from convention, from the "composition" and since there's only 1 instrument and only 1 musician - it appears to be the unique province of the solo artist.
Conceptually I'm in love with this idea. I wouldn't make entire performances out of it (unless I was amazing at it,-) - but would love to include this approach along with performances of fully composed pieces.
The key is having the musical muscle to pull it off. I've recorded a few attempts and I think there's great promise to this approach. (EDIT: I just posted one of these sample improvs on my Myspace Player at www.myspace.com/jeffschmidtbassist it's called MADURO IMPROV)
It will never be perfect. But that's not the point. Now - I just need the balls to do it live. I think that's what open mics are for. Doing this is a skill that must be developed. First and foremost is the ability to listen intensly to what I am doing - and be able to also listen to what is happening in my head. The key to making these works believeable is to remove the traces of uncertainty and aprehension. Even though it's totally made up on the spot - it has to sound intentional.
That's the goal. That's achieved through practice.
For example, I currently have two themes which, from my conventional compositional vantage point, remain un-finished. A more pedestrian assessment might simply call them "riffs".
Rather than continue waiting around for the "composition ferry" to show up and finish them - turning them into "songs" or "pieces" to be performed largely the same way in perpetuity - I'm turning them over to my new spontaneous composition aesthetic.
1 simple :20 riff or motif that can be used anywhere - but is the only pre-written element.
The musical squiggle on an otherwise blank sheet of paper.
Now, this is not the same as a set of changes over which I'll improv a solo - rather - I'll improvise the entire form - or to put it another way - extemporaneously make a song that uses very little pre-composed material.
This concept feels extremely compelling to me right now - perhaps because I've been spending so much time "writing" and working up definitive pieces.
But also because I think a larger part of the artistry I'm pursuing is about performance. To write solo works and perform them live is a great under-taking.
But to improv and re-make entire pieces in the moment based on that moment . . . that's very exciting for me to consider as a performer.
To date - the only performers I was aware of who do this kind spontaneous composition regularly are Egberto Gismonte and Keith Jarrett.
Coincidence would have it that as I'm thinking about and playing with these themes, and also craving discovery of other artists who are pursing this method one should appear before me in one of the most common places. TV's 60 Minutes.
Tonight they did a piece on a classical pianist named Gabriela Montero.
Besides being a virtuoso - she's a classical musician that can improvise.
Not improv ON changes or forms like Jazz - but the thing I've been craving - she improvises THE FORMS.
She takes a few bars of a classic Bach piece for example - and improvises an entire original piece out of it.
She's completely amazing. And of course the formal Classical World is shocked. Improvisation and sponanteous composition used to be a regular part of Classical Music- but not for over 100 years. What a shame.
I downloaded 2 of Gabriela's releases off iTunes and I'm blown away by what I'm hearing. Classical music - invented on the spot. This is exactly the kind of food my musical soul needs right now.
Check her website.
The 60 Minutes piece is online (only part of the video is up)
If you're aware of other artists who have released material like this please drop it in the comments - I'd love to check it out.