On Tuesday December 15th at 0.05am German time (23.05 GMT on Monday 14th), my program focussing on notation and improvisation will be broadcast on Deutschlandfunk Kultur, this link contains information from the timetable. This program features the music and discussion of the Instant Composers Pool, Sarah Brand, and Moss Freed. The program also features extended interviews with Floris Schuiling, Sarah Brand and Moss Freed.
All three approaches to music making involve notation in a central way, albeit from different perspectives. Sarah Brand’s approach is informed by her knowledge, experience, and practice of music therapy. During her doctoral research Brand analysed transcribed fragments of her group improvisation (especially with Marc Sanders, Steve Beresford, and John Edwards) and using this material worked towards naming the processes that had happened during the improvisation. Since what happens can be so fleeting and ephemeral, the task of naming and describing these processes is difficult and time consuming. However, as she argues, the advantages were such that her conclusions provoked discussion amongst the performers and this process improved the quality of the interaction taking place. Much of Sarah Brand’s research discussed in the program refers to the musicians she worked with—in some cases for over twenty years—and recordings with them are featured on her BandCamp page.
Moss Freed’s approach encompasses his activities as guitarist improviser, composer and leader of his improvisation collective: Union Division. Moss discusses his experiences in leading rehearsals and discussion of and about his open set of pieces MicroMotives. In fact two pieces from this set can be seen via these links: Kilter, and Union of Egoists). Moss’ doctoral research investigated the conundrum of how to notate for a large ensemble of improvisers, what this entailed and how this has altered his thinking both as an improviser and composer. In fact Moss’ PhD thesis, Composing for improvisers : information flow, collaborative composition and individual freedom in large ensembles can be downloaded here.
Floris Schuiling developed his ethnographic research with the Instant Composer’s Pool into the book: The Instant Composers Pool and Improvisation beyond Jazz after a number of years of working with and observing them, closely. In his interview Floris provides historical context and discusses how the ICP use scores and music fragments in their improvisations. Admittedly, because of the time limit, it was only possible for Floris to describe a small fraction of their work, which has developed and changed over their long careers together. On the ICP website a large number of videos document their work from the mid-1970’s to the present.
My interest in creating this program was triggered by the one-day conference I organised at the Institute of Musical Research (IMR) early in February, 2019, which itself was called ‘Notation for Improvisors’. In addition to the many researchers, all three contributors to this program were present; a short report was written up by Lauren Redhead afterward. Also present was Christopher Williams who devoted his doctoral thesis to this theme can be read on his website. Williams almost encyclopaedic account of the ideas that relate to the dynamic relationship between notation and improvisation, their histories, and development is one of the most fascinating doctoral dissertations I’ve ever come across, and I often refer back to it.
I have really enjoyed doing this project, especially working with Deutschlandfunk Kultur, as they have been extremely helpful, and I look forward to it’s finally being broadcast.