Day 24: Thinking deep thoughts

Big day today with the Angel Orchestra workshopping the beginning of my new orchestral piece (went very well, thank you for asking!) so my Creative Pact time has been a little limited so I decided to do some thinking about improvisation and the role it’s played in this work.

I ended up writing a blog post on this which I’ve posted on caitlinrowley.com, but here I want to think a bit more about how it feels to be improvising in this piece. Because in spite of my general horror of improvisation, it’s felt like an entirely natural approach for this piece. True, it’s sort of part and parcel with the whole amateur-practice, follow-the-fear thing from my MFA project, but it wasn’t like I sat down and went “hmm. How can I use this to face my fears?”, it just happened.

I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that I wanted to use my voice, I knew whatever I did would be manipulated in Max/MSP and I had limited time in which to work. The very first time I ever sang solo in public was this year – sight-singing a page of John Cage’s Aria in front of Linda Hirst and an audience of proper singers – and while kind of terrifying (thank heavens I didn’t realise until a couple of hours later that that was effectively my debut as a singer!) it was also rather liberating, and I’m sure that that experience influenced my decision to use improvisation for the initial recordings.

The patch-improvising developed as I began to understand how Max/MSP works. At first I was just poking around to see what it would do, then as I discovered that I could change the sound on the fly and respond instantly, improvisation became a much more exciting idea than just setting up a process and watching it run.

Curiously enough, of course, setting up a process and watching it run is exactly what I’m working on doing with all these improvised pieces once they’re done. Possibly it would have made more sense the other way around, to have process-driven sections, improvised together into a hopefully coherent whole, but no 🙂

And the more improvisation I do as this project continues – the vocal recordings, the audio and video patch-improvisations – the more I feel I’d really like to work on developing a piece for live vocal and electronics performance, possibly using live vocal improvisation, which is a place I never thought I’d go.

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