Everyone who has played improvised music with other people has a story. Whether you have been trained in jazz improvisation, or you prefer to jam rock riffs in the garage with friends, there’s always the guy who plays too loud and blocks everyone out. Doesn’t leave any space for others, doesn’t listen.
Even if you’re a punter rather than a musician (Melbourne has opportunities to hear improvised music most nights of the week, from Bennett’s Lane to the Make It Up Club and everything in between), I bet you’ve got your stories as well about the trumpeter who wouldn’t shut up, the guitarist who soloed for twenty minutes…
Equally, there are the sublime improvisation experiences, where musicians commune wordlessly and create new and unrepeatable music. Both as improvisers and audiences, we are willing to sit through the bad sets, biding our time as we wait for the transcendent experience that may be next on the bill.
As a fan and (limited) improviser myself, I started wondering a few years ago about what makes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ improvisation, and often found my ideas blatantly contradicted by the preferences of others, as well as gigs I myself witnessed and adored, but couldn’t explain why. Last year, I started designing a game piece/structured improvisation called Good Improv/Bad Improv with the aim of exploring some of these so-called good/bad habits in a group improvisation context. I wanted to see what would happen if I forced one musician to play louder than everyone else, whilst another had to play her instrument in a completely new way, and a third had to play his instrument really badly.
Good Improv/Bad Improv assembles a trio of improvisers, who each draw one of a series of simple instructions from a hat before improvising together. The musicians only know their own instruction; they are not allowed to tell their fellow improvisers or the audience what it is until the improvisation is complete. Good Improv/Bad Improv debuted in May this year with six skilled and brave improvisers taking on the challenge, and the result was both entertaining and fascinating. Highlights included:
- Evelyn Morris (Pikelet) playing jazz drums and nailing it (Attempt to play something you have never played before).
- Adam Simmons curled up in a ball in the corner of the stage blurting away on sax (Play like you want the audience to go home)
- Barnaby Oliver playing rock riffs (Play the opposite) as Clinton Green bit Barnaby’s guitar strings (Surprise the other members of the trio with what you play).
The next More Talk, Less Action will feature a slimmed-down version of Good Improv/Bad Improv, with our three panellists taking up the challenge. A couple of rounds each of the game piece will bookend a panel and audience discussion with the topic ‘Improvisation: How To Win’.
With panellists/performers –
Lloyd Honeybrook (Make It Up Club, Overground Festival, hate saxophonist)
Alice Hui-Sheng Chang (experimental vocalist, teacher/workshop facilitator)
Adam Simmons (Festival of Slow Music, teacher, saxophonist, reeds)
Improvisation: how to win
Thursday 19 February 2015 (7:30pm) – $10 entry