viernes, 3 de junio de 2011

Mattin: Idioms and Idiots, 11 Paragraphs on an improvised concert (extracto)

Este es un extracto del escrito de Mattin sobre el concierto en el que se grabó Idioms and Idiots.

Comparto de muchas formas su manera de ver, sentir, pensar y experimentar la improvisación.

Artículo completo:


We take improvisation as an axiom, in the sense that one cannot really define when one is or is not improvising (since so many questions arise around individual free will, subjectivity, and ideology; questions which we do not think can ever be satisfactorily resolved). By adopting this axiomatic approach to improvisation as a domain to which one can bring ideas, decisions, and concepts as ways of narrowing down or focussing where the improvisation is going to happen, one can look closely into a specific area.
In speaking of improvisation, we’re not just talking about the production of particular sounds or events but the production of social spaces as well. We invoke this as both a strategic term and a conceptual tool. Improvisation can therefore refer both to experimental music making as well as mundane everyday practices. But wherever it is applied, improvisation should bring about glimpses of instability. If it works, its elusive qualities should evade solidification and commodification – at least in the moment. The goal would be to apply to whatever discourse one is in the process of articulating those quibbles developed with regard to the world so as to always understand discourse in the exteriority of the world – though ‘world’ is not the right word here; perhaps it would be better to say “what one ‘is’ not”?

Is it possible to have a non-representational relationship to reality in the context of art? If so, this would surely be achieved by acknowledging all the specificities of the room. One should try to activate the room as much as possible and disrupt previous habits and behaviours in order to create different ones. In other words, one should strive to work against the normalization process. We have found improvisation to be a practice that requires taking into account everything happening in the room. It is not just the creation of something new that could be used later elsewhere, but a way of intensifying the moment by changing social relations. Improvisation can be an extreme form of site-specificity as well as a radical, intimate and immanent self-criticality. Since there is no need to defend or construct a position for future situations, improvisation always tends towards self-destruction.
Thus, we could see improvisation as pure mediality with no outside; as a pure means with no end, countering every form of separation, fragmentation, or even individuality. When does this activation of the space take effect? When one has succeeded in generating a dense atmosphere capable of engendering the awareness that something important is at stake. Since there are no predetermined categories or words to describe this experience, what is at stake is very difficult to articulate. Because of the difficulties of assimilating it or immediately understanding it, this strangeness counters the normalization process. When this dense atmosphere is produced, the people involved become painfully aware of their social position and standardized behaviours. When the density of the atmosphere reaches a certain threshold, it can become physical, disturbing our senses and producing unfamiliar sensations in our bodies. Through a disruption in the appearance of neutrality, one gets the sense of being in a strange place – not really knowing where to stand. Every movement or word becomes significant. What is created is not a unified sense of space or time, but a heterotopia where one’s location contains different spaces and temporalities. Previous hierarchies and established organizations of space are exposed. The traditional time of the performance and distribution of attention (the audience's respectful behaviour towards the performers, etc.) are left behind. If one goes far enough, these hierarchies could be diffused, not to give a false sense of equality, but to produce alternative social relations of time and space.
We do not want to be misunderstood. We are not talking about any variant of ‘relational aesthetics’ where a little injection of audience interactivity adds cultural capital to bland artworks executed by very concrete artists with dubious ideologies. Rather, we want to interrogate the limitations of performing on stage: To what extent is it possible to use the parameters that define the spectacle (i.e. the divisions between audience, performer, stage, expectations) as material for improvisation? The issue about expectations in this concert is important because many people were expecting a philosopher: What would a philosopher do in an improvised music concert? Something involving speech… But he played guitar instead ―badly! To what extent did the tension produced by these expectations influence and intensify our playing?
In the conversations leading up to the concert we talked a lot about trying to be ‘in’ the performance as much as possible. Lately, we have discovered that the way to do this is by pushing towards the borders or limits of the framework that one is working with. These borders, which are often simply accepted without question, actually contain all the problems, contradictions, and conditions that determine the concert situation, but not in any obvious way. One has to deal with them very carefully if one is to be able to identify how they constrain us to behave in certain ways, and the extent to which they affect us. Here we are not just talking about whether or not the room is hot or cold, etc., but about those unwritten yet binding conventions that we comply with out of habit: those rules which are not supposed to be challenged. The simple question often overlooked in improvisatory practice is: How does the social context of the concert frame and limit our scope of action?

What is required to go beyond such limitations? The refusal to fall back into a practice that reproduces established conventions or reiterates stereotyped ways of music making, even those accepted as part of what one is supposed to do in order to be recognized as an ‘experimental musician’. Take for example the convention governing the acceptable distance between performing and being in the audience (this relates to the allocation of passive and active roles among performers and audience). If one is performing or has made the commitment to perform a concert, it means that s/he has a proposition, something to offer. But if one’s proposition consists of being the audience, then the risk is that such a proposition will just become an everyday, casual situation. Yet what is arguably most interesting about the concert situation is that it provides an opportunity to create a different social space: people who attend a concert want to be affected, touched; they want to receive something ― or perhaps they don’t? In which case the performer’s decision not to offer would frustrate the audience’s desire not to receive... Although it is very problematic to accept this passive role, it also provides the performer with the opportunity to do something ‘extraordinary’; to create a situation that goes against the grain of our everyday social interactions. The most interesting concerts any of us have played were those where this position and these accepted roles, which both audience and performer inherit from the conventions of the concert situation, become twisted or developed into something else as a result of the audience assuming a more responsible and active role so that they come to believe that they could do anything.

We appreciate the problematic nature of terms such as ‘activity’ and ‘passivity’; we are also aware of how easy it is to lapse into a patronizing stance. But we have observed that concerts which do not challenge or affect anyone just leave everything as it is, failing to generate anything with which anyone might actively engage: in such cases, it is as though nothing had happened. Other concerts – and Niort was one of them – might provide food for thought for long afterwards (a year and a half in this particular case); precisely because it remains difficult to judge whether or not it was a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ concert in any musical sense. This is what spurs us to try to think ‘in between’ these terms: in this context, a ‘good’ concert would be one wherein any judgement executed in conformity with established dichotomies between ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘success’ or failure’, would be absurd. In such cases, extant standards of judgment are suspended and we are forced to question the basis of the parameters by which we judge – previous standards and values collapse.

It is not just a matter of dissolving judgement and of liquidating those constraints that allow one to distinguish artistic success from artistic failure, but of ratcheting up the challenge inherent in the ideal of ‘free improvisation’ to the point where it is the very nature of the concert situation that is at stake in the performance. Plinky-plonking is not enough. The plinky-plonk mode of reacting to one another in improvisation is long gone; our goal is to try to problematise what ‘reacting to one another’ might mean by exploring different ways of almost not reacting as a way of reacting. But the point is not to substitute a 'non-reaction' for a 'reaction'; it is to seek out a mode of reaction or non reaction that would overtake any kind of latent or 'hidden' imitation; precisely the kind of imitation that doesn’t reveal itself as an imitation – the latter applies to most of what gets called 'reacting' in music, whether composed or improvised.

We each bring our own tools to the concert situation: instruments, ideas, timing, craft, knowledge ... To believe that one could break with all this all at once is unrealistic to say the least.  So what does it mean to react to one another? We think it has to do with striving not to do so in any obvious way; with forcing oneself to attempt something that has not been attempted before; something that incurs some fragility, some anxiety, some tension that might feed the other players, in the hope that everyone might thereby be rendered maximally alert. The goal would be to attain a mode of interaction that would allow each player to appropriate a personalised sense of time: there is a very specific way in which the passing of time is experienced in special concerts, and there was definitely something like this going on in Niort. 

1 comentario:

  1. " Improvisation can be an extreme form of site-specificity as well as a radical, intimate and immanent self-criticality. Since there is no need to defend or construct a position for future situations, improvisation always tends towards self-destruction." - Mattin