The Values Associated With Improvisation
This article focuses on the experience and value of freely improvised sound-work and what it can do for the participant.
Imagine that you knew nothing about sound-work and then ask yourself why might a perfectly rational person choose to involve themselves in such irrational, outlandish and strange experiences?
Sound & Music Workshops are enjoyed because, counter-intuitively, a group of people are able to create exquisite coherent soundscapes in the present moment without any previously agreed plan or structure as if by magic. From a ‘normal’ standpoint the possibility of this occurring seems irrational because we are so used to believing that for a group of people to play music together it usually has to be written down first or if they are playing jazz then a planned chord series is agreed and there may be a tune on which to improvise. Even more significantly one might expect that this is also only possible with trained musicians. In free sound improvisation there are no wrong notes, no agreed plans just the sounds combining in the moment and anyone at any level of ability can do it.
But could there be, hidden behind the description of the event, something much more intriguing? Perhaps the answer lies in the need to take ourselves temporarily outside of ‘normality’ to open ourselves up to new possibilities, new sources of wisdom and to answer some of the bigger questions of life.
For generations we humans have found ourselves seeking answers; searching for ‘rules’: How do you do this? How do you make that happen? How do I solve this problem? There are indeed, for some problems, sets of rules, sets of ‘how-tos’. But for other situations we can often find ourselves stuck for an answer. How do I become happy? How do I find greater satisfaction in my life? Why is this relationship not working and what can I do about it?
Of course, there are sets of moral values, codes of practice and religious principles to which we can try to adhere and seek for answers. But when we are in the midst of life, we often find that we can’t see the ‘wood-for-the-trees’. We too can find ourselves lost in the thick of things, not seeing the bigger picture, searching for answers that, from a different standpoint, can often be obvious.
Sometimes our experience of life appears to be a habit, cloaked in regularity, experiencing what we expect, doing what we do apparently happily. When the unexpected happens we can often be shocked by it to the extent that, rather like the cat in the head lights, life feels as if it has just run us over. On the other hand, when we are immersed in the experience of life we can sometimes experience it as an extended period of semi-dissatisfaction, difficult to describe, to define or put a name on. As you consider this you can start to consider the question of normality and what this means to you. Might you be running life in a kind of cocoon? Might you be limiting yourself to only those experiences which seem ‘normal’ to you? Might you be ‘missing something’? How ready are you for the unanticipated surprise?
Improvisational group-work is deliberately designed to allow you to work safely with the unexpected. Improvisational experiences provide you with the opportunity to work ‘rationally’ with the ‘irrational’. They work with very few rules and processes. Only the barest minimum are applied. The group experience enables you to learn how to process and work with the unforeseen, to be able to make sense of it and to turn often odd, unfamiliar experiences into something valuable or even brilliant. Despite the fact that it is a group experience, you find that individuals are heard, valued and respected. The group doesn’t dominate the individual. Participants see themselves as part of the dynamic of the whole group but are never buried by it. Individuality is never lost but is seen as part of a reciprocal (give-and-take) process.
Unexpected events happen, which in ‘normal’ life are often called ‘mistakes’, but in this dynamic are accepted and valued as potentially interesting material. Everyone listens and their experience of listening is deepened and extended. There is an ever-present positive intent to produce the very best we can without feeling burdened by the need for instant perfection. We still produce brilliance without always having to get it right. Individuals learn more about each other without the misunderstandings that can occur when we use language. There are undoubted contradictions but rather than one view being ‘ruled out’ because ‘it doesn’t make sense’ these contradictions are accepted and allowed to co-exist. This means that conflicting ideas are handled very differently than in ‘normal’ life. The musical experience arises from the interplay of different simultaneous realities. It means, for example, that you can contemplate the possibility of being free whilst being limited to just playing one note only.
Life is a mass of contradictions. One way to try to process these contradictions is to work rationally with the irrational. Spend a day or a weekend immersed in the ridiculous. Surrender yourself to the sublime implications of paradox. There is freedom within restriction, beauty in the banal, and your entrance to creativity just a small step away. Just have the courage to step off the beaten track – “Genius means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.” WILLIAM BLAKE (1842-1910)