The music therapy department is doing research on improvisation and I volunteered to help out with their information gathering by doing some free improv with a group of about 10 people for about 45 minutes three weeks ago, and then having an interview about my experience with it yesterday.
I still haven't totally figured out why they are doing this research (they were quiet about their reasons during the original playing, I think so as to not influence our opinions, but it is weird when you really don't know *why* you are doing something). I remember while we were playing getting frustrated that people weren't responding the way I expected them to and assuming at the time that that meant that people just weren't listening. Of course, afterwards I realized that really what that means in that the common language and musical vocabulary that we have in 9lives (my year group's band) doesn't translate to another random group of people. So, duh. But, oops.
Anyhow the interview was totally fun. I was stuck in right after one of the music therapy classes which meant that the room still had low lighting and a sort of calming air about it. They have their own lamps so that they don't have to use the fluorescent ones on the ceiling. I suggested that they get some faintly patterned wall hangings and pots of ivy too. The interview consisted of playing short, two minute clips from the third improvisation we did on the original day and then asking me what I remembered about that particular clip- like why I was playing whatever it was that I was playing and if that was influenced by others in the group and just sort of what I was thinking the whole time.
I had never thought about my thought process when improvising before so it was interesting to be presented those questions and then to try and answer them, particularly because the way in which they were being asked made it clear that the way that I think is by no means universal.
It turns out that when I am improvising in a group I am thinking about interactions. If someone has made some sort of musical statement is that something that I can go along with and bolster, or is it something that I want to cut across and contrast with? Is there space for a sound that I can make, is that sound necessary? So what I'm not thinking about is, for instance, what articulation am I going to use? I mean, I would think that- but that wouldn't be my primary motivation for playing at that moment. I use a particular articulation or dynamic or whatever because it is suggested to me by what other people in the group are doing.
Also, if I were to teach someone to improvise (say, in a school workshop or with the CYO kids) that is how I would present it: make a musical statement, listen to the rest of the people in the group, is there space for you to make another statement or go along with someone else? Do you hear a space or a lack in the sound that you can fill?
I was one of the last interviews and apparently everyone has said very different things about what they were doing. After the interviews are finished the people doing the research are going to transcribe the interviews and use this computer programme that finds themes- like certain words that get used again and again or frequently in conjunction with other words or phrases. I've asked to have a copy of the research when they're done and the man who interviewed me said that was a good idea and that he would check to see if they can do that. The research is being presented in February, so it is a pretty quick turn around.
The other thing that was really cool was that when listening to the recording of the session again, I realized that things that I had tried to make happen (at one point I was trying to introduce a pulse, because it had been pretty a-rhythmic up to that point) that I *didn't* think had worked actually totally had. So maybe it wasn't that other people weren't listening, it was that I wasn't... oops again.