Tuesday 1 May 2012

Improvising and Composing

This blog is about 'improvising'. That's because I can do improvising. I'd love to do composing, but I can do much more improvising. (I do a bit of musical composing, but more composing of papers - which are less interesting, I think). My writing on the blog is improvisatory rather than composed (on the whole) - although some pieces are more composed than others (depending on how much trouble I think I might get into after publishing it). But mostly I just write.

That's the difference between improvising and composing. When improvising I am in a process of searching for something meaningful; when composing, I know the meaning I want to convey, and I spend my time trying to frame it in text or music which brings out the meaning. I'm much more comfortable improvising than composing because most of the time I don't know what I want to say. All I know is that I have techniques for finding something meaningful somewhere, and if I follow those techniques, something will crop up. Most of my improvised music is like this.

As an example of this (in writing, not music), I've just finished 'composing' a paper on economics and attachment theory. With the paper as an academic paper, I know the meaning I have wanted to convey. But I found the meaning through a process of improvising in the form of this blog post last year: http://dailyimprovisation.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/listening-to-economy.html. But that was a fairly random collection of thoughts which I was trying to string together. Attachment theory and the viable system model seemed important, and the meaningful essence of the argument.  As an academic paper, however, it initially translated rather badly. I have spent a long time jettisoning arguments and trying to polish the bits which I feel are important. This takes time.

I wish I had time to do the same with my music. I don't think composing music is really any different. There are beautiful moments which are meaningful (I reflected on this recently here: http://dailyimprovisation.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/music-meaning-and-compositional-process.html) and the job in composition is to create a frame for them. But it takes time which I can't really justify with the need to produce papers which support the career of an educational cybernetician.

But the most fascinating thing about improvising, rather than composing, is that I know when my fingers have hit something meaningful. It's a visceral reaction. Somehow, things come together. In Leydesdorff's terminology, my expectations are restructured; the hairs stand up on the back of the neck, and so on. It is as if I've lifted dirty leaves covering a beautiful casket. Meaning matters. But it is part of a process of discovery which needs to  have the expressive freedom to roam and explore, not tied to any particular direction or agenda. Then the discoveries can be made. Then the papers, or the symphonies, can be written.

I'm also thinking about my dad's Alzheimer's disease at the moment, and how communication - the vehicle for exploration of meaning - became so difficult. How he remained relatively uncommunicative apart from certain moments when he lit up and quoted large sections of poetry. The meaning remained for him, even when the machinery to drive the process of discovery didn't work any more. That tells me something about cognition and the way that we work backwards from intense meaningful experiences. Of course, love is at the heart of it. Our struggles to talk about it are struggles to find the frame which brings it out in all its burning intensity.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I don't know the answer to the posted question, but improvisational composition is an extraordinary means of producing a body of work; a body which otherwise might never exist. I am a physician and no time to write notes to page. But, with my MIDI keyboard, I can express myself in so many different ways, and so easily. Had to truncate classical studies, so I do have to compose a little slower to get all the licks in, approx 92, but easy to play back a little faster, at 165 approx, which almost always hits the sweet spot. Longing to share my 400+ and counting compositions with the world, but no easy way to translate my music to studio quality.