March 3rd 2008 03:50 pm
Copyright © 2008 Lyn Horton
By Lyn Horton
What does the jazz writer know about the creative experience? That is the first question that the writer must ask himself when attempting to write about music that is fashioned spontaneously, intuitively, from the heart, from the gut, from the spirit, from living…the struggles, the hardships, the joys and the love.
Just as the creative music improviser must be aware of the systems of music and the means to conform in order to launch into the soundscapes that seem to have no purpose because they conform to nothing, so must the writer have on hand the language that can describe everything that the music is. The language of that writer needs to be poetic, romantic, inherently simple, straightforward, and un-hyperbolic to expand the grammar for reliving musical invention. To translate hitherto unheard-of sounds for those who could also be interested in hearing them is mandatory.
What the writer hears might be similar to what the musician feels. It is hard enough to try to approximate sound into words and more often than not, words tend to corrupt the music. But if the words pretend to flow like the music does, then the words are doing justice to it. They point to the music. They entice the reader to find the music.
If words can distill sound into its essence, then what is accomplished is a step in a good direction. It is not the musician’s job to describe the music in words. It is the job of the musician to play the music. For the musician to clarify as best possible, when asked, what is being done is icing on the cake. The writer has to know more than to regurgitate what the musician says. The writer has to know more than how the musician came to be. The writer has to know what it is to write: to make sense out of words within the parameters of sequence of syntax and of time. Then in some way, perhaps the writer can understand that all the thought processes involved in the sequencing of the words is not unlike what transpires in the music.
Collective improvisations radiate many layers of sound that travel in the time that is the process of moments. What the writer must do is hear those layers and respond to them almost like another instrument on the bandstand. The words can extend the experience of the music, rather than quash or backtrack.
Improvisers want their music to mean something that evolves into thought but which also affects the heart and the mind. The writer can deal with how closely the music approaches how the mind expresses itself. The workings of the mind cannot be delineated except in terms of describing its residual effects—how the music “blows the mind” as antiquated a phrase that might be. Taking apart what is heard and gluing it back together is an arduous task but one that is like the actual pulling together of improvisation.
The music speaks a language of its own, even though it may borrow from and incorporate what has been integrated into past music already. This becomes the unconscious referent of the musicians’ consciousness. The writer has to know how to hear the elements of the language — lines and shapes and colors and how those are all mixed. How one musician talks to another musician and how the musicians respond to one another is key to determining how to listen. Absorbing dimensionality of the sound is equally as important as hearing a single instrument’s solo. Surely, the music can cackle; surely the music can sour; surely the music be synchronous or produce a melody. The musicians are producing unknown and known sound entities and relationships. They are letting themselves go. They are stepping outside of the realm of the music box. They are twirling away from the mirrors. They are moving towards no conflict.
The writer needs to hear that. The writer needs to disengage from some sort of pre-determined formula for assessment and recreate perceptions that imply the non-linear. When the intensity that drives improvisation is identified to a wide circle of population, then maybe the “freedom” the musicians strive for and are imbued with will have been found. They will have continued to mount a revolution without violence. Indeed, it will be a great day when music is heard as the omnipotent healer. Peace will have been found in the groove.
Lyn Horton is a New England-based visual artist and music journalist.