copyright © 2006 Lyn Horton
Ten years ago, when I started writing about creative improvised music, learning about its history seemed a necessary component. The history of the music is as much a history about the culture that brought it into being. As a novice, save for 15 years' experience with classical and contemporary music, my view of the literature was unbiased. Everything I heard and read opened up new avenues.
But just because I knew, for instance, about the significance of Kind Of Blue, or the fact that John Coltrane had a penchant for arpeggiation, or that Anthony Braxton was the first in improvised music to record a solo album, or that Thelonious Monk re-defined the rhythmic language of jazz, this knowledge did not mean that I would weigh all the music I heard against these models. Quite the contrary, knowing the music of the past compelled me to recognize instances that were similar but not necessarily derivative. Knowing about the past gave me confidence in the act of listening, comfort that I could actually hear improvised music moving in a direction that was foreign to me. In fact, the "foreign" would always be what I strived to know. For me, writing about the music excluded comparing one musician's practice with that of another of which I was already aware.
It defeats the purpose of writing about the music if one merely recapitulates how the music reflects other music. How about writing about what one hears? For improvisation gives time a personality, becomes a map of time specific to the moment. Musicians who improvise are themselves filtering what they know of the past, but they are also carving out new structures, new ideas about how the music can flow, how it can impact the mind, how it can decode the adventure we call living, if only for a few minutes. Writing about music that occurs once and only once is a means to translate it for those who might not necessarily be aware of it.
Being true to the music as it passes in time might require being enraptured. But reporting rapture is not easy. It is making the subjective objective. In a way, the music goes through the same process itself. The musician takes his or her sensibility, transforms it through an instrument and lays it bare. Writing about that transformation removes it one more time from the musician. Therefore, the writer has assumed a great responsibility, one that requires as much verbal precision, pure musical appreciation and overall insight as possible. It takes insight to make the writing complement the music, but the writing would not happen if the music went unheard.
C o m m e n t s
Reporting the Moments 1 of 2 greendolphin January 30, 06
Lovely article that succinctly but comprehensively articultes the cornerstones of writing effectively about improvised music.