I once asked a colleague I often work with if they’d be interested in being part of a project I was involved in at the request of another colleague. My colleague declined stating they were not interested and only really wanted to take low maintenance gigs. This colleague gigs as often as, if not more often than I do, so I completely understood the sentiment as it’s one that I have when it comes to taking on gigs or new musical projects.
In my previous post about tools for the 21st Century Musician, I discussed improvisation as probably the most useful tool musicians can be using. In a way, technology is even more indispensable. Unless our voice is our primary or only instrument (and even then there are exceptions), then nearly everything we make music on is the result of some level of technology. Whether we’re talking about the technology of carved bone flutes and dried skins over a wooden frame, or the highly advanced craft that luthiers use to carve/mold stringed instruments, or the ability to build circuitry or program for electronic instruments or computers, there is always some level of technology involved in the making of musical instruments.
Imagine having a conversation with someone but instead of speaking you had to read from a piece of paper with writing on it. Now imagine that none of that written text is your own but words written by other people. Not only would your end of the conversation lack some measure of spontaneity, but you would also have to carry around an impressive library of text which you would have to have organized for quick retrieval lest you stymy the flow of the conversation. This is kinda what it’s like being a musician that can’t improvise. Improvisation in music is the analogue to our normal everyday ability to improvise with our voices with the spoken word. It’s also something that disappeared from Classical Music training for a while though it’s making a comeback.
Soundpainting is a kind of live composing sign language created by New York composer Walter Thompson in 1974. Designed for musicians, dancers, actors, poets, and visual artists, the Soundpainting language consists of roughly 1200 gestures that are signed by the composer/director who is known as the Soundpainter. Soundpainting differs from the late Butch Morris’ Conduction (created roughly around the same time) in that the gestural language of Soundpainting is more general and is designed to be used by non-musicians.
A recent piece by Sugar Vendil titled Performers as Co-Creators at NewMusicBox discusses a current piece using musicians as dancers and brings up many of the issues I’ve discussed in my previous two installments of this on dancing while playing the cello series. The Nouveau Classical Project is developing a piece, Potential Energies, which will premiere in Brooklyn at BAM Fisher on May 29.