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Digital Improvisation: A Reflective Essay

Digital Improvisation: A Reflective Essay

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Published by AlexHarden
A reflective essay to consider the meaning of 'group-based digital improvisation', based upon my experiences of the discipline at the University of Surrey, UK.
A reflective essay to consider the meaning of 'group-based digital improvisation', based upon my experiences of the discipline at the University of Surrey, UK.

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Published by: AlexHarden on May 24, 2012
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For a studio-based musician who would not readily describe themselves a performer, letalone an improviser, a series of live improvisation labs, working within an ensemble of mypeers afforded a steep learning curve. Throughout the course of the Digital Improvisation 1module, I have performed within an ensemble aesthetically informed by free improvisationwhich therefore does not subscribe to the musical idioms of other musical forms. In thisrespect, the various musical techniques I learnt as a composer of electronic music becamelargely dispensable in lieu of developing a new approach to music making.
This essay draws upon a series of weekly audio journal entries in conjunction withvarious academic texts to present an explanation of group-based digital improvisation, asexperienced during this module. This opens with a discussion of the historical context,before approaching an explanation of digital improvisation by addressing its distinguishingfeatures in Section 2.
Alex Harden
Digital Improvisation: A Reflective Essay
Section 1: Historical Context
This section attempts to elucidate the development of digital improvisation as I haveencountered it by considering it a convergence of live electronic music and freeimprovisation. Thom Holmes echoes this point of view by noting the affinity between thepioneers of live electronic music and jazz musicians, suggesting “they often workedtogether, played to the same audiences and crossed over as musicians from one idiom toanother.” [Holmes 2008: 381] Live electronic music in this case may well be idiomatic(although the avant-grade characterised many early experiments), whereas freeimprovisation does not subscribe to an idiom. In this case of our ensemble, we have morespecifically been governed by the suitability of articulations in the context of a performancerather than incontestable freedom.
In his discussion of live electronic music, Nick Collins provides an account of thedevelopments in technology which made such performance possible, also examining anumber of early performers. Collins cites the invention of instruments such as theTelharmonium (1987) and Theremin (circa 1920) as formative developments while placingan emphasis on John Cage’s early electronic experiments in 1939. Collins notes that theseearly experiments later led to an embrace of ‘electronic accidents’ around the 1960s. Atthis time, composers such as Pauline Oliveros and Terry Riley began to explore magnetictape as a means for electronic performance which formed the basis for Oliveros’subsequent exploration of ‘Deep Listening’.
By the late 1970s, developments of computerhardware allowed their use in a live setting, a practice which has been central to the musicmaking of my ensemble. [Collins 2007]
Alex Harden
Digital Improvisation: A Reflective Essay
31 Oliveros' practice of ‘deep listening’ becomes particularly pertinent in section 2 during a discussion of theprocesses which inform music making.

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