Friday, September 16, 2011
The Middle and a Question
The middle of the Creative Pact 2011 process is upon me. Can I stay true to investigating how the Alexander Technique can influence improvisation for the rest of this month? So far I have and it's always nice to have help. Morning bike rides and Qi Gong in the surf. No demands from colleagues, patients, or their families. More time to devote to meditation and reflection. The real bonus is time with my guitar when I'm in a refreshed state without undue time pressure to get my practice time in.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I've been using Pedro de Alcanatara's book Indirect Procedures. I have also begun rereading Understanding Our Mind by Thich Naht Hahn and just today reopened Creative Thinking by J.G. Bennett for the first time in years.
The first couple pages of Creative Thinking framed my practice session's today. Improvisation is a big world, and while I doubt that in this life time I'll take up a study of jazz, there is still plenty to explore and learn. Throughout my musical process, improvisation has always been a part of my practice, and has been the stimulus for the pieces that have come through me. But this month, I am spending more time with improvisation. Exploring and examining different aspects for me. Today, I began with a simple frame of using C major. Then I expanded this to begin with a rhythm in five. Three different times the rhythmic aspect was quickly abandoned, as was the restraint of C major. The music was gentle as was my use. Even though the constraints were quickly let go, I find it good to have a beginning point. I then moved onto improvising arpeggios in seven using fourth chords. Lots of spirited fun here and I was able to maintain a good sense of my use.
How to enter into new improvisational spaces though? Ask questions perhaps? This thought was inspired by Creative Thinking. What would mystery sound like? What would gratitude sound like? What would the process of moving from anger to peace sound like? I played an improvisation on using each of these questions, with the tape machine running. Using AT prior to beginning each improvisation entered the unknown. During the third one, I had a greater than usual awareness of how I was using myself to play. Each of these improvs were longer than the earlier more basic musical explorations. And there was something about the third one that woke something up in me.
This is where Mr. Bennett's book became useful with his approach of holding the question. During my second session of the day, I began with exploring the "anger into peace question" again. But this time I sat with the guitar and the question, but kept rejecting the answers that I thought of - tritones, fast & intense, loud, abrasive and so on. Sometimes hearing notes, but still inhibiting my playing. Allowing a space to form for something new. When I did begin to play, I just went with what came out. Smiling when a quote from the Stone's Paint it Black arrived at the end.
I moved onto the question of what does mystery sound like? Again, I worked with holding the question and again many thoughts arose. Eventually without an answer I allowed myself to play. And then I repeated this process, at times aching to play, but waiting and rejecting the ideas that arose and looking for a quiet but active space to emerge. The third time I worked with this question, the mysteries of the church of my youth came to mind. Without thinking further I began to play. My playing felt different. I should add here that during this process, while rejecting thoughts I was also working to keep the AT directions alive. The AT work was supporting the effort of holding the question, by keeping me grounded in the sense of my body while my mind was at times quite active. Another exploration of mystery was undertaken. I simply played open strings for a while as I held the question. Simply listening to the stacked fifths, as thoughts came and went. When I did begin to play I was quiet, accepting of my playing, focused in my use. At the end of the piece, I began thinking that maybe this was a way to record a release of improvisations.
Another effort with "mystery" and the thought -<i> I don't know what mystery sounds like</i> - arrived. I have no idea how this sounded, but again I was exploring new musical areas for me and played with a confidence more akin to a composed piece. One final effort yielded a similar result. All told this exploration os the mystery question took me close to 40 minutes. Each take was taped, but for me the musical outcome is not as important as the process I undertook to arrive there. More explorations to follow.