Round-Ups of the Oxford Improvisation Conference

Our German friend Michael Rüsenberg attended a four-day conference on improvisation in Oxford last week. (We previewed the conference HERE.)  He interviewed two of the people behind it, and has published the audio files of the interviews .

Mark Doffman gives the background to the confeence. 170 people submitted abstracts. 33-34 papers were given. “The discussion of improvisation is never free from ideology.”

Professor Eric Clarke gives an opinion on the current state of the academic discussion on improvisation: The discussion of improvisation has tended to be “too flat, too singular too re-ified” (or did he say rarified?)

Michael also learnt that George Lewis (now of Columbia University)  is shortly to publish a major handbook on improvisation with OUP.
Michael Rüsenberg has sent a update, the audio files augmented with several more interviews:

True to its title, the Oxford conference presented an extremely broad collection of „Perspectives on Musical Improvisation“. It had philosophers Eric Lewis and Lydia Goehr  lecturing, the latter providing a quite persuasive distinction between two kinds of improvisation, improvisation extempore and improvisation impromptu (which she explaines in the audio-selection of statements from the conference).

Peter Elson questioned the importance the jazz community places on the question if a given piece of music is improvised or not, somewhat demystifying one of the greatest improvisers of the genre, Keith Jarrett, who´s encore to the famous „Köln Concert“ was not the spontaneous invention we all thought to be, it simply was a rendition of one of his own pieces. Elsdon´s book on the „Köln Concert“ will be released in late December and promises to be quite intriguing.

Oxford was forum for explorations like those of Dan Goren and Clement Canonne; the former testing eye tracking technology to record this trumpet improvisations in front of a 17 CT painting, the latter with a laboratory excursion into the brush of Collective Free Improvisation. Participants had to protocol their impressions by either visual signaling or hitting a foot pedal – with surprisingly low levels of agreement on their personal satisfaction with the musical outcome.This is virgin territory, as both researchers admitted, but promises insights removed from and more valid than very personal accounts.

Old School Musicology was at its best with Tom Perchard lecturing on Miles´ music for Louis Malle´s film „Ascenseur pour l´echafaud“ from 1958, or Olivier Senn showing the contrasting concepts of modal improvisation by Miles and John Coltrane in a 1960 performance of “If I were a Bell“, Miles playing with less notes and Coltrane running through a stack of up to three different chords at once.

To quote George Lewis, this conference „had come a long way“. The study of improvisation is now „a field“. The former trombonist and now composer and professor in composition, whose students possibly have no idea that he ever played that instrument, appeared to be the ‘spiritus rector’ of the whole event.

Not by chance, George Lewis is currently editing a two volume book with 70 entries on the subject, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2013.

I have conducted interviews with 14 out of many more participants of PoMI, starting each interview with a personal account on improvisation.

The results can be heard here.

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