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ImprovNotes is a monthly newsletter distributed by the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation.

Postdoctoral Fellowships

 
 

Call for Applicants – Postdoctoral Research Fellowships at IICSI
Deadline: June 1, 2022

IICSI is pleased to announce that it is accepting applications for one or two 12-month residential postdoctoral research fellowships, to be held at the University of Guelph in the 2022-2023 academic year. The fellowships are valued at $40,500 CAD.

Applicants with experience in pedagogy and curricular design and who could contribute to designing IICSI’s Critical Studies in Improvisation Graduate Program are particularly welcome. IICSI welcomes recent PhD graduates from its principal research areas: music, cultural studies, creative technologies, political studies, sociology and anthropology, English studies, theatre and performance studies, French studies, law, philosophy, and communications. Applications from other research areas are also welcome, with preference given to research that has a direct link with the social, cultural, or political implications of improvised art practices.

Applications are due on June 1, 2022, and applicants will be notified of the outcomes in July. For more information, including additional criteria for eligibility and application instructions, please see the full call on the IICSI website.

Events

 

ArrayMusic presents: CCMC
Array Space, Toronto
April 29, 2022, 8 PM (ET)
Free livestream

CCMC has held a residency at Array Space since 2018, with a monthly concert series. The legendary avant-garde improvisation ensemble of Michael Snow (a founding member of the group, and its only constant member), John Oswald, Paul Dutton, and John Kamevaar can be enjoyed for free, from the comfort of wherever it is you access the internet.

All CCMC performances are spontaneous improvisations, but their long history of collaboration makes for some very cohesive performances nonetheless. Snow plays the piano and synthesizer, Oswald plays the alto saxophone, Dutton does soundsinging and plays the mouth harp, and Kamevaar plays percussion and electronics.

CCMC occupies a central place in the history of experimental music in Toronto, and founded The Music Gallery in 1976. They have released eleven albums, and performed throughout Canada, the US, Europe, and Japan. It’s quite something to be able to watch a bunch of living legends perform on a monthly basis! To access the stream, visit the ArrayMusic site.

The Guelph Lecture – On Being
Presented by ArtsEverywhere festival
River Run Centre, Guelph, Ontario
Friday, May 6, 7PM - 10PM (ET)
$25 adult, $20 student

Now in its 19th year, The Guelph Lecture – On Being returns with a live event at Guelph’s River Run Centre. The keynote for 2022’s will be a conversation between bestselling author and climate activist Naomi Klein (participating remotely to reduce her climate impact) and Indigenous leader Chief Ninawá Huni Kui, from the Amazon forest, who will discuss the future of the Amazon and its implications for the rest of the world. This year’s event will also feature a performance by the JUNO Award-winning duo Digging Roots, and will begin with a spoken word performance by Ontario’s poet laureate, Randell Adjei.

Tickets are available through the River Run Centre’s box office. The event will feature live transcription and ASL translation. All attendees are requested to wear masks, and those wishing to maintain social distance while attending the event may request special balcony seating from the box office.
 

Keep Hope Alive Festival
Silence (Guelph, Ontario)
May 5-8
$25/performance, $250 Festival Pass (comes with charitable tax receipt for a donation to Silence)

The Keep Hope Alive Festival is a celebration of unexpected convergences, new connections, and persistence in the face of unbelievable odds. This 4-day event, which will take place at Silence (46 Essex St. in Guelph) will bring together some of Canada’s finest and most adventurous musicians, writers, performers, and creators (including Kevin Breit, Matt Brubeck, Rinaldo Walcott, and Jeff Bird, to name only a few) in combinations that have never been seen or heard before.

A full program of festival events can be found here—if you’re in or around Guelph, you won’t want to miss this event!

Audiopollination Concert 6 – Self-Curation Project
Presented by Arraymusic
Array Space, Toronto
May 13, 8 PM (ET)
$10; live stream free

Audiopollination is an ongoing improvised music series curated by Michael Lynn, taking place at Array Space in Toronto. The series began in 2012, and provides great opportunities for collaboration between improvising musicians, as well as dancers, sound artists, poets, and visual artists. Performances are both curated and impromptu, and for April and May, Audiopollination is doing a “self-curation project.” This means that you have the chance to get in on the action yourself.

There is a sign-up sheet for interested parties to perform in a 20-minute duo or trio. Array Space can provide a grand piano (though you are asked not to prepare it), a drum kit, bass and guitar amps, microphones, a PA, a projector with HDMI cable, and an elevator to help you move your gear. The room has very good acoustics (I can vouch for this), and a wooden floating floor for dancers. To protect the floor, percussionists, upright bassists, and cellists need to use mats, but Array has these available as well.

If you would be interested in curating yourself to improvise in a duo or trio, first visit the Audiopollination website to get a handle on what Audiopollination events are all about. You can find signup information through their website, too.

SoCap Comedy Theatre Presents: Improv for Singles and New Friends
The Social Capital Theatre, Toronto
Multiple dates
$21.69/person

Hey, are you lacking friends? I’m just asking; I’m not judging you. It’s hard out there. I’m sure you’re a delight to be around and all that. Heck, you probably have plenty of friends already! What if you wanted to acquire more friends, though? Would you know where to go and what to do, or would you just show up to your local farmer’s market with a big net and pray that everything would work itself out somehow?

Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, I have good news for you: someone has heard your cries for help. That someone is Ralph MacLeod, improv comedy instructor, and over the course of his two-hour class, you will have the opportunity to make friends and influence people. This event is specifically intended for adults to meet and make new friends in the collaborative, playful environment afforded by an improv class. MacLeod has lengthy experience in improv, teaching its techniques to members of various high-profile organizations. He has also founded two improv clubs – Bad Dog Theatre, and The Social Capital Theatre, where this class (fittingly enough) will be held.

There are several opportunities over the next few weeks, with multiple classes scheduled. Register here to attend, and leave your net at home.

Artist of the Month: Kaoru Abe

 

Kaoru Abe’s career was short, but vibrant. He played with some of the most notable figures in free improvisation and distinguished himself as quite possibly the most intense saxophone player of all time.
By most accounts, he was a man at odds with the world around him to such an extent that it is somewhat surprising that he could get on with other musicians at all. He could be overbearing and uncooperative in collaboration, but he could also produce subtle, generous work, as he did with past ImprovNotes artists of the month Milford Graves and Masayuki Takayanagi.

He’s best known for his solo work, though. Unconstrained, he explored an almost incomprehensibly broad tonal palette. At peak intensity, the guy was just a mind-blowingly vicious honker, capable of shaming even the most belligerent goose. He could make Peter Brötzmann sound like a freakin’ gosling, and that’s a high bar to clear. I discovered Brötzmann in high school, and immediately thought “well, there’s just no way that anyone could ever honk harder than that.” That’s the folly of youth, I guess. At least, that used to be what the folly of youth was. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Euphoria—I haven’t—but I think the kids on that show get into wilder situations than I did. My biggest issue was just trying to figure out which free jazz sax player honked hardest, and getting it wrong. We can’t really grow if we don’t make mistakes, though.

Student Exhibition
 


Feedback Loop: Critical Studies in Improvisation Student Exhibition
Silence, Guelph (46 Essex St.)
On display until May 31, 2022

Students from the 2021-2022 Critical Studies in Improvisation class at the University of Guelph have an installation and soundscape at Silence, Guelph’s primary venue for experimental music and art. Having opened with a collaborative improvisational performance on April 9, this exhibition will run until May 31. Attendance is free.

Feedback Loop addresses the negative changes we have seen in the past couple of years, the results of pandemic isolation, the various failures of the political system, and continual predictions of apocalyptic collapse from influencers and mass media. The installation is not intended to be seen as a form of student revolution. Instead, it poses questions (but not answers) through music and art generated by “lives lived in continual, universal frustration.”

For more information about the installation, visit the IICSI website.

Freddie Stone: Musical Phenomenologist

 
A Reflection by Bob Wiseman

It was in Toronto in the 1980s. I was searching for meaning and understanding in my pianistic improvisations. There was no Youtube, no internet. Today, I can watch footage of Freddie Stone in the late 60s on tour with Duke Ellington: after he madly and effortlessly solos, the crowd freaks out and Duke Ellington takes the microphone and says: “Freddie Stone, Freddie Stone [more applause] . . . We don’t know what he’s doin’ but we don’t want him to stop.”
 
I had finished studying music at York University and Fred Stone’s name occupied the top of the list when conversations turned to a debate over the best teachers of improvisation. Up until then I had worked with memorable pianists—Casey Sokal, Darwyn Aitkin, and Stanley Cowell—but Freddie Stone, who was a flugelhorn player, gave me the best piano lesson of all. Back then, there was a saxophonist I knew named Jonnie Bakan who was a regular student with Fred. I assumed this made him the recipient of magical knowledge. Not long ago, I asked him about those times.
 
Jonnie: Can you see that? I think I'm gonna scan this and send it to you. It's a booklet of poems and aphorisms and thoughts.
 
Bob: From you, about Freddy?
 
Jonnie: No, this is Freddie’s writing.
 
Bob: Oh, awesome! That would be very colorful. That'd be very deep to add. 
 
Jonnie: So he writes, “I prefer feelings to words, truly evaluative processes, but a partial and inflexible equivalent.”
 
Bob: I didn't hear it clearly. “I prefer feelings to words” . . . and then what did you say?
 
Jonnie: Oh, I'm going to send this to you. Okay. Yeah.

The environment is your orchestra energies, your pulse
All sounds in motion in a way premising.
Do not emulate history,
There is no need for more of the same
Be history to become of historical value.
 
Bob: And how do you happen to have these dispatches?
 
Jonnie: He just gave it to me. I mean, he wrote them and gave them to a lot of students. My favorite, though, is right at the end:
Evaluate pitch and tonality by smell,
hearing has little to do with it.
 
Bob
That's good.
 
Jonnie:
The best way to practice fingering exercises is with your toes.
 
It was just inspiring. I think the first early lesson with him, he had this little music toy that was like a mechanical music box that you could punch holes in cards to make your own compositions. So we sat there with the punch cards and he said,
 
Look, if the shape makes sense, then the music is gonna make sense.
 
Oh, that's smart, you know? Or another time I went there and he said,
 
Okay. Just think of a note. Think of a note, an octave or an octave and a fifth above it.
 
He said,
 
Get an impression of a scale. Don't know the notes, just get an impression of it and play it faster than you can [makes ripping paper sound with his mouth]. Change one note. Now another one, another one.
 
Bob
That's very interesting.
 
Jonnie: Yeah. I was thinking about it for a lot. It's gonna sound stupid, but it was like he was making the impossible possible. It was like, it's not impossible—if you can think it, then it's possible. You just have to let the thought realize itself. And part of that was that I was just a kid, 20 years old, trying to figure shit out, and Freddie was fundamentally a musical phenomenologist. Yeah. He was really about that. He understood the experience, and sometimes that was expressed as a more or less rational mysticism, but more often as a close empirical reading of sense and emotional experience. Like, he really was aware of
the creative experience. He connected sound as a moving and dynamic sensory experience to a similarly dynamic emotional equivalent that was rooted in histories, experience, individual personalities—especially individual personalities, their subject.
 
* * *

Bob Wiseman began writing and performing while still just a zygote. Later, taking on a coat of fur and several lengthy whiskers, it became clear this was not Bob, but Bob’s dog. Soon after, Bob was advised to get real about his bio. Okay: “So simple, so brilliant.” —Guy Maddin. “I know who Bob Wiseman is.” —Odetta.  “My worst piano student.” —Pearl Schneider."

Letters to My Original Geography

 

Dear Guelph,

I realized yesterday that in all the letters I have written you, none have confabbed about WHAT IIIF?.

What is ‘WHAT IIIF?’? First called “IIIF” in 2017, we discovered that the hashtag “#IIIF” led to a lovely, nerdy site of the “International Image Interoperability Framework,” rather than to our nerdy research collective: the Interdisciplinary International Improvisation Festival. Not that hashtags are our thing. With WHAT IIIF?, we only do what brings us joy.

We don’t have an Instagram because no one wants to take care of it. We don't have a website either, but that’s more a choice—we have imbedded all our information through many sources, and you can find it in Danielle Davidson’s painting, in Genetic Choir’s projects, in Clarice Rito’s Instagrams about liveable cities, and in the 122 recordings of WHAT IIIF? Nowhere and Everywhere, our answer to COVID. We do have Facebook because we needed one to livestream a 12-hour continuous improvisation on Memory and Water that we did across 10 countries last May.

But then, what is ‘WHAT IIIF?’? It is a serious research festival who gathers to answer the absurd question: “Can we document improvisation?” We call the question absurd because it is indeed, but it is also a means to undo the enormity of the festival’s task.

For 5 years now, we’ve gathered annually and nomadically across Europe for 4 days of improvised intensity. Our intention is to nourish the site improvisation.wiki, and its offshoot, TASWIR ATLASes, whose artist founder kindly lets us use. WHAT IIIF? works within a generous economy. Each year we are hosted by a local place, and local people; this year, the festival will be in the French Pyrénees in October 2022.

In Berlin last September, WHAT IIIF? reached its joyful interdisciplinariness with paint flinging, electronics scratching, dancers fabulously slithering about, and objects, lamps, and words moving in concert with it all. While all the while, documentation of what was happening was there in real time.

We have a dream to further develop our website of documentation so that it is entirely organized with an improvisor’s mindset (and not by WordPress). What will that actually mean? We don’t yet know, and that is entirely OK. We are just sharply ready to make it happen.
 
* * *
 
One fine Christmas, then painter Catharine Cary made tiny wire, tissue paper, and bay leaf mobiles for her clients. These constructions were so delicate that she blew up plastic bags with her own breath to transport them across the bridges of Paris, one by one. The look on her client’s faces revealed that owning something so evanescent may be as powerful as owning a painting; and these mobiles did not need to be packed, transported, dusted, or left to anyone in a last testament. Thus her love for improvisation was born. Since then, she improvises at a crossroads of painting, dance, calligraphy, and words. Learn more at her website.

Quote of the Month

 

“Honestly, I have few good memories of him. He would be really out of control! It wasn’t an issue when he was playing solo, but when we would play together, he would piss us off . . . Music is a courtesy towards the other musicians you’re playing with. One who lacks politeness can only create an impolite sound.” 

— Keiji Haino discussing the notoriously-abrasive Kaoru Abe in Endless Waltz (dir. Wakamatsu, 1995), a film about Abe’s life in which Haino is depicted in a duo performance with actor Ko Machida, who plays Abe.

Upcoming Events & Notable Dates
 

Apr. 30 – CfP: Echo #4: New Mimesis
May 6 – The Guelph Lecture—On Being
May 5-8 – Keep Hope Alive Festival at Silence (Guelph)
June 1 – Applications for IICSI Postdoctoral Fellowships Due
Ongoing CfP: Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation

About IICSI


The International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) is a partnered research institute building from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) project, “Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice” (ICASP). The Institute’s research team is comprised of 50+ scholars from 20+ institutions. IICSI's partners include six academic institutions (U Guelph; McGill U.; Memorial U of Newfoundland; U British Columbia; U of Regina; U of California, Santa Barbara), a foundation partner (Musagetes), and 30+ community-based organizations. The Institute's mandate is to create positive social change through the confluence of improvisational arts, innovative scholarship, and collaborative action.
 

About ImprovNotes


ImprovNotes is written by Chris Worden and is edited and assembled by Communications and Research Assistant Sam Boer. If you have anything improvisation related that you would like included in the newsletter, please email iicsi@uoguelph.ca.
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