Improvisation certainly comes in many forms, serving a variety of needs and purposes. For me, the most precious gift of improvisation is that it can invite for coincidence. When two or more things coincide then there is a concurrence of events with no apparent or planned connection. It is really an encounter that is not governed completely by control or intentionality. We can think of coincidence as something that adds to already meaningful events, and that does so in an unpredictable but fruitful way. Although each event in itself may be at least partially constitued by a strive towards concurrence, coincidence involves that we cannot foresee precisely how or when it will occur.
Improvisation also has to do with unfolding the full potential of coincidence. It is not simply that something happens, once and for all, but it can continue to reverberate if we are skilful enough to allow it to do so. Moreover, this unfolding takes place through an entangled web of intended actions and unintended concurrences. Coincidence thus proliferates, branching off into yet other coincidences, making possible unforeseen actions. And in this process we cannot actually tell cause from effect, and we cannot really separate one coincidence or action from another coincidence or action. Thus, the unfolding of coincidence is something that both “happens” as well as something which is “made to happen”. I would say that improvisation relies on both in order to be sucessful.
When the unfolding of coincidence is eventful then it makes a difference; it inspires and engages. That is to say, eventful improvisation forces us to listen very attentively to the sounds, to indulge in their detail. And it does this by directing our attention to the affects of the sounds themselves: the forms and figures of intensity that are created by volume, sound color, pitch changes and density. Needless to say, then, this eventfulness is of course dependant on the listener’s skills and vulnerabilities as much as the musician’s.
Improvising music together with others in a group requires that we can be forceful and responsive, often at the same time, so that we are neither submissive nor dominating. As an improviser I thus try to find musical ideas that can establish something in an independent way while at the same time be affected by what goes on around me, taking in as much as possible what the others are doing. This implies a form of playfulness that invites for surprising coincidences. We “play around” without knowing what’s going to happen.
It is however quite difficult to actually lose control, allowing something to happen that goes beyond my intentions. It means taking risks and being vulnerable, hoping that our experiments will turn out to be interesting in some way. But hope is all we can do! In a sense, then, improvisation is not truly possible without surrendering my intentions to something that happens in between: in conjunction with another, with an instrument, with a circumstance… Coincidence is acknowledged as an important force, a really deep and inexhaustible resource for creativity.
It is not however about striking a compromise. It is not somebody giving and another taking but rather about maximally giving and taking at once. We try to give and take as much as we can, in many voices simultaneously, so that it becomes unclear where one ends and another begins. Improvisation settles for nothing less than allowing everyone’s expression simultaneously but in ways that also affect each other. As such it is really an encounter, a coming-together without unification, without dissolving individuality. For improvisation to happen we need each other, everyone in full expression; and what is then accomplished is not something that could have been foreseen by an individual.
“To affirm is not to bear, carry, or harness oneself to that which exists, but on the contrary to unburden, unharness, and set free that which lives.” - Gilles Deleuze