Both Huntsville and Dans les arbres are associated with the scene of improvised music. We perform at festivals for improvised music and our releases are reviewed in improvised music sections in magazines. However, I do find it problematic to relate to this scene, to the field of improvised music. The contrasts and variety in the artistic outputs within this field are enormous.
Which is a good thing.
In the essay The Field of Musical Improvisation Corbussen, Frisk and Weijland point out the “fluid, irregular shapes of this space [The field of improvised music]”, the instability and diversity of it. They suggest that we “…talk of the ‘formation’ rather than the ‘form’ of the field, of structuring instead of structures”, that the field of improvised music is a complex system, a dynamic network culture with “no stable or strict identity.”1
I find that this is an accurate description of the field of improvised music. At the same time it also explains why I find it difficult to relate to it. The field is simply too fragmented, too diverse, too big, too complex to relate to. Paradoxically, it feels too strict.
Why does it feel strict?
Often, but not always, there seems to be a minimal aesthetic relationship between what we do and what other practitioners do within the field of improvised music. The only element that ties us together is the fact that improvising is a shared key component in our music making processes. That does not necessarily call for strong aesthetic links. I can find much clearer aesthetic parallels to our music in, for example, the slowness and sparseness in Japanese gagaku tradition, Helmut Lachemann’s focus on timbre, the repetitiveness in krautrock, late Morton Feldman, contemporary art music and art rock than in ensembles that play at the same festivals as us – under the same vague, even misleading label: improvised music.
Not that I mind performing at festivals alongside ensembles
with totally different aesthetic preferences. Not at all.
But, why does it feel strict?
I think it feels strict to me when the label, improvised music is being held up as the one thing that unites such a broad span of artistic expressions. Our music sounds as it does, much because of improvisation, but also because of a number of other factors. Which is what I am trying to articulate in this encyclopaedia. The fact that the music is improvised is not its most significant characteristics.
I am not suggesting any solutions to this. I have no suggestion for an alternative label. This project is not about genre and music labels.
The Calder Mobile analogy, the notion and acceptance of how pieces refer and relate, the collectiveness that grows out of individuality, combined with aesthetic preferences such as the scarcity in material, repetition, small variations, the independent rhythmical loops, the patience, the nudging, how we balance elements, the sounds we use, how we focus on timbre. This combination of factors in our music make up a totality that I believe makes our music deviate from the majority of what is going on in the field we are chiefly associated with.
As I mention at other places in the encyclopaedia, I am not pretending we are the only ones doing this. I hear similar approaches in The Necks, AMM, Supersilent, the duo Streifenjunko, the trio Mural and others. Our music and my project may relate to fractions within the field of improvised music. However, the majority seems to be pre-occupied with something else. I see, read and hear an overstated focus on difference, of being free something, of being present in the moment, a lot of responsive interaction, too much variation dynamically and rhythmically. As I see it, the sum of all this easily leads to a lack of aesthetic focus.
Dans les arbres and Huntsville operate between different fields. It is within a dynamic network culture and in a conglomerate of many fields that my project has been conducted.
1 The Field of Musical Improvisation, Marcel Corbussen, Henrik Frisk, Bart Weijland http://musicalimprovisation.free.fr/index.php (27 October 2015)