Live music performance can get everyone’s attention and even unify a group. It can also give rise to meaningful conversation afterwards.
Afterwards I played something I wrote a few years ago on the electric piano, explaining the kind of conversation that could take place between two strangers, hence the title “Encounter” or “Ontmoeting” in Dutch.
Where was the guitarist? I didn’t want to play another piano solo. I am too used to playing duo these days.
“Yes?” I heard a voice from the back.
“Are you there? Are you ready?”
“Ah! You blew my cover,” he said as he walked on stage. He thought I was going to play another piece.
Now, I can’t remember if we played our arrangement of Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Or if we ended with an improvisation. Nothing was recorded. But I do remember the reaction of the audience.
We had talked about improvising many times. But it was the first time we improvised before an audience. The concept of improvisation is simple: you have a conversation through music. You don’t know a priori what to expect. You just have to go with the flow.
Unlike jazz improvisation where chord progressions do matter, contemporary “art music” improvisation is about gesture and communication. You don’t need perfect pitch to play the right notes. The notes don’t matter. Without the constraints of melody and harmony, we’re free to explore other territories of rhythm, dynamics, and self-expression.
The next day we met with Liz Miller, the photographer whose polaroid exhibition is currently on display in our monument house in Utrecht. “What did you think of our performance?” I asked.
“I love the improv!” She was sure everyone else loved it — more than my composition or the Vivaldi.
“But we didn’t even practise for it. And I’m not sure we will be able to repeat the same improvisation again,” I said.
“That’s precisely why it works well here,” she said. “We were the only ones to have seen that improv.”
Notice the word “seen” not “heard.” An improvisation has to be seen, for it’s about gestures and expression.
No live performance is ever the same. We can play the same piece over and over again. Each time it will be different. However, no improvisation can ever be repeated.
Live music cannot be captured in a bottle or caged in a glass container for all to see, like the items Liz collected from Crete (below).
It can be recorded. But it will never be live.