there's a certain zen perception of musicians: hours alone in a room, reflecting on the same passages, working through the repertoire. i met a geologist at a whiskey bar during the "blizzard" this year who walked me through the monte carlo experiment, which involved hundreds of female mathematicians running equations thousands of times to extrapolate the behavior of the manhattan experiment. why, the geologist posited, couldn't the same simulation be run with different interpretations of one piece of contemporary music? a composer's dream: extrapolating the "right" interpretation from dozens of interpreters. for me, as someone who reveled in data systems in problem sets in thermo and quantum mechanics class, notation is an open set. when i was a kid, i taught myself to read music based on the sounds i knew and the notation i saw.
improvisation, on the other hand, seemed like the great unknown - my friend kevin, freshman year, came to me with a request. "you've got all the scales in the world in your fingers, martha," he said, "so let's improvise." my kneejerk response was: hell no. i don't know how.
i've told this story at least 1x10^6 times, but here's one time more: first semester in the contemporary program at MSM we were assigned to improvisation groups, and mine was a band of rogues: clarinetist carlos cordeiro, vocalist charlotte mundy, and percussionist-visionary mike perdue. we had one rule: free. just go. get in it, go. and at first, i couldn't find my footing. we had this one day, where we extracted the microtones from a series of flowerpots that mike brought in and used that as the basis of our improv, when i knew: trust. that's what it's about, in any musical venture.
the two pieces embedded in this post represent two distinct phases of my musical life in nyc: the video is from a live performance of composer-dancer-pianist anne goldberg's vox - the first venture in an ongoing collaboration that would result in a residency at the field with a cast of dancers and musicians and a set of solo flute pieces based on french poems; the audio is from a recording of kevin baldwin's vocal-instrumental wonderland i walked into a void-mute with percussionist yumi tamashiro and goldberg, which added dimension to the standard score notation, challenging us to read multiple staves at once and constantly renegotiate the roles of soloist and accompanist.
this life of an improviser, musician, dancer, of artist is one of negotiating limits. my collaboration with composer-pianist-saxophonist-improviser jonah rosenberg, for example, is constantly evolving, challenging me in unexpected ways, most recently in a new dance piece with choreographer koryn wicks.
one rule: get in it and go.
© 2017 Martha Cargo