Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Aaron Otheim - May 13, 2012


Andrew Swanson, Natalie Hall, Abbey Blackwell, and I will present an improvised piece we performed at Town Hall a couple weeks ago for their third annual May Day New Music concert. I composed the structure of the piece in an attempt to frame and showcase the individual improvisational approaches of each musician, as well as to represent the style and manner of freely improvisation music that has developed at Racer over the last two years.

Neil Welch and Cameron Sharif also performed with us at Town Hall, but due to schedule conflicts, they are unable to be at Racer on Sunday, and so the rest of us will perform a stripped-down version of the piece. 

For the jams, please consider how you can work with the individuality of each player in the group. Try to play in a way that you make the other people in the group sound as good as possible. Even if you disagree with the direction in which someone has taken the music, it is your job to adapt and to make things as musical as possible.

My program notes from the concert, which detail the intent behind the piece, as well as its compositional process:

For the last couple of years, I have had the privilege of participating in the musical community surrounding Seattle’s Racer Sessions. Since launching in January 2010, the Racer Sessions, meeting weekly at their namesake Cafe Racer, have strived to nurture an environment in which musicians of all backgrounds and persuasions may gather and freely improvise music together.

It has been exciting to witness, over the course of more than a hundred evenings, the evolution of individual playing styles and collective sensibilities. Even within the scope of a single improvised piece, a miniature evolution takes place as players continually adapt to meet the needs of the music. This sometimes calls for sacrifice—subverting one’s own voice in order to support the collective voice—and other times it calls for anarchy—refusing the governance of any other musicality except one’s own. A dance around these two poles takes place in every improvisation; each step dictates the birth, life, death, and rebirth of musical sound.

Out of this evolutionary process has emerged a lexicon and a style characteristic of this community, codified to the extant that the resultant music might often be mistaken as the works of a single composer! And yet the “composer” here is collective musical intuition, powered by the growing knowledge each person has of the way that others act and react with sound. This knowledge opens up countless possibilities when writing for improvisers, allowing one to incorporate the sounds and behaviors of distinct musical personalities into one’s compositional palette.

Tonight’s presentation is a tissue sample of sorts charting two years of musical growth that have been cultivated at the Racer Sessions. I am honored to share the stage with five musicians from the Racer Sessions whose “sound identities”—to borrow Duke Ellington’s apt label—have inspired tonight’s piece, Bones. It is a series of structured improvisations tailored to frame the way in which each person represents themselves sonically. The music you will hear is just as much theirs as it is mine.