Racer Sessions

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

Aaron Otheim - May 8th, 2011


Smallface (David Balatero and I) will be presenting a new piece with the help of Jared Borkowski, Ivan Arteaga, Abi Swanson, Andrew Swanson and Garrett Sand. It’s been important to me lately to present a clear narrative in my compositions. Sometimes that narrative takes on a more circular, descriptive form, creating a specific mood or environment. Other times, that narrative is more linear and leads the listener through an experience that suggests a story or an event.

I think freely improvising musicians come by the former type of narrative (the more meditative kind) more naturally, simply because group improv tends to round off the sharp formal edges or motions that would otherwise produce overtly dramatic statements. Yet, we’ve also all experienced those magic moments when the entire group just turns on a dime, together, and WHAM! something has happened.

I’m going take a leaf from recent curators and divide the jam session into two parts. During the first half, each group that plays needs to:

  • Have a single “leader” who cues transitions and arrival points. The leader is in charge of dictating the character of each section of the piece. The others in the group need to respond immediately to any changes made by the leader. This doesn’t necessarily mean imitation—it just means some degree of responsiveness. I would suggest that leaders reinforce their directives with body language (think like a conductor) or by some other sort of cue. (It could be some pre-determined musical motif—just make sure everyone in your group is on the same page).
  • Let some or all members take a turn being the leader. I think this will be most successful if groups decide upon an order those for taking the lead so as to avoid toe-stepping.

Admittedly, this approach verges on “workshop” territory, but the point is to heighten awareness of and to be more intentional about what already happens during our free improvisations. The second half of the improvs will be open—open for people to actively continue this approach, to try to let it happen on its own, or to resist it altogether.