Racer Sessions

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

Cameron Sharif - November 7th, 2010


Melody and its Elastic, Regenerative Properties

Hi all,

I’ve realized throughout the course of our sessions at Racer, that addressing a theme for an entire hour and a half of improvisations is extraordinarily difficult. Themes that are the most solid, and obviously unified tend to be the ones that involve a lot of constraints and curatorial manipulation and talking-through.  I do not want to do a constraints-heavy theme, because I feel like we have already done that quite a bit at Racer.  I wanted to come up with a very basic, not-too-esoteric theme for this week that will still be a good exercise/vehicle for the improvisations.  This week the theme is melody, and what all we can do with it; in particular how it can be elastic and regenerative if we think about it during an entire improvisation. 
What I want people to do for this week is think about what melody is to them, and stick to their guns at the session.  Play melodies, play them again, regenerate them, paraphrase them, break them, shadow them, destroy and rebuild them, but always have them.  They are very important for building a thematic improvisation.  I noticed in a lot of Racer improvs that a central melody might develop minutes into an improvisation, or by the very end, which can be very cool.  However, this week, I’d like people to concentrate on the melody of their improvisation from the very beginning and try to establish it quickly, so it can then be permutated and developed.  
Some things that might help this happen:
-Not everyone playing from the very beginning 
-Those who don’t play at the beginning listen very carefully to the statements of those who do. 
-Repetition.  Things have a way of getting very forward-flowing at Racer, and I feel like repetition of statements is a little undervalued.  For the melodies to work, and improvisations to grow with them, they should be repeated. 
-Groups being in the 1-4 people range as opposed to 5 or more.  
What about Melody?  Specifically, I would like to explore the elasticity and regeneration of melodies, and how they can become entire improvisations, not just statements at the beginning and end of a song.   There is a preconception in improvisational music, handed down from the way songs are structured in the jazz tradition, that soloing/improvising takes place separately from the melodic statement, in a different section of the song.  The opposite-extreme of this structure is to only improvise, and not have a melody.  Lets try to steer away from both of these paradigms and find a middle ground by improvising within the melodies we come up with.  I encourage people to find relatively simple melodies and expand them by adding to them, subtracting from them, displacing them harmonically or rhythmically, repeating them, and/or any other manipulation of the melody that will propel the piece forward.
I should go ahead and say that, yes, everyone has a different idea of what exactly melody is.  They do not have to be pretty diatonic phrases.  What ever it is to you, just try to execute it within this improvisational framework. 
I’m going to perform a few pieces I composed for the sake of this exercise with Evan Woodle on drums.  Each piece should hopefully demonstrate more clearly than I can in words what kind of improvisations I’m aiming for this week.  Each composition is made up of only 3-4 measures of written material.  I tried to keep the melodies simple and not too arranged to replicate the improvisational process.  I realize it’s a lot easier to think of strong melodies while seated at a piano on one’s own, than it is to create them on the fly playing with people you’ve never played with before.  So, taking a little bit from Jared Borkowski’s session a couple weeks ago, I composed them using stream of consciousness as an exercise to trust the first melodic statement that comes, and then go with it. 
For the pieces Evan and I are performing, each measure is a statement of the melody, reading ‘a,’ ‘b,’ ‘c,’ and so forth, depending on how many bars there are (the longest piece has 5 measures).  We are going to be playing these short statements, weaving in and out of each one, adding to them, displacing them, maybe leaving them for just a second, returning to them, and hopefully regenerating them. But the goal is to have these small melodies hold a very strong presence in the entire improvisation. 
So for this week, just try to always have the melody in mind when you are improvising!  The goal is to think like Louis Armstrong, but in our very own Racer sort of way. 
Lastly, please either form your groups beforehand, or just jump right it whenever you want to play.  I have no preconceptions of who should play with who, and would prefer not to handpick groups. 
Hope to see you there!