Racer Sessions

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

Ivan Arteaga - March 31, 2013


The Theme

For my session this week, I will be presenting the in-progress work of a new project I am working on for UW composition program. The main theme of the project, and of the night, is actually very familiar one to any who has attended the racer sessions over the last 3 years. Improvisation as a form of Composition - more specifically, directed improvisations as a means of creating cogent pieces of music. This at first sounds like an oft explored theme and territory but something that sets the scope and goals of this project apart is the end result. In the long term (beyond the session this week) the goal is for this ensemble to have a piece of music which functions in virtually the same way as a fully formed, through composed piece of music does. From beginning to end, the majority of the behavior, form, content, and compositional construction will be the same in every subsequent performance. I say majority because the route by which we will construct the piece of music will allow for an inevitable, and in fact, desirable room for spontaneity in each performance, within the confines of the structure. The content of the music has been extremely gestural, and based on relationships between instruments, more so than any particularly composed melodic motion, harmonic motion, or rhythmic motion, which has allowed for it to be more dynamic, and spontaneous with each performance!

The Process:

For the last 8 weeks I have been meeting once a week with the same ensemble to improvise, to improvise some more, to talk about our improvisations, to try some structured improves, and to slowly develop a strong improvisational language that we use to communicate. We also play “pieces.” We arrive at a form, an idea, or a set of relationships that is powerful, and then we repeat the piece over and over again! Now, many of you have all heard and experienced the concept of trying to “re-create” a moment, vibe, gesture, or style, that happens in an improvisation, and recognize that this idea nearly always fails when attempted during a free piece. However, I believe that given a strong enough set of relationships and musical ideas, the consistent repetition can take those ideas and over time turn it into a successful composition. Essentially, you “practice your piece to life!” This kind of work takes quite a long time, and for my session you’ll hear several different pieces by the ensemble which show different parts of this process. 

The Ensemble: 

Neil Welch - Tenor Sax

Greg Sinibaldi - Baritone Sax

Jared Borkowski - Acoustic Guitar

Me - Alto Sax

The Session:

1. A piece that is in it’s construction process. The form is somewhat stable, but many of the elements within that form are still in constant flux, and with each repetition we do, the piece gets more focused, and also more complicated. This is because as very improvisational sections become more settled, they then necessitate a compositional treatment, such as a transition, preparation, or a balanced length. 

2. A completely free piece

3. A structured, or guided improvisation which we will discuss, and determine on stage. 

The Jams:

After the presentation at first, there will be 3 or 4 improvisations which will have a structure, or form that is pre-determined, either by the ensemble themselves, or using a prepared piece idea that I will have for you to choose from.  These first few improvisations will need to be on the shorter end of things, because each ensemble will get a second chance. That’s right! Each group will perform their piece twice, with a short discussion in between the two, to help focus the second performance. I will be there to facilitate this process for each of these improvisations!