Racer Sessions

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

Ivan Arteaga - November 27th, 2011


I do not consider myself any form of composer, and hardly think of myself yet as a student of composition even though I just started composition studies at the UW. I realize however, that the way in which I think about music and improvisation - even how I’ve been rehearsing in the past - is very compositional. For my session, essentially I am going to share the work I’ve been doing recently with bringing in compositional thought and practice with the experience of free-improvisation.

Spending a lot of time over the past 4 years focusing on improvisation, I have been trying to experience improvised pieces, and my own improvisations, in the exact same way I would a classically composed piece of music. (For that matter, any other music I listen to!) I have recently discovered a new term for the idea of some all knowing omnipotent power that judges music. It’s been called “The Big Ear,” and I like the phrase. What this means for my improvisation, is that I am work-shopping with the elements of music that are compositional, in a very explicit way, within improvs.  This can range anywhere from small scale phrase motif relationships, to the overall form of a piece. The reason for doing this, is really to bring the art of improvisation up more and more to art that can be more effective, and moving, to “The Big Ear,” which presumably judges all music past and present!

What is amazing is that some of the best improvisations that we hear at the racer sessions for example, are inherently treated compositionally while still being free and interactive/communicative in the moment. All I’ve been trying to do is “practice” improvisation from the point of view of a listener who might not necessarily know that it’s nothing more than a “piece of music.” This means that being in command of music elements at work in “Great Composition” is essential. (e.g. tension, release, pacing, expectations, form, temporal relationships of sounds, intent, etc)

Joining me for the session will be Evan Woodle on drums, and Cameron Sharif on keyboards. We have been working together as a group on improvising/composing in real time. We’ll be playing a slightly structured improvisation twice. Audience members will have a sheet with the same basic structure that we have worked out. The idea here is that as a listener, both pieces should function overall in the same way, while all of the source material, and content of that function are products of the free – improvisation interactions.

Additionally, I have been working on a composition. It is a piece for solo saxophone, heavily inspired by the work of our very own Neil Welch. The piece will be presented in still a very improvisational format because that is how I’m creating it. In keeping with the theme of improvisation/composition,  I have been piecing this work together by recording lots of short improvisational snippets of the “source material” for the piece. By listening back to the improvisations, I have started to work out the directions, pacing, balance of sonorities, and level of interest between sections all in the space of my own head, not writing it down on a score. By doing this, I hope to maintain the ethos of an intensely improvised presentation, while treating much of the musical functionality in a compositional way. The result is that, on a micro level, the sounds and particularities of a given texture are dealt with improvisationally, while the trajectory, and ordering of the landscapes that I travel through, is beginning to be very intentional, and composed.

For the session, I would like to alternate between completely free improvisations (the norm), and structured exercises that I will have prepared. 

See you Sunday!