Racer Sessions

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

Kate Olson - January 23rd, 2011 (One Year Anniversary!)


Creativity is an intangible animal, and a slippery one at that. Akin to self-respect, faith, or desire, its origins and sustainability are always in question. If its essence is lost, it’s almost impossible to find. Believe me; I’ve been certain that I left my creativity (as well as my self-respect, faith, and desire) in an ex-boyfriend’s closet, but upon much examination, that’s just not how it works. One of our unique attributes, one of the features that differentiates humans from other animal species on this planet, is our ability to verbalize not just physical things that don’t exist, but ideas that will forever remain a part of the ether (unicorns, anyone? not to even mention utopia, pure communism, or little white lies….).

So, this idea of creativity. Where does it originate? How is it fed and watered? To whom (or what) is it responsible? Each of us has his or her unique response to the question. If, however, we limit the creative moments in question to the moments spent improvising with other creative types on stage, in front of an audience, I posit that we start to notice trends; some beneficial and many less than ideal. A finite set of tangible influences exists within the performance sphere: acoustics, performance partners, internal factors (how many beers did YOU drink before stumbling onto that stage?), etc. The real magic happens when we start to explore the infinite sources of creativity. We experience flow states in which we tap into a level of consciousness that defies reckoning. We don’t need to exert our egos upon one another, playing increasingly louder or hijacking the direction of a piece with some pyrotechnic stunt. We feel the audience breathe with us (or perhaps holding its breath in anticipation); we know what our musical partners are about to play before they play it. We don’t just respond in rote fashion with a lick we learned in middle school, but rather we suddenly become capable of making sounds we’ve never heard before. It is in this moment that we are truly improvising, creating an enthralling pastiche of sounds that outlines an ecosystem through which the intangible animal of creativity can romp and roll.

In my humble experience, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get to the place that I describe above by tricking our brains into a deep state of focus than by hunting for it on purpose. In recent sessions, we’ve explored a lot of the connections between the visual arts and music. I’d like to go in a slightly different direction. In the same way that Tibetan Buddhist monks would allow a visual focus on a mandala during a meditation, they might also repeat a mantra. A literal translation of the Sanskrit mantra might be “instrument of thought,” i.e. a tool that allows us to communicate with the part of our brain that does the thinking (don’t think too hard about that one…). In short, I want a session-full of improvisations inspired by, about and around POEMS.

So for this session, I’ve asked our very own Tanya Gleason to provide the mantras for us; she’s a very talented poet, and the pieces that will open the session this Sunday are written about some poems that she’s graciously given me the license to present to you without much instruction. I’ll describe the pieces in more detail at the session, but in the meantime I wanted to provide some extra-curricular goodies to whet your appetite. Please come prepared to get in deep–words are powerful.

1.A TED Talk on what goes on in your brain while you’re improvising: http://www.ted.com/talks/charles_limb_your_brain_on_improv.html? awesm=on.ted.com_8oVd

2. Three poems with harp/soprano sax accompaniment, featuring me and my friends Christopher Rountree and Michelle Horvath: http://db.tt/8FBo59m