Meditations on Music: ImprovationaLU

After an incredibly moving, inspiring and dense weekend of listening to live improvised music, I have to boil it all down to about 900 words. I want to write several hundred words on each of the nine concerts, but at the same time, I want to let each show stand on its own and speak for itself, only to those who attended. That is mostly due to the nature of improvised music—it is meant for the moment, and after being played, it is gone. Many improvisers echo this sentiment, including headliner of the weekend Fred Frith, who almost never listens to any projects he has completed.

It is not that I am lazy and do not want to do strict reviews of each show—it is more that there is no proper way to review all of the weekend’s music in such a short block. Rather, it was the ambience and environment represented in bright moments of the past Friday and Saturday nights that is worth writing about. Thanks to senior Sam Genualdi who organized the whole weekend—which is far more work than you can imagine—I and the other attendees were provided with a unique experience—being able to shut off everything and stay in the moment for up several hours each night, should the individual choose to do so. Without even giving it much consideration, I chose to, separating myself from my stresses and future.

Throughout the weekend, I was not thinking about homework, the meetings and other obligations I had that following Sunday, or even how to assemble this article—the last of which was supremely intriguing to me. I have gone to concerts before and left everything at the door, but when I am at a concert I am covering, I always give at least a little thought to how I will write about it and what I want to show with what, but as I am meditating on ImprovisationaLU a few days after, I still do not know what to say about it. I took notes, as I always do, but they are minimal and merely reminded me of feelings rather than critiques. They are helping a little bit, but the music of the festival and my real-time reactions, ponderings and emotions to it are elusive, trapped in their specific moments, while their effects lightly echo into this week.

I like it this way. At first my admittance to not being able to review all the performances seemed like an easy way out—and it still might be to some readers—but it is the only way. Here was a festival that featured nine different groups and, consequently, featured nine completely different types of improvisation. To compare the nine altogether would do each a disservice. In my limited space and even more constricting subject matter, I will share brief glimpses—not reviews—that resonated with me from each show.

Matt Turner & Hal Rammel (Esch-Hurvis): Textures and unfamiliar sounds interlocked and meshed in a myriad of ways as the visual realm provides a different artistry. While Turner sat very still aside from his arms pulling sound from the cello, Rammel painted a picture with a bow, wire and mallet on his amplified pallets—a picture that is not there.

Jen Shyu (Esch-Hurvis): The multi-instrumentalist and vocalist soloed on the stage, took everyone on a journey through traditions in several countries, telling stories, seamlessly flowing from language to language and instrument to instrument. She surreally ejected herself from the narrative to explain what she was doing, enriching the performance more.

Matt Blair Trio (McCarthy Co-op): Catching only the last few minutes of their set, my being was disoriented by walking into the living room full of wax sculptures, some slowly melting to the hypnotic music.

Brian Grimm & Sam Genualdi (McCarthy Co-op): The house was much more empty, now that it was the end of the quiet set, and a few of us who were still there were laying down, basking in the often subtle music. My physical body was relaxed, but my eyes were open, and my mind was devouring the music.

Carnage the Executioner (Esch-Hurvis): I would not have expected any of the musicians at ImprovisationaLU to urge so much audience interaction, but there we were—most of the audience rapping and dancing along to the show-stealing and show-saving beatboxer/rapper. (This experience came after Carnage took the time to teach everyone some beatboxing basics, of course.)

Fred Frith (Esch-Hurvis): His guitar on his lap, Fred Frith instinctively and decisively picked various objects off from the table, letting them interact naturally, manipulating the sound in all-too-simple ways. When done with an object, he threw it on to the table, only to continue his resourceful and innovative method of crafting both hectic and ambient soundscapes.

Fred Frith with White Out (Esch-Hurvis): Frith had never played with the duo White Out before, but as they listened to each other, it was clear that did not matter. The guitar, drums and synthesizers built together, and I was in a state where I felt so rooted but detached at the same time. Tears welled up as emotions flowed over and through me, and I realized that I had never been so full of passion at a concert before without knowing why. And then the music stopped.

Multa Nox (McCarthy Co-op): Lush, thick electronic pads reverberated through the house, which was full of still listeners who were occasionally looking around. I liked this concert but it did not resonate with me like other concerts I have been to. It resonates with me just enough, though, to have an overwhelming desire to continue to be tranquil while listening to music. I want to listen to music I will write about with those close to me for the rest of my life.

Pony Pop (McCarthy Co-op): I had a strong urge to play, like my ears had been filled to the brim and this was the final music that would cause the sounds to pour out, through my own music and music with friends. I left in a haze, knowing that after many hours of undiluted improvisation, I could rest and digest.

To be able to immerse myself in listening, while also having the chance to talk to each of the performers, made this weekend a memorable and formidable one. Thank you once again to Sam and to all the performers for what was the first, but hopefully not the last ImprovisationaLU.