An Approach to Free Improvisation


First of all, I love the on-the-edge excitement of playing improvised music...working from a blank canvas, pregnant with all possibilities available in each moment. Of course, it helps to have one's head in the right place...a state of open awareness, listening intently to all the sounds which happen and simultaneously making one's own contribution (be it sound or silence) at each moment. I find it helpful to attain a meditative state of mind, in which one is fully aware of everything going on, but empty of all thoughts, judgements, comparisons, desires or intentions. In this state, one's intuitive creativity is readily accessible and one becomes attuned to the spiritual dimension of the improvisation process and more able to establish meaningful communication with a suitably open, receptive and aware audience. When all this happens, the audience becomes genuinely involved as part of the creative process.


Free improvisation is clearly all about spontaneous creativity and living in the here-and-now, and has obvious connections with zen. Also, the state of mind developed through zen meditation (zazen) is precisely the state of mind which releases one's creativity as an improvising musician.


It is obviously possible, as many do, to improvise within certain stylistic or other constraints. While this is perfectly valid, it is not the same as free improvisation, which transcends such constraints, just as it transcends all pairs of opposites, such as simplicity vs complexity, tonal vs atonal, intellectual vs intuitive, and so on. This is one from of music-making where all possibilities can be genuinely embraced.


Finally, free improvisation is fun! There is a strong sense in which this really is playing (at) music. Approached in the right way, it unlocks the natural, spontaneous creativity within each participant who, in psychological terms, operates from his or her "natural child". This does not imply anything facile or shallow - on the contrary, the process is deep and operates simultaneously on many levels. This is a very liberating experience and is often found to be therapeutic for those suffering from the various forms of stress which are prevalent in contemporary Western society (i.e. for most of us!) let's improvise!


Mole, March 1999