Accepted paper:

Music notation as source of creativity, interaction and antagonism in the improvised performances of the ICP orchestra


Floris Schuiling (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I approach music notations as actors (Latour 2005) in the performances of the ICP Orchestra. This Dutch improvising collective has developed an eclectic repertoire of pieces affording different improvisatory possibilities, informing a distinctive and diverse creative practice.

Paper long abstract:

This paper presents some results from an ethnographic and musicological study of the Amsterdam-based improvising collective the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra. This group, founded in 1967 by Willem Breuker, Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink and still performing, has developed a highly original and distinctive approach to musical performance. Dissatisfied with notions of 'freedom' in improvisation, yet critical of the traditional hierarchies in composer-performer relations, Mengelberg wrote an extensive and diverse repertoire, employing various notational and compositional techniques to explore the different improvisatory possibilities that they afford. In each performance, the musicians create an improvised collage of a selection of these pieces, juxtaposing and combining them and improvising transitions between them, thus blurring the distinction between improvisation and composition in both name and practice. I describe these pieces as actors (Latour 2005) in their musical practice, active participants in performance that mediate the creative knowledge and practical skills of the musicians. As ICP saxophonist Tobias Delius put it, the pieces 'create more anarchy than improvisation sometimes… The compositions play their own part.' As such, the musical practice differs both from the centralised control exemplified in traditional composition, and from the communitarian egalitarianism of free improvisation. These pieces thus 'produce a specific sociability' (Bourriaud 1998), one that emphasises antagonism and disagreement as much as creative collaboration. I illustrate this approach to improvised performance with a selection of musical examples recorded during my fieldwork with the group.

panel P002
Micro-utopias: exploring connections in anthropology, relationality and creativity