Over the past two years, I have gradually been exiting my shell and have started to concertize in public. I’d always improvised in order to assist my compositional process and also for the pure fun of it, but I kept this music private due to my very deep-seated fear of performing music in front of an audience. Overcoming this obstacle has been a long and difficult process, one that has been well worth the effort. Through improvisational performances, I have been able to make music with fabulous musicians and to connect with audiences who crave new sounds.
These concerts have mainly been held in small spaces, where a limited audience can fill a room with palpable energy. Instead of the concert halls with which I was most familiar, I’ve found myself in refurbished old churches, bars, basements and lofts. In most of these venues, the audience is immediately proximate to the players, sharing in the creative spirit of the moment. When the players push beyond the regular limits of our instruments in order to create music with very rough edges and otherworldly sonic environments, one immediately feels the audience’s concentration level increasing. In those times when I explore more melodic and gentler musical ideas, I feel the opposite reaction. Personally, I find these audiences incredibly heartening because their reactive energy presents a sort of comforting Bizzaro World mirror when compared to more typical arts patrons. The dissonant difficult moments are what make their ears perk up and are what brings them in the door.
While creating music in the moment, I’ve also gained many tools that will help to improve my controlled compositions. I’ve learned a great deal about the possibilities for extended techniques, even on instruments that I thought I already knew quite well. I’ve been forced to think about odd instrumental combinations (e.g.: toy piano, bassoon and electronics) and to create music for them, immediately and on demand. I’ve followed my collaborators into interesting and unusual formal designs, and have had them reveal relationships between musical materials that I otherwise would not have noted. I also am trying to incorporate some of the freedom of these improvisations into my written compositions.
The nature of my improvising will likely continue to funnel it into these underground (literally or figuratively) spaces with limited audiences. But in an important sense, this feels very much like a comfortable home for my music, where my aesthetic matches that of the audience. In these moments, I’m finding myself stretching musical possibilities while playing with incredible collaborators, creating jagged sounds for people who revel in the new. The music created in the moment then ripples into all other facets of my compositional life.