Improvisers Orchestra

The Improvisers Orchestra got together on Tuesday evening.  They were upstairs in the Art House, and I know because I was there! The thought of creating and inventing music with other people enticed me but I have to admit it also scared the pantsoff me.
After all there were some fairly big HOWs involved.
How would I know when to play?
How would I know what to play?
How would I know what not to play?
How would I know how NOT to spoil everyone else’s playing?
How could I be sure they wouldn’t all look up at me and GLARE as soon as I played a note?

Well, fortunately for me, a ‘new customer’ came into the Art House that day as I was doing my sift in the cafe. Co-incidentally, I’d been introduced to her at the Talking Heads by a friend the day before. My new friend read the what’s on guide and said she liked the sound of the improvisation workshop. I, blindly but encouragingly, agreed:
“Yes,so do I”.
“Well, I’ll go if you’re going” she said.
Another How?  How did she know that this approach inevitably works with me!  I cant be known to have less bottle than my friends or contemporaries!
Well I went along and so did she.  The evening was simply beautiful. Annie runs the group and she had brought a small but intriguing amplifier with a ‘thing’ attached to it by wire. I guess it was some kind of microphone. (I’m sorry I’m not very technical where electrical music is concerned) She discreetly rubbed this thing on her clothes, between her fingers, scratched it, tapped it and did other weird and wonderful things with it making a variety of subtle and interesting special effects. As far as I could see ‘the thing’ resembled an honesty seed or maybe a round plectrum but who am I to say? It was round and flat and probably a microphone.
Now I dont know exactly how it all started but it did happen that we put an exciting and lively array of sounds together. These sounds flowed between us and we played about with them pushing and pulling them around the room until after a while, quite naturally, we brought ourselves to a gentle finish. I thought it was truly amazing the way we all worked together!
Now Bik had wired up some contraption which at intervals produced rather ghostly yet strangely parrot like chantings of ‘Bik, Bik, Bik’.  Amy played the djembe drum very competently, Bik also did percusssion, a woman efectively and sometimes eerily played a plastic bottle by blowing and singing into it, Paul played a haunting melodica (blow organ) my new friend played notes and simple shapes or chords on the piano, and I occasionally ‘tinkled’ higher up in the treble range with one or two fingers while with the other hand I shook a rain maker! You see I couldn’t decide which instrument to use and no-one seemed to mind that I chose both.  There was also a young woman with a cello, a man with a plastic bottle and a drum and we all sat and made music together. We played just whatever we darnwell felt like playing!  Somehow, to my surprise, we had achieved an orchestral identity to our group and our cacophany though sometimes discordant was always rhythmic and satisfying and at times even melodic and harmonious.  Our sounds rose in volume and then softened and slowed they soared and dropped and they explored their own presence within our space and they produced intriguing developments. I felt utterly transfixed during our soft, gentle reverberations and again enthralled when more resonance rang out from the addition of the richness of the singing bowl and the silver clarity of the small steel glockenspiel.
We sat in a circle, each one of us absorbed in making sounds that painted the air in joyful abandon. Different instruments rose and took precedence over others, and yet all, to my ears anyway, had a happy place in the whole.
Next to me a woman had brought her harmonium, further around the circle a man was playing a ukulele (untuned) and there was a large selection of percussion instruments available for all and sundry to use as they wished.  Just when we thought we had a good variety of instruments on the go a man appeared and opened out an enormous telescopic didgeridoo-like horn, and naturally enough proceeded to blow down it. I wasn’t watching his direction at the time so the deep tone and vibrational hrrrmph when it emerged in all its immensity took me so completely by surprise that it I could hardly remain upright on my chair! Later on at the end of the session I was kindly allowed to have a go on it and to my surprise I was able to produce some noise. It was great fun. It made me spit alot and tickled my lips.  But I digress, hrrrmmp.
All these instruments merged playfully and created sounds that wooed, soothed, jarred and excited us.
After the break we were taught some hand signs that are used by some conductors of improvisers. Thus we learned to interpret without words when the conductor wanted us to make a sustained sound,when a short sound, when to play non-tonally ie percussion only, (even the pianists had to play without using the keys!) when one half of the group was to fall quiet and the other to increase the volume, when one particular player was to improvise at length and so on. Of course the next step was for a few members of our newly formed orchestra to try their hands at conducting.  This gave them a good deal of control over who was playing, and when, and how, and for how long.  This development of the art of control, I realised, enabled me to answer those fearsome problems of how, when and when not which had so plagued me initially and prevented me from taking part previously. 
 I could see that having already learned to play an instrument wasn’t necessarily an advantage to playing in our orchestra. Not for someone like me at least,who wanted to give most of the responsibility for success of the piece to a dead composer, and who wanted, as a player, to just follow the rules and hope that the result would be living music. The idea of improvising had definitely scared me because I had only ever played the piano and the ukulele using sheet music and without a doubt the result was not always music. But what we played on Tuesday evening was surely alive and kicking and I dont know about anyone else but I finished the evening with a great silly smile on my face and a warm smile in my heart!
Do come.  Such fun!!


About arthousesouthampton

The Art House is a not-for-profit café, gallery and arts venue in the centre of Southampton. We are a place you can meet new people, meet up with friends or just come in by yourself. Our licensed café offers delicious organic lunches, Fairtrade tea and homemade cake. We also have a busy programme of events, workshops, and art exhibitions, a clothing and crafts boutique and lots more. Most of our crew are volunteers and you might even want to apply to join them. Come along and enjoy our unique, community run space.
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