Strict (dis)Harmony

– An expansion of the guitar's improvisational voice.

 

Vidar Schanche, University of Stavanger, Department of performing arts

 

Introduction

The project's starting point is a desire to explore new directions in guitar improvisation. Is it possible to extend the electric guitarist's musical language in improvised music by using techniques inspired by notated contemporary/new music? I plan to create etudes and exercises where I use these techniques to see how they affects me and my musical choices.


Can compositional techniques used in contemporary/new music help me develop my improvisational language?

Can I maintain my guitaristic identity in the face of these techniques?

Will it distance me from other guitaristic styles like rock, pop and more traditional jazz?

How can I shape a new guitaristic-improvisational aesthetic?

How can I broaden the notion of what is defined as guitaristic?


By the term 'guitaristic' I mean as relating to how the guitar is played; eg. the instrument's limits and possibilities, technology relating to the instrument, idiomatic and stylistic directions, and the guitarist's relationship with his or her musical environment (the 'scene', the tradition, and fellow musicians).

I’m interested in techniques developed in concepts/genres such as minimalism, spectral music, modern electro-acoustic composition as well as using compositional software such as MAXmsp and OpenMusic, in order to stimulate new improvisational directions in my work as a performer. It may seem paradoxical to apply compositional techniques to music that is supposed to be improvised.

My intention is not to be able to use each technique as a dogma, my approach is to work with them so that they become a part of my guitaristic language.


Background

Some work on applying compositional techniques from contemporary music already exists. My supervisor, Per Zanussi, in his thesis «Natural Patterns - music making with an ensemble of improvisers», also drew a lot of inspiration from the techniques I intend to apply.

The English guitarist Derek Bailey was heavily influenced by Anton Webern, and wrote pieces for solo guitar in Webern’s style, before abandoning traditional composing to work with improvisation.


Furthermore, I might contact guitarists Terje Rypdal, Hilmar Jensson, Ivar Grydeland, Fred Frith, Anton Hunter and Stian Westerhus. The latter is a participant in the Research Fellowship Program of 2016 with the project The Shape of Concerts to Come, and Ivar Grydeland completed his Artistic Research Fellowship project in 2015.


Methods and projects

Much of the work in the beginning will consist of 'mapping out' the various composers and performers from these musical directions or genres. At the starting point of the project, I will try to make a detailed overview of the different techniques. This way I will obtain a clear picture of which ones are most relevant for my purposes in order to make the most effective use of the time available.


Techniques I may work with:

Apply melodic transformation, rhythmic shifting and polyrhythmic principles in improvisation (minimalism). I aim to work with computer-aided analysis of the overtone spectrum in a particular sound; using these data to help explore and expand the timbre of the guitar (Spectral music). I may try to expand the tone colours of the guitar, especially using techniques such as circuit bending, including using guitar effects (Modern electroacoustic composition). Develop techniques which allow me to improvise using material based forms of pitch organisation. One method can be the composition of études and other appropriate material in OpenMusic.

I might also work towards creating a form of graphic notation specially aimed at electric guitarist. I can also use these as etudes, both solo and in groups with other electric guitarists. As previously mentioned, I attend to use algorithmic compositional software such as OpenMusic and MAXmsp. Can I recreate similar results with my guitar setup? Can I use guitar effects to achieve the same sound without using a computer? The goal is not necessarily to improvise so that the result is indistinguishable from the MAX or OpenMusic patch - for that, I could just as easily use the software directly. Rather, it is to open up new possibilities in my reaction patterns within an improvisational context.

I will aim to use inspiration from Kolb’s Experimental Learning Cycle. This cycle consists of preparation, execution/Concrete experience and reflective observation. In Kolb’s theory, the impetus for the development of new concepts is provided by new experiences. For me, it is crucial to be able to play concerts as well as workshops with other musicians or students (I have already started holding workshops at UIS with guitar students, and I hope to continue this work during my whole research period.) during the whole project as they will be the «new experiences».

I will apply this cycle in the following way:

  1. Preperation. Working with concrete tecniques. (Active Experimentation: Prepare a new concert/

    workshop and try to apply the new knowledge.)

  2. Excecution/ Concrete experience -A Concert/workshop

  3. Reflective Observation of the new experience. Listening to the recording of the concert/ workshop, what worked and what did not work? What did I like, what did I not like? What can I change? What can I add or delete?


Projects


Solo improvisation, guitar (Music for ghosts)

Firstly, I will concentrate on solo improvisation where I will work with the techniques identified during my research. I will work both in my studio rehearsal space, but will also aim to do regular solo concerts in various settings.


Smaller groups

I will work in smaller groups where there is often more room for interaction and freedom, where members take on more responsibility for the resulting music. During this time I hope to, among other things, work on applying the improvisational techniques that I employ in my solo work to a trio situation.


Rotating Duo Project

I plan to create duo performances with improvising musicians from different musical genres in order to try out my techniques in different settings and examine how my improvisation changes according to whom I improvise with.


Kitchen Orchestra

I will continue to work with Kitchen Orchestra during my research period. This is an ensemble that is used to working with compositional techniques of contemporary music and my challenge would be to create something that is new and relevant to my guitaristic aesthetic and ways of thinking. In this context I might try out my techniques in a larger ensemble, in collaboration with a composer who could create a work based around my guitar playing.


Observation, evaluation, and critical reflection

This is a process I will have both during the project, and after it is concluded, by analysing both auditive and visual documentation. After working on this project for three years, I hope to obtain an understanding of possible ways of expanding the improvisation material of the electric guitarist. By applying these techniques, or developing methods whereby they can be applied, I hope to shape a new guitaristic improvisational aesthetic.


Documentation

Concerts will be documented through audio and video recordings. I might create a website devoted to the project, where I can share my experiences throughout the process. This website may be updated with media from the whole aforementioned project, as well as a blog where I can show how work is progressing, in text and video. The project may result in one ore two CD releases.


Academic community

The supervisor of the project will be Per Zanussi, who completed his Artistic Research project 'Natural Patterns - Music making with an ensemble of improvisers' in May 2017. Zanussi has a broad knowledge of improvisation and contemporary composition techniques and it is a particular advantage that he knows the program well. My secondary supervisor will be Jill Diana Halstead Hjørnevik at the Grieg Academy.

At UIS I will be in contact with Petter Frost Fadnes, Tor Yttredal and Wayne Brasel. Petter Frost Fadnes has worked extensively with free-improvisation. Wayne Brasel is a guitar teacher in the jazz department and I intend to avail myself of his broad knowledge of guitar playing.