A N N E X P R E S S 2 0 1 5
STEVE BENSON 03 25 15
Notes something toward improvisation
There’s so much to say, one must be selective. One foot after another, metric or meretricious, as the case may be. Sometimes there is something more to be said, by saying it more deliberately, as it deepens in one’s attentional matrix, which depends on circumstances beyond one’s control.
Effectively improvising speech as poetry or as replacement for poetry, a stand-in, a distraction from the absence of poetry in hopes that it will in an alternative structure permitting unforeseen grounds for value satisfy, explore or explode much of the desire that may have looked for resolution or augmentation in poetry, the I intends to orient to whatever undead curiosity, scuttlebutt, longing and miracle may be in store, such as those of speech and consciousness, not to mention a language system shared more or less with certain others possibly accessible to its utterances’ audible effects.
A statement addressing my difficulty in undertaking a theoretical proposal or position also says a lot about how I work with improvisation in solo or conjoint practice:
The practice of improvisation as I am familiar with it depends on not-knowing perhaps more than on knowing, on not-understanding almost certainly more than on understanding — or rather, on a dialectic between knowing and not knowing.
I observe, then, that any “poetics” regarding improvisational oral writing, as commentary or ongoing assessment of the nature, rationale, and functions of the process, necessarily occurs within conversation, through a give and take, rather than in a list of propositions or questions.
Conversation may find form with oneself, of course, improvisationally.
To engage conversationally, to me, seems crucial to a worthwhile multi-person engagement with language, as I understand it, at the moment.
If one person is asking all the questions and another making all the answers, it might be an okay if awkward form of interview, but it doesn't seem to allow much range as conversation.
Structural constraints matter.
I prefer to choose structural constraints that already precipitate my own curiosity themselves, the ability to handle which and the outcome of trying to handle which remain impossible to anticipate adequately.
The result of the attempt at realization stands or falls depending on how you look at it. Apprehension is improvisatory, or the work is intended to encourage improvisation within apprehension.
A conversation can have more or less rules and then more or less adherence to them. It may have rules set at the start (such as, ask one or more questions in addition to the ones you see) and these might be followed, broken, or interrogated. Unspoken rules are as it were always already set, and also can be followed, broken, or interrogated. So far as I can see, this is how group improvisation works. Maybe there's more to it.
Given specific objectives or interests, of course, other factors may come into play, such as in Pauline Oliveros' deep listening ideas or Jackson Mac Low’s methodical planning and ambitious care for the instructions’ guidance toward choices of individual and shared responsibility. I appreciate the variety of options that can be engaged among improvisational practices, but I would not take it for granted that one set of rules or objectives will lead to better, more sophisticated or more listenable work than others.
Improvisational aesthetics affords the mind of the connoisseur and poetaster the opportunity for a salutary and salubrious suspension of values and presumption. I prefer to resist hierarchically ranking work conceived as improvisatory, aside from whether or how much I care to return to or finish attending to it.
Reading it on a page that has eclipsed its praxis, having checked it in the simultaneous appreciation of spatial arrangement, is always another matter.
I'm not confident there's a value I would want to embrace in trying to arrive at any meaning for how things happen or turn out in an improvisational piece of work that would be mutually affirmed by any given set of people. Like Bartleby, I prefer not to.
(Meaning confuses me here.)
It's may feel interesting to spell out what values are affirmed or exercised through improvisation in poetry.
I realize there is a quality of play, a potential allowing for realization that may not occur, a quest through worlds of ungoverned interest, in the degree(s) of freedom I get to work with in improvisational writing, out loud or on the page, that I don't see how I'd ever wish to have codified or listed.
To teach this work as a craft, to be undertaken by students under someone’s guidance and ongoing assessment, would seem to me decisively debilitating of such potentials.
A hallmark of my own internal process is that, unlike Lee Konitz, I recognize no basic tune or premising harmonic structure. If I chose a motif to start with, I've then left that station before anyone noticed and don't expect to return.
I don’t know how to write within the premises of poetry without some active attention to and pleasure in improvisation. This includes for me the activities of revision, which at times have involved very elaborate investigations of improvisational processing of text (e.g., in “Briarcombe Paragraphs” and “Reverse Order”).
My choices, in oral improvisation particularly, are sometimes, if not often, dictated by an aversion to the seemingly debilitating risk of falling into knowing-what-I'm-doing-or-saying or knowing-what-I-think-I'm-doing-or-saying or thinking-I-know-what-I'm-doing-or-saying -- at which moment I may substitute the pronouns, violate a sentence structure, change the subject, lie, stop abruptly, bark, shift syntax or context of utterance radically, or otherwise screw with whatever I might have thought or meant to say. This hypothetically fail-safe bail-out plan may feel least accessible when I've already been overwhelmingly redirecting on as many parameters as I can. Yet it usually leads to something else, neither better nor worse, finally, but fairly unforeseeable.
(Unforeseeable to me. Others may feel that they saw it coming, and perhaps they were right.)
I am likely to feel/fear the work is going or did go badly and squandered the audience’s attention and betrayed its trust, when performing in public. Finding a way later to listen well (e.g., on a long drive in my car) and, if possible, also create a verbatim transcript usually result in a hypomanic exaltation securing the work as valuable and alive, unknowable and self-revelatory while in my presence, such that I may remain passionately interested as long as I am willing to return to it. This may be a very queer practice/experience that few can share or may want to. (I don’t know why not.)
I anticipate and imagine that the variety of options I take and don’t take in improvising something under the rubric of poetry while others are quietly noticing will occasion among them silently innumerable variant phrasings, lines, prosodic postures voiced in their minds, which constitute necessary elements of the live performance, which they are performing in their wise as much as I am in mine.
Improvisation as I understand it depends upon reverie, as a premise and as a modality of anticipating and imagining a project as a prospect of that which is not yet known and as indeterminately anticipated as the premises for its process that I gather and abandon may allow. However, in performance, this intention to participate as if or actually in the spirit of reverie is very challenging to maintain, in fact subjecting my acts to additional stress, with the consequence of deferring reverie more decisively to the experiences of my later review of the recorded material. The audience participants may abide in reverie or not; possibly they oscillate among various states including this.
I don’t know what collaboration in improvisational work requires, but as a performer, I like most the practices I’ve enjoyed, in rehearsal and performance, that have allowed the most leeway to myself and my partner equally, of which we both have taken the fullest advantage conceivable at the time.
Listening lately to Bern Porter’s collaborative improvisational performances on the PennSound audio archive website, I contemplate the conditions of aging as factors in the nature of the improvisational performance. I wonder about this.
Porter’s performances allow for any language or near-language as text and betray to my ear an implicitly ironic and jaundiced attitude by the manner of their articulation. I attend to a recalcitrant purity and relentless single-mindedness in his delivery of choices that I feel it is hard for younger and less world-weary and experienced performers to match in duets with him, though Dick Higgins and Bob Holman come closer than most.
[March 22-25, 2015]