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Improv Notes: April 2014


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IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment       April 2014

CCRMA TeleConcert Video at Stanford with Zhao Cong, Ellen Waterman, and Viv Corringham
There has been a variety of IICSI activity at the School of Music at Memorial University lately, including a residency with British vocalist, sound artist, improviser, and composer, currently based in New York, Viv Corringham, which took place March 15-20, 2014. That residency included workshops and talks, as well as a Telematic Performance at midnight with Ellen Waterman (flute) and Viv Corringham at Memorial, St. Johns, and Zhao Cong (pipa) at Stanford University, California. Enjoy the video!

Trio Improvisation (2014) - Zhao Cong, Ellen Waterman, Viv Corringham


Oral Histories is a showcase of interviews, performances, and articles by and about improvising musicians, artists, writers and scholars. This monthly feature offers an intimate look inside the minds and practices of some of the many dynamic, innovative people whose energy and ideas make improvisation studies such a vibrant field of inquiry. The Oral Histories project provides a space for improvising artists to be heard in their own words, often in dialogue with other improvisers, scholars, and practitioners.

d'bi.young anitafrika:
“we tellin’ stories yo”: A Performance and Interview with d’bi.young

d’bi.young anitafrika is a Jamaican-Canadian dub poet, monodramatist, educator, and Dora Award-winning actor and playwright. In this month’s Oral History we are gifted with an on stage interview with d'bi.young, and we get to witness the power of dub poetry in action by one of Canada’s most renowned dub poets. Dub poetry is a form of performance poetry with a West Indian aesthetic and origin. It evolved out of dub music comprised of spoken word pieces over reggae rhythms and Nyabinghi traditions (The Nyahbinghi Order is the oldest of all the Rastafari mansions and the term translates as “black victory”) in Jamaica beginning in the 1970s. d’bi.young thinks through dub vis-à-vis her own mother’s manuscript on dub, which identifies the four major elements of the then emerging form: music, language, politics, and performance (“r/evolution” 27). Dub, as such, bridges the personal and the political, and as d’bi developed her own understanding of dub she added four more elements for a total of eight: “urgency, sacredness, integrity, and self-knowledge. I then renamed the earlier elements of music, politics, and performance to rhythm, political content and context, and orality” (27). For d’bi.young, the principles of dub poetry—consisting of self-knowledge, orality, rhythm, political content and context, language, urgency, sacredness, and integrity—combine to comprise “a comprehensive eco-system of accountability and responsibility between my audiences and me” (27). As such, dub poetry has the power to connect disparate communities together—like a large multicultural dub mix—through lines of solidarity.

Aside from being one of Canada’s first-rate dub poets, d’bi.young is also one of Canada’s original dub theatre practitioners, developing a genre of storytelling that she refers to as biomyth monodrama. d’bi.young explains that her “use of the term biomyth refers to the abbreviation of the words biography and mythology. I first encountered the term reading audre lorde’s zami, which she refers to as a biomythography […] biography-mythology or biomyth, therefore, is the poetic space between what we interpret as real and what we deem make-believe. monodrama is theatrical solo-performance work” (29). Many likely first encountered d’bi’s work in Trey Anthony’s da kink in my hair, which garnered her a Dora nomination for best actress, or perhaps on the television sitcom Lord Have Mercy!. Since then d’bi.young has performed 9 different dub theatre pieces: solitary, yagayah, androgyne, she, domestic, the sankofa trilogy (featuring the award winning monodramas blood.claat, benu, and word! sound! powah!), and nanny: maroon warrior queen. Aside from her prolific presence on the stage, along with the numerous books of poetry and music she has released, d’bi is concerned with giving back to the community through various outreach efforts, notably as the artistic director of YEMOYA, an international artist-residency based in Jamaica.

In this month’s Oral History, Paul Watkins (ICASP GRA, writer, poet, DJ) sits down with d’bi.young for a live on stage interview at Paintbox Bistro in Toronto. They discuss dub poetry/music in relation to improvisation, the role of the storyteller, community, and rebel poetry/revolushin, among other diverse topics. Before the interview there was a DJ set by DJ Techné (Paul Watkins), and a performance from d'bi.young, both included below.



Full transcript available here.

View d'bi.young's performance at Paintbox Bistro, here.

View the opening set by DJ Techné, here.

Click to play video
Photo of d'bi.young by Paul Watkins. More photos of the event, here.

ICASP GRA Brian Lefresne awarded the “The Robert L. Platzman Memorial Fellowship” at the University of Chicago.

The award is to conduct research in the "Alton Abraham Collection of Sun Ra" which is housed in the Chicago Jazz Archive and is part of the University of Chicago's Special Collections Research Center. More details about the award can be viewed, here.

LAST CALL: Summer Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation 

Memorial University of Newfoundland, June 29 to July 12, 2014

Intended for graduate students who have an interest in improvisation and its potential for dynamic forms of community building, the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation is offering a two-week intensive course to explore the theme of Improvisation as Practice-Based Research. The course will examine some of the ways in which improvisatory arts practices can be integrated with scholarly research agendas. How can academic research questions, methodologies, and outcomes benefit improvisatory creative practices and vice versa? In addition, the course will critically examine the changing institutional frameworks that support practice-based research in general and improvisation studies in particular.

Application due before April 15th, 2014.

To view the full call for applications for the 2014 Summer Institute, please click here.

Quote of the Month:

“In the first place, music is not set apart in any way from everyday life but is an integral part of it, and plays an important role in all aspects of social interaction and individual self-realization. Music is closely identified with social events and purposes; without music many of those events simply could not take place at all.”
-Christopher Small on the Afrodiasporic tradition, Music of the Common Tongue 24-25

Christopher Small, a New Zealand-born writer and musicologist, argued that music is above all an active ritual (rather than a thing) involving those who play and listen to it and only secondarily a matter of “black dots.” He is the author of four incredible books: Schoenberg (1978), Music of the Common Tongue (1987), Music, Society, Education (1996), and Musicking (1998). 

Postdoctoral Fellowship Program 2014-2015

The International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI)’s mandate is to create positive social change through the confluence of improvisational arts, innovative scholarship, and collaborative action. For the 2014-2015 academic year, we invite applications of postdoctoral researchers for two residential fellowships. One fellowship will be located at Memorial University of Newfoundland; the second fellowship will be located at the University of Guelph, McGill University, or the University of Regina.

IICSI seeks to contribute to interdisciplinary research and graduate training in the emerging field of improvisation studies. Applications from researchers working in the principal research areas related to our project are encouraged: music, cultural studies, creative technologies, political studies, sociology and anthropology, English studies, theatre and performance studies, French studies, law, philosophy, and communications. Applications from different research areas are also welcomed, inasmuch as their research has a direct link with the social, cultural, or political implications of improvised arts practices.

These postdoctoral fellowships provide stipendiary support to recent PhD graduates who are undertaking original research, publishing research findings, and developing and expanding personal research networks. Two twelve-month fellowships will be awarded for the 2014-2015 academic year, each valued at $38,000 CDN.

Application Criteria

Applicants are invited to submit a research proposal focusing on the social implications (broadly construed) of improvised artistic practices. Successful candidates will be chosen on the basis of a rigorous process of application, with IICSI's management team serving as the selection committee. Criteria for selection are the quality and originality of the proposed research, the fit with our project's overall mandate and objectives, the candidate's record of scholarly achievement, and his/her ability to benefit from the activities associated with the project.

Postdoctoral fellows will be eligible for competitive research stipends, logistical assistance for relocation, office space equipped with state-of-the-art computers, access to the services of the host institution (library, etc), and administrative, placement, and research assistance as needed. In return, fellows are expected to pursue the research project submitted in their application, to participate in our project’s research activities (colloquia, seminars, institutes), and to present their work in progress in the context of our project’s seminars and workshops.

Applicants should have completed a PhD at the time of application (to be conferred by November 1, 2014). Electronic applications are welcome, provided that original hard copies of transcripts and reference letters are submitted by mail by the postmark deadline. Notification for award: June 2014.

Applicants must submit ALL of the following by the postmark deadline (April 30, 2014):

  • Curriculum vitae
  • One scholarly paper or publication written in the course of the last three years
  • A statement (1,500 words or less) describing the proposed research project
  • Two confidential letters of reference (sent directly to us before the deadline)
  • Graduate Transcript(s)
  • Indication of preferred location, if applicable (University of Guelph, McGill, Memorial, Regina), and language proficiencies

Send applications to:

Dr. Ajay Heble
International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation
042 MacKinnon Building
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1

For more information or to email applications, contact:

Guelph’s portal for adventurous new sound events


Silence includes an ongoing concert series, occasional improvisation sessions, and handmade music nights and workshops.

If you’re in Guelph make sure you catch the adventures of Prince Achmed with live music by the Vertical Squirrels on April 26th at 8:00pm ($10 or pwyc). Also that night, Keir Neuringer.
Check out the full list of upcoming events and concerts, here.


The international Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice research project explores musical improvisation as a model for social change. The project plays a leading role in defining a new field of interdisciplinary research to shape political, cultural, and ethical dialogue and action.

As a form of musical practice, improvisation embodies real-time creative decision-making, risk-taking, and collaboration. Improvisation must be considered not simply as a musical form, but as a complex social phenomenon that mediates transcultural inter-artistic exchanges that produce new conceptions of identity, community, history, and the body. This project focuses primarily on jazz and creative improvised music. The dominant theoretical issues emerging from this music have vital social implications.

Check out our diverse research collection.



Artist of the Month:

Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Tomasz Stańko (Poland)

“I have always been interested in tradition. With Krzysztof Komeda we would mostly listen to scale music, like Miles Davies and John Coltrane. This was my inspiration. Ornette Coleman was important too, of course, but more as an example of a certain attitude toward art – that of searching and rebellion – than as a specific musical convention.” 
-Tomasz Stańko

Polish trumpeter and composer Tomasz Stańko is known for his skillful negotiation of beautiful melodies and free improvisation. The New Yorker describes him as “One of the most original and creative jazz trumpet players in the world.” Often releasing his material with the renowned ECM Records since the 1990s, Stańko remains at the cutting edge of the European avant-garde sound. He first appeared in the 1950s in Krakow, and is considered one of the first free-jazz trumpeters in Europe. In the 1960s he came to distinction playing with pianist Adam Makowicz, and later joined Krzysztof Komeda’s quintet, recording the now celebrated 1966 album, Astigmatic. In the early 1970s Stańko went on to form the Tomasz Stańko Quintet, and the group played at major European festivals, brining Stańko’s sound to the forefront of the free jazz scene. Stańko is a leading progenitor of Polish jazz, but he is also well known around the world stage, having worked with many respected musicians, including Jack DeJohnette, Reggie Workman, Don Cherry, and Lester Bowie, and in 1984 he was a member of Cecil Taylor’s big band. In the 1980s, he also led his own fusion collectives, under C.O.C.X and Freelctronic, which incorporated electronic, reggae, Latino, rap, and other musical inspirations.
In the 1990s, Stańko lost his natural teeth, joining a list of other trumpeters like Chet Baker and Roy Eldridge who after losing their teeth managed to develop a new embouchure. Stańko gave up drugs in the 1990s and through long hours and painstaking practice he was able to strengthen his lip and maintain his signature sound, despite the disadvantage of playing with false teeth. In fact, it could even be argued that since the 1990s Stańko has been at his most prolific, releasing numerous high quality recordings with ECM. The early 2000s saw the release of two fantastic albums by Stańko: Soul of Things (2001) and Suspended Night (2004). Suspended Night is an adventurous recording featuring Stańko’s unique compositional language, and yet it is an incredibly accessible introduction to where both Stańko and jazz have been—and perhaps are going. Stańko continues to inspire and make music (still released through ECM), and his recent New York Quartet sounds extraordinary (with hints of Miles Davis, Andrew Hill, and Thelonious Monk) on 2013’s Wisława. Stańko’s signature sound can also be heard in the introduction to T.V’s Homeland, which samples his piece, “Terminal 7.” In 2011, the President of Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski awarded Stańko Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Rebirth of Poland. While Stańko’s accolades are certainly deserved, good music tends to speak for itself. Have a listen to a few pieces below—as a leader Stańko has released 37 albums—and get lost in the creative jazz trumpet of Tomasz Stańko.

LAST CALL: Cyphers: Hip Hop and Improvisation 

Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation invites submissions for a special issue with the theme “Cyphers: Hip Hop and Improvisation,” guest-edited by Rebecca Caines and Paul Watkins. This special issue of CSI will draw together artists and academics to investigate the crucial role improvisation plays in the international field of Hip Hop, and in the related field of critical Hip Hop studies. We seek contributions from artist/practitioners and from scholars working across the disciplines.
Derek Bailey’s notion of improvisation as being the most practiced, yet the least understood, of all musical activities, is particularly pertinent to the immense and constantly burgeoning field of Hip Hop praxis from around the world. Although most scholars are aware of the integral nature of improvisatory practices in Hip Hop, few critically explore how improvisation is a viable form of analysis in Hip Hop, as well as a model for social change. Improvisation plays a central role in African-American, Hispanic, and Caribbean based Hip Hop practices in the US, and continues to be a core element in Hip Hop music, dance and visual art across the globalized forms of this interdisciplinary art practice. We encourage contributors to pursue new conversations, interventions even, about how we think of improvisation vis-à-vis the larger milieu of Hip Hop. Critical academic essays are encouraged, and the editors also welcome for consideration artist statements, commentaries, reviews, interviews and experimental textual forms. We intend to showcase a variety of live artist performances and invited papers at a launch event for this Special Issue. CSI/ÉCI encourages the submission of audio and visual content to accompany texts. It is the responsibility of the author to ascertain copyright and gain permissions.
Some potential topics include:
  • How do Hip Hop artists combine idiomatic and non-idiomatic improvisation in their work?
  • What artistic, social, and economic pressures face Hip Hop artists who foreground the improvisatory in their work?
  • How does improvisation in Hip Hop reflect, develop, or contrast the social practices and pressing political issues of the communities in which it appears?
  • What role does improvisation play in the creation of academic disciplinarities and “Hip Hop pedagogies” both inside and outside educational institutions? 
  • What role does improvisation in Hip Hop play in the recontextualization of cultural and intercultural identity?           
  • How do Indigenous communities across the world improvise, translate, transform, and indigenize the US form of Hip Hop arts practice?           
  • Since Hip Hop has often traditionally been described as “noise” by many conservatives and academics who uncritically profile Hip Hop artists and fans of all genders, races, and classes, might dissonance compel us to think about how disruption can function as a model for critical practice?
  • What are the relationships between technology, accessibility, and Hip Hop culture?

Submissions should be 4000-6000 words (shorter essays may also be considered at the discretion of the editors). Please submit completed essays to the journal website by April 16, 2014. Information on the submission process and examples of previously published work can be found at Inquires can also be directly made to csi-eci@uoguelph.caCritical Studies in Improvisation/Études critiques en improvisation is an open-access, peer-reviewed, electronic, academic journal on improvisation, community, and social practice housed at the University of Guelph. 

To read more of the CFP and to learn about Critical Studies in Improvisation, click here.

Cypher photo by AFP from here.

Thinking Spaces Presents Free Voice Workshops! March 30-June 26

This year's Thinking Spaces series has frequently emphasized vocal improvisation. We will build on this in the coming months by offering free vocal exploration gatherings Sundays 12-2pm at Silence Guelph (46 Essex st.) starting March 30. Our initial workshops will be led by Dr. Chris Tonelli and in May and June we'll bring in a series of distinguished guests, including Phil Minton and Maggie Nicols (see below for more information on their work). Interested individuals can attend as many of these sessions as they would like. We will build strategies for group performance, but be keeping them flexible enough to easily accommodate new members as the series continues. All vocal sounds will be accepted in this space and all are welcome whether or not you consider yourself a singer. These gatherings will run until June 26, when our work together will culminate in our participation in the Summit on Voice, Agency, and Improvisation (more information on that event will appear in coming weeks). Come sing with us!

Facebook page for the gatherings (please like us!)

For more info on Maggie Nicols, click here.

For more info on Phil Minton, click here.

More on what we'll be doing: Christine Duncan/Element choir style conducted improvisation, exploration of unconventional vocal techniques, group humming exercises, development of our own structures and pieces, use of both vocal and non-vocal oral sound production techniques, free vocal improvisation, discussion of histories of vocal performance and different approaches solo and group singing, and ways of thinking about the connection between the ways we use our voices and the other parts of our daily lives and experiences.

CFP: 2014 Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium: Sounding Futures

University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, September 3-5, 2014 

“The future is always here in the past”
-Amiri Baraka, “Jazzmen: Diz & Sun Ra”

The Guelph Jazz Festival, in conjunction with the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, the University of Guelph, and the SSHRC funded International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) invites proposals for presentations at our annual three ‐ day international interdisciplinary conference. This year's colloquium will take place September 3rd to 5th as part of the 21st annual Guelph Jazz Festival (September 3-7). It will bring together a diverse range of scholars, creative practitioners, arts presenters, policy makers, and members of the general public. Featuring workshops, panel discussions, keynote lectures, performances, and dialogues among researchers, artists, and audiences, the annual colloquium cuts across a range of social and institutional locations and promotes a dynamic international exchange of cultural forms and knowledges.

In celebration of the centennial of musician, bandleader, and Astro-black philosopher Sun Ra’s arrival on planet earth, and in keeping with Ra’s use of music as a way to envision – and indeed to create – other possible futures, this year’s colloquium asks, What does your future sound like? How might jazz and improvised music offer ways into other and future realities? One of the legacies of Ra’s lifework has been the fusion, in his own performances and compositions, of Egyptian iconography with sounds, texts, and imagery of space travel and technology. The mid-1990s saw Marc Dery and other scholars formalize this aesthetic vision around the term “Afrofuturism.” As Dery has put it, “African American voices have other stories to tell about culture, technology and things to come. If there is an Afrofuture, it must be sought in unlikely places, constellated from far-flung points.” From the Afrofuturism of the Sun Ra Arkestra and the “sonic fiction” of Kodwo Eshun, to the Afro Science fiction of Octavia Butler, to the recent work of artists such as Nicole Mitchell and the works of feminist and other visionary thinkers, to other multiple and hybridized notions of futurity, music and sound have long been vital focal points for social movements and utopian imaginings.

In his Foreword to a special issue on Technologies and Black Music in the Americas of the Journal of the Society for American Music, George E. Lewis asks, “what can the sound tell us about the Afrofuture? How can we develop a new theoretical and descriptive language that both complements and exceeds the purview of the terms ‘music,’ ‘sound,’ and ‘listening’”? This year’s colloquium seeks to extend this line of questioning by focusing on the “other stories” that might be sounded about the future through jazz and improvisatory artistic practices. Possible topics might include (but are not limited to) the place of Afrofuturism and other liberatory sono-futurist movements in the historical narrative of jazz and improvised music, the ways in which other artistic mediums (literature, theatre, dance, visual art) grapple with the sound of future-making, how minoritized and subjugated communities embrace creative technologies and future visions in their expressive output and cultural production. We also invite papers and presentations on the lifework of Sun Ra.

We are particularly interested in interdisciplinary work that speaks to both an academic audience and a general public. We welcome presentations in a range of creative and unconventional formats, including but not limited to dance, theatre, spoken word, music, multi-media, and film. What might it be like, for example, to exemplify the sound of the future through concrete samplings of different forms of musical practice that herald new directions in improvised musicking? Please indicate the format of your presentation and any technical or other resources required. We also invite presenters to submit completed versions of their papers to our peer ‐ reviewed journal, Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études critiques en improvisation ( for consideration.

Please send (500 word) proposals (for 15 minute delivery) and a short bio by May 31, 2014 to:
The 2014 Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium
c/o Dr. Ajay Heble, Artistic Director, The Guelph Jazz Festival. Email:

Download the original call for papers by clicking here.

Improv Notes was initially distributed in 2008 as a quarterly newsletter. Since June 2011 the revamped Improv Notes has been assembled, written, and distributed on a monthly basis by ICASP's Media and Public Relations Coordinator, Paul Watkins. If you have anything improvisation related that you would like to have included in the newsletter, please send an email to Paul at:

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...partly because I know that’s the only way that we could solve a creative problem [using improvisation with children ranging in abilities] and what doesn’t work is trying to impose a template on the students who are not able to respond to that template.

– Pauline Oliveros (in working with Abilities First)