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Improv Notes: April 2015

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Improv Notes: April 2015
International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation logo.
Improv Notes is a monthly newsletter distributed by the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation.
IICSI Postdoctoral Position
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 2015-16 academic year, we invite applications of postdoctoral researchers for one residential fellowship. For the 2015-16 year, we particularly welcome candidates with expertise in pedagogy and curricular design who could contribute to the development of IICSI's graduate program in Critical Studies in Improvisation. The fellowship may be held at the University of Guelph, McGill University, or the University of Regina; this is a residential, not a remote, fellowship. Applications are due April 30th, and full submission details are available here.
Video Play: An Improvised Film Series

Video Play: An Improvised Film Series brings together filmmakers from the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation and Ed Video’s Play Proposition II for three evenings of screenings and discussion on film/video and improvisation. The series addresses both films on improvisational arts-based practices and improvisation in the filmmaking process.

Night One: Thursday, April 16, moderated by Angus McLellan, will premiere Mauricio Martinez’s film Just Play: A History of Improvised Music in Toronto and Kimber Sider’s Playing in Silence.

Night Two, Thursday, April 23, will present Ed Video: Play Proposition II (Carlomagno Alvarado, Sandy Clipsham, Eliza Crosland, Mary Lalonde, Angus McLellan, Alberta Nye).

Night Three, Thursday, April 30, moderated by Kimber Sider, will show Nicholas Loess and Joe Sorbara's new film on contemporary Toronto improvisation, Start Making Noises Now.

All showings will be held at Silence, 46 Essex St, Guelph, from 7-9 pm.
Improvisation at Silence
Silence logo.Silence at 46 Essex Street in Guelph continues to be a centre of improvising activity, with the Kazoo! Fest April 8-12, and an April 4 performance as part of the Canada-wide tour by Norm Adams (cello), Tim Crofts (piano), Lukas Pearse (bass) and guest percussionist Gerry Hemingway. Upcoming concerts include a trio of William Parker (bass), David Mott (baritone saxophone), and Jesse Stewart (percussion) on April 19, the Craig Pedersen Quartet on April 22, and instalments of Video Play: An Improvised Film Series, co-sponsored by IICSI and Ed Video (details below). 
SARC in the British Isles

Curated by PhD students Koichi Samuels and Tullis Rennie, and Dr Franziska Schroeder, the Sonic Arts Research Centre will be holding the Two Thousand+ FIFTEEN Symposium on Fractured Narratives - Improvised Sounds and Stories on April 25 as part of the Sonorities Festival 2015 in Belfast.

Sonorities is taking place in two sites: April 17-20 at Goldsmiths, Universit of London, and April 22-26 at SARC, Queen’s University Belfast and Belfast City. Featured among a wide range of Belfast presentations and installations will be an April 23 performance of new work by Ed Bennett (electronics), Xenia Pestova (piano), and John Butcher’s solo saxophone presentation The Geometry of Sentiment.
Black and white photograph of Ed Bennett, Xenia Pestova, John Butcher
Ed Bennett, Xenia Pestova, John Butcher
AACM Golden Anniversary Events
Black and white photograph of Tomeka Reid.
Tomeka Reid
In 1965, a group of Chicago musicians assembled to form a collective that has pioneered improvised music as a forum not only for new sounds, but for new models of community-building and social practice. On Wednesday, April 22nd, Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) begins a week of city-wide concerts to celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary. The April 22 concert at The Promontory, 5311 South Lake Park Ave West, features solo cellist Tomeka Reid, the Hanah Jon Taylor Artet, and Saalik’s Epoch Zed. 
Quote of the Month

"Songs will not occur unless you do things somewhat spontaneously. One of the few things a guy has to defend himself against destiny is spontaneity. That way the devils don’t know which way you’re driving or which route you’re taking."

— Merle Haggard, quoted in Nicholas Dawidoff, In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music. London: Faber and Faber 1997, p. 260-1.
Image of Merle Haggard, "Working Man Blues."
The Good, the Bad, and the Improvised
Black and white image of John Carradine (as Dracula) and Martha O'Driscoll. Movie still from House of Dracula, 1945.
John Carradine, left, and Martha O'Driscoll as a classical pianist hypnotized into improvising by Dracula's evil influence. House of Dracula, 1945.

Merle Haggard, in the quote featured in this edition of Improv Notes, positions improvisation as a device to be used against “the devils,” but other Western traditions have a different perspective on spontaneous musical practices. In the Romantic Era, improvisation began to be regarded with great suspicion. Virtuoso improvising violinist Nicolai Paganini (1782-1840) was reported to be shadowed by a satanic doppleganger, and pianist / composer Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was described as “possessed of a daemon” during his thunderous cadenzas. A clip from the 1945 Universal film House of Dracula, written by Edward T. Lowe Jr., embodies classical music’s uneasiness with performers who compose music in real time. Milizia Morelle (Martha O'Driscoll) is playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata until the visiting “Baron Latos”—who is actually Count Dracula (John Carradine)—fixes his gaze upon her. As Milizia falls under his power, her playing changes: the fixed tonality of the Sonata gives way to atonality; Milizia is improvising. “I’ve never heard this music before,” she says, “and yet I’m playing it.” “You’re creating it,” Dracula responds, “for me.” Frightened and confused, Milizia fingers the crucifix that has been concealed in her blouse. The satanic power of Dracula’s spell is broken. Milizia stops improvising, and safely returns to playing Beethoven.

International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation LogoThe International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation 
(IICSI) is a partnered research institute building from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) project, “Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice” (ICASP). The Institute’s research team is comprised of 56 scholars from 19 different institutions. IICSI’s partners include five academic institutions (University of Guelph, McGill University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, University of Regina, University of British Columbia), a foundation partner (Musagetes), and over 30 community-based organizations. The Institute’s mandate is to create positive social change through the confluence of improvisational arts, innovative scholarship, and collaborative action. 
AUMI Consortium News
The AUMI Consortium is an international research group dedicated to exploring, sustaining, developing, and sharing the Adaptive Use Musical Instrument, a free software download interface that uses camera tracking to facilitate music-making across all abilities. Each consortia site includes at least one IISCI researcher.

From AUMI-McGill: Eric Lewis writes, “This month a segment on our Mackay Center School [the Montreal school for children with motor, speech or sensorial difficulties] project will air on French television, featuring interviews with a number of the McGill-based AUMI researchers and Mackay Center School staff. We have completed our second pilot project at Mackay, and are now analyzing the data.” They will present the preliminary results of this research at the Improvisation and Community Health Conference in June, during which representatives from the different AUMI sites will visit Mackay School and have the opportunity to share AUMI-related research.

From AUMI-Carleton: Ottawa filmmaker Andrew Hall has completed Turning the Page at H'Art of Ottawa, a documentary film about AUMI/IICSI member Jesse Stewart's 2014 collaboration with H'Art of Ottawa, a project in which AUMI figured prominently. The film premiered on March 4, 2015 at the Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa for an audience of over 200. On February 12 & 13, Jesse premiered a new work, I Need You?, with Propeller Dance, a mixed abilities professional contemporary dance group in Ottawa. I Need You? combines AUMI with movement and percussion.
Photograph of "Propeller Dance."
Propeller Dance.

AUMI-CDL/CCC reports that Pauline Oliveros will give a keynote address on “The Ethics and Practice of Listening,” followed by a short Deep Listening workshop targeted at both musicians and legal professionals for the conference, “Just Improvisation: Enriching child protection law through musical techniques, discourses and pedagogies,” to be held on May 29th-30th at the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University Belfast.

AUMI-KU participated in sponsoring and presenting at “Improvising in Place: An Interdisciplinary Jazz Studies Colloquium,” held at University of Kansas in March 2.
People: Paul Watkins

IICSI is pleased to congratulate Paul Watkins who has accepted a position at Vancouver Island University. Beginning August 1st, 2015, Paul will join the Vancouver Island University English Department as a Professor. Paul Watkins is a former ICASP/IICSI Graduate Research Assistant and Media and Public Relations Officer.

Congratulations to Paul on his new posting!
Montreal: Free City Radio

Art and community activism is the focus of Free City Radio, from McGill University's campus radio station, CKUT. Free City Radio's website includes interviews with a range of Montreal's music / art provocateurs including:
Jason Blackbird Selman (photo by Brian Kinzie).

Poet and trumpeter Jason Blackbird Selman (photo by Brian Kinzie): “… we are living in a Michael Brown world, in a CNN world, as opposed to living in an Emmett Till world, these types of things happened before but they rarely see the light of day completely. Now the world is watching, the world is waiting to see where things will go and people are willing to act like never before.”
 Sam Shalabi (photo credit Tanya Taboulsi).

Guitarist and oud player Sam Shalabi (photo credit Tanya Taboulsi), comparing Canada and Egypt:“Most Egyptians that I know, they don’t believe anything that their governments tell them, which we have seen expressed during all the major protests over recent years, not only in Egypt but across the region. In Canada, I am constantly dumbfounded when I discover how people are surprised, or shocked, when they discover how marginalized segments of society are treated, like First Nations people, they will express shock. But by extension when you point to the ways that this injustice is related to their country, to their own lives, they don’t really want to hear about this.”
 Freda Guttman (photo credit thiên v.)
Artist/activist Freda Guttman (photo credit thiên v.): “In 1990 … I was asked how I saw the future development of political art. At the time, I felt very much alone as an artist, dealing with political issues and trying to place my work within an activist framework. I said that I hoped that in the future there there would be a large community of activist artists that I could be a part of. My wish has come true. Now as never before there is a richly textured resistance culture, which anyone can be part of without having to call themselves artists or feel that they need special training or permission to do art. The notion that everyone is an artist is deeply embedded in principles of Anarchy. In the beautiful utopian world that Anarchist movements wish to bring about, everyone will be free to realize a fulfilled life, to be creative, to express themselves. Everyone will be free of wage slavery, free of educational systems that imprison the mind and soul, free of the violence of Capitalism."
Artist of the Month: Margaret Dragu
Photo of Margaret Dragu.
Margaret Dragu
Born in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1953, Margaret Dragu began her dance career studying under Dada-influenced Yone Kvietys Young of Calgary, and Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis in New York City. Equally drawn to improvisation and chance operations, she writes that “eventually, after years of performing with musicians, poets, dancers, actors, I formed my own loose method. My improvisation ‘technique’ uses elements of modern dance, tap, flamenco; aerobic dancing, weight training, social dancing; and body movement / gestures derived from cultural / social research on specific subjects (e.g., Edith Piaf's hand movements, seniors rolling shopping carts, etc.).” Her dance style grew to reflect elements of all these styles, and her work in Montreal and Toronto extended from striptease to aerobics. In 1988 Nightwood Editions published her book, co-authored with A.S.A. Harrison, Revelations: Essays in Striptease and Sexuality, and in 1994 ECW published Mothers Talk Back: Momz Radio, co-authored with Sarah Sheard. Dragu’s work is known for being interdisciplinary and site specific. She collaborates with other artists and sometimes, the public, but in a video produced by the Canada Council, she says, “For me, the body is my tool. It doesn’t matter whether I’m taking a photograph, or making a video, or doing a radio presentation, or I’m working on the web, or I’m doing something interactive, or I’m performing, it doesn’t matter, the body, it comes back to the body, or being embodied, even if the body is not really in the forefront." 

Margaret Dragu’s work is often based strongly in activism, whether feminist, environmental, social or otherwise. She won the 2012 Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts, and continues to live in Vancouver, variously adopting the personae Lady Justice, Verb Woman, Art Cinderella, and Nuestra Señora del Pan.
Improv Notes

Improv Notes was initially distributed in 2008 as a quarterly newsletter. From June 2011 until September 2014 Improv Notes was assembled, written, and distributed on a monthly basis by Paul Watkins. As of October 2014, Improv Notes is edited and written by PhD candidate David Lee and assembled by administrative assistant Rachel Collins. If you have anything improvisation related that you would like included in the newsletter, please email

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We’ll all be more innovative if we participate in collaborative webs and share more openly. Creativity is always a collaboration and it’s always a form of improvisation, written large in the social world.

– Keith Sawyer