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Improv Notes: December 2013


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IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment       December 2013

"Spirit(s) Improvise" Symposium:
Improvisation as an Act of Faith

On December 6th, Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice (ICASP) presented a symposium (“Spirit(s) Improvise”) on improvisation and spirituality. “Spirit(s) Improvise” brought together distinguished scholars, musicians, and spiritual practitioners to explore the relationship between improvisation and spirituality. One of the primary questions asked was how can improvisation and spirituality, broadly defined as frameworks through which people imagine and enact alternative ways of being in the world, contribute to our understandings of imagination and creativity, community and space, and transcendence and hope?
Held at and co-sponsored by the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, the well-attended event sparked animated conversations and debates about the relationship between improvisation and spirituality from a variety of perspectives: musical, political, social, and theological.

For speaker bios and abstracts, click here.

Below are some photos from the event.

Gerard Yun (Music, University of Waterloo) and Luke Burton (Wilfrid Laurier Unviersity) “Beyond Traditions: Yogic Chant and Shakuhachi in Contemporary Improvisation.”

Anglican Priest, Jamie Howison, delivers a keynote entitled, “Improvisation as an Act of Faith.”

Lauren Levesque (Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice, University of Guelph), “Protest Music Performances as Methodological Frameworks for Re-envisioning Engaged Spirituality: Implications for Improvisation.”

The event concluded with a fully improvised performance.

David Lee on bass with iconic Canadian art.

Feedback on the symposium has been extremely positive. We hope that the connections made will continue to foster creative thinking and action on this topic. Thank you to everyone for their participation!  

We look forward to seeing you in the New Year!

Adapted from a write-up by Lauren Levesque.

All Photos by Paul Watkins.

Art of Immersive Soundscapes: New book by ICASP Team Members Ellen Waterman, Pauline Minevich, and James Harley

We are excited to announce The Art of Immersive Soundscapes, a new publication edited by ICASP/IICSI team members Ellen Waterman (Memorial University of Newfoundland), Pauline Minevich (University of Regina), and James Harley (University of Guelph).

What is an immersive soundscape? It can be as simple as a recording made in a forest: leaves crunching underfoot, birds chirping, a squirrel chattering. Or it can be as complex as a movie soundtrack, which involves music but also uses many other sounds—to set the mood for the action and to literally put the viewer in the picture. Sound art defies categorization, and artists using this medium describe their work in many different ways: as sound installations, audio art, radio art, and music.

The Art of Immersive Soundscapes provides a fascinating tour of contemporary sound art practices that comprises scholarly essays, artists’ statements, and a DVD with sonic and visual examples. Included are perspectives from soundscape composition and performance, site-specific sound installation, recording, and festival curation. The book and accompanying DVD will appeal to a broad audience interested in music, sound, installation art, the environment, digital culture, and media arts. Importantly, it recognizes the pioneering place of Canadian sound artists within this international field.

For more information, please visit the University of Regina press' page here.

Quote of the Month:

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
-Nelson Mandela

On December 5th, 2013, the world lost one of its most principled heroes in the struggle against oppression. A force who taught the world about the power of redress and reconciliation.

Nelson Mandela (18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013) was a South African politician, anti-apartheid revolutionary, and among many other things, a philanthropist who served as South Africa’s first fully representational and democratically elected President from 1994 to 1999. Mandela’s government focused on dealing with institutionalized racism, inequality of all strands, and fostered an environment where racial reconciliation was possible. Truly, this was affirmative and improvisational territory born out of Mandela’s love for justice. Politically an African Nationalist and a democratic socialist, Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his unrelenting and activist position towards the abolition of apartheid. In 1993 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. He is held in profound esteem around the world, and in South Africa he is often referred to as Tata (“Father”): “the father of the nation.” 
Have a listen to South African jazz artist, Abdullah Ibrahim’s moving composition, Mandela (1985)

Photo of Nelson Mandela from Wikipedia commons.


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.

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:


Want to read past newsetters, or refer a friend to the monthly newsletter, then please do! Check us out on Twitter 


Featured Artist:
Rutherford Chang

Image from Dust & Grooves.
Rutherford Chang (USA; China)

Since little could be found out about Chang himself, other than the fact that he is an artist based in Shanghai and New York, who is known for his mathematically conceived artworks of various cultural iconographs, this write-up focuses on his latest art project, We Buy White Albums, and the recording that came out of it. Improvisation takes many forms, and conceptual artist Rutherford Chang’s layered version of The White Album discovers new possibilities for thinking about material properties, cultural artifacts, and technology. 

Rutherford Chang has been getting a lot of press for his art project, “We Buy White Albums. He acquired numerous copies of The Beatles’ White Album and displayed them in a gallery that was made to resemble a record shop that only carries the iconic double album. All of the albums are first-pressings and Rutherford Chang’s website now lists the total number of copies at 918. At some point during the exhibit (here’s an interview on the process), Rutherford thought, “I wonder what it sounds like if you play 100 copies of The White Album at once?” And that’s exactly what Chang’s The White Album does: 100 (45 year-old) first-pressings of The White Album are synced up in a bizarre sound collage that moves in and out of the familiar and into the choral and cacophonous. Each copy of the record (pressed in a very limited run) is unique, and given the slight sound variations in pressings, and the natural and scratched wear of vinyl, the listening experience captures the distinct history of each record. We start off with a familiar, but muddier version of “Back in the U.S.S.R,” and then move into uncontrollable new territory as the records slowly coast out of sync over the course of each side. Chang even layered the gatefold cover and disc labels with the worn and hand-drawn originals to create a visual collage that reworks the featureless original and highlights the individual history of each copy.
Of course, some purists might disavow the album, while others will welcome this innovative project as being in line with the experimental spirit of late-period Beatles. Even though the project is very mathematical (given the precise cataloging), might its ability to rethink cultural artifacts as agents that embody memories and change tell us something about improvisation?

Have a listen for yourself here.
Call for Papers: 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, 2013. Information on the submission process and examples of previously published work can be found at Inquires can also be directly made to Critical 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 full CFP, click here.

ICASP GRA Paul Watkins releases DJ project/album, Dedications

Dedications is an experimental jazzy hip-hop remix project born out of a love of listening to records. The album mixes, mashes, samples, spins, cuts, signifies, rhapsodizes, poetizes, layers, collages, remixes, breaks, distresses, archives, remakes, reshapes, and re-edits pieces of recorded history to create a sonic audio homage to a host of musicians and styles with a nod to the avant-garde.

Below is a phono/photo mix in honour of Sun Ra’s alternative views and musical space. Such alternative listening spaces become for an artist like Sun Ra, an effort to relocate himself and escape the limits of earth.

The full album is available as a free download

Recommended for late night listening with headphones.

ICASP wishes you a Happy Holidays and all the best now and in the New Year ahead, whatever that may encompass for you!
Not excited for the Holiday season? Listen to what might be the most cynical and incendiary Christmas song out there, “Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)” by Miles Davis:

Lastly, I think we can all get behind Sun Ra (and The Qualities) wishing us a Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year: 


Check out the Silence event page for the latest in innovative music in Guelph.


Improvisation is, simply put, being and living this very moment. No one can hide in music, and improvising in music is to be truly in this very moment and being completely yourself, with all your qualities and faults. It is probably the most honest state for a human being to be in.

– John McLaughlin in an interview with Daniel Fischlin.