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Improv Notes: December 2014

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Improv Notes is a monthly newsletter distributed by the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation.
IICSI in St. John's

At IICSI Memorial, Ellen Waterman and Chris Tonelli are helping to make St. John’s, Newfoundland a hub of improvisational activity. Autumn sessions have included an October visit by Susanna Hood and Scott Thomson, the eastern terminus of their coast-to-coast performances of The Muted Note. In November, Symphony Nova Scotia cellist Norman Adams gave workshops with young string players as part of StringFest, a fall festival devoted to violin, viola, cello and bass. Three orchestras (young children, junior strings, and senior strings) developed improvisational pieces and performed them. Adams is the director of Suddenly Listen, an organization in Halifax devoted to Deep Listening and improvisation.

Photograph of Ingrid Monson.Also in November IICSI Memorial partner, the Research Centre for Music, Media and Place (MMaP) welcomed Ingrid Monson for a week of talks, seminars and meetings with students. Monson, an IICSI research collaborator and Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music at Harvard University, presented a talk―“From Freedom Sounds to Senufo Sounds: Social Vision and Improvisation in a Global World”―as part of the MMaP speakers series. Drawing on her work on jazz, race and politics in the United States, Dr. Monson compared and contrasted the social meanings of improvisation in jazz before the civil rights era, and music in Mali before and after the coup d’etat of 2012. She is currently finishing a book called Kenedougou Visions about virtuosic Malian balafonist Neba Solo and working on a series of essays on aesthetics and the body.

The Improvising Spaces series, curated by Chris Tonelli continued on December 5 with Session III: Touch, Memory and Solitude in Improvised Dance, with Karen Kaeja, Florian Hoefner, Marijn Companjen, Colleen Quigley, Andrea Tucker, Calla Lachance, Ryan Davis, Sarah Joy Stoker, Corie Harnett, and Louise Moyes. January to April sessions are currently being arranged and will feature Rimouski Quebec based improvisers Éric Normand and Phillipe Lauzier, political anthropologist Robin Whitaker, SSHRC Gold Medal winning ethnomusicologist and IICSI team member Beverley Diamond, Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Studies Mario Blaser, and many others. Dr. Tonelli is also organizing the St. John's Vocal Exploration Gatherings, an open group for the exploration of vocal and choral improvisation. Visit them on Facebook
When Rivers Meet

Improviser-in-Residence, percussionist and folklorist Dong-Won Kim celebrated his fall residency in Guelph with a November 29 concert at the River Run Centre. He teamed up with Guelph-based collaborators including the Guelph Symphony Orchestra (directed by Judith Yan), the Guelph Youth Jazz Ensemble (directed by Brent Rowan), dancer Georgia Simms, and musicians Jeff Bird, Daniel Fischlin, Lewis Melville, and Ben Grossman, who played the part of storyteller. 

When Rivers Meet brought together music, dance, story, visuals, and (of course!) improvisation to create an hour long performance, bridging the on-stage world of the performers with the off-stage world of the audience. Throughout his residency, Dong-Won has given numerous performances, workshops and classes in Guelph and Waterloo. 

South Korean percussionist Dong-Won Kim is the 2014 Improviser-In-Residence, a joint initiative between IICSI, Musagetes, and the Laurier Centre for Music in the Community.
Picture of dancer, Georgia Simms, and Improviser-in-Residence, Dong-Won Kim.
Dancer Georgia Simms and Improviser-in-Residence Dong-Won Kim on stage at
When Rivers Meet. Photography by Kimber Sider.
Call for Papers: The Society for Music Theory
The thirty-eighth Annual Meeting of the Society for Music Theory will be held in St.Louis, Missouri, from Thursday, October 29, to Sunday, November 1, 2015.
General submission guidelines: Proposals on any topic related to music theory are invited. The SMT welcomes all submissions that do not represent work already published in peer-reviewed publications (print or electronic). Papers that have been read at national or international meetings in a related discipline (e.g., music perception and cognition, semiotics, popular music, etc.) will be considered. Proposals for poster sessions and for presentations in innovative formats are encouraged. Full submission details available online.
People: Mauricio Martinez
Please join us in offering our hearty congratulations to Mauricio Martinez on the recent completion of his PhD.  Mauricio is a former graduate researcher with ICASP and IICSI.
Time of the Sign

The Vertical Squirrels new CD, Time of the Sign, is now available from Ambiances Magnétiques. This newest CD "see the Vertical Squirrels shift from performances as a discrete quartet to a collaborative organism working with other improvisers." The Vertical Squirrels members includes IICSI research team members Ajay Heble and Daniel Fischlin alongside Lewis Melville and Ted Warren. Time of the Sign features special guests Ben Grossman, Scott Merritt, Larry Cramer and IICSI's 2010 Improviser-in-Residence Jane Bunnett. The recording is available for purchase online here.


The 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. 
Artist of the Month: Mike Nichols

Picture of album titled High Fideltiy, showing images of Mike Nichols and Elaine May.Generally, we do not eulogize Hollywood film directors in terms of improvisation, but Mike Nichols, who died November 19, 2014 at the age of 83, was an exceptional case. Over the last half-century, Nichols directed a number of ambitious and sophisticated Hollywood films including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), The Graduate (1967), Catch-22 (1970), Working Girl (1988), Primary Colors (1998), and Charlie Wilson’s War (2007).

Nichols, however, began his performing career with the Compass Players in Chicago, founded in 1955 by David Shepherd and Paul Sills, using the improvisational structures called “Theater Games” that had been devised by Sills’ mother, Viola Spolin. (Spolin was the author of Improvisation for the Theater; a chapter from that book, “Seven Aspects of Spontaneity” is included in the new Routledge collection Spontaneous Acts: The Improvisation Studies Reader, edited by Rebecca Caines and Ajay Heble. Paul Sills went on to found the successful improvisational comedy group, Second City.) Using the devices they learned and the skills they developed in the Compass Players, Nichols and Elaine May moved to New York and became highly successful on radio and television, bringing improvisation to the previously-scripted standup comedy genre. There are many clips of the May/Nichols duo on YouTube, including “Mother and Son.”
IICSI in Amherst

Photograph of George E. Lewis.Photograph of Daniel Fischlin.
Keynote speakers and IICSI researchers George E. Lewis and Daniel Fischlin. Photographs by Davis Bannister.

The Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges (AALAC) presented a workshop on Improvisation, Interdisciplinarity, and the Liberal Arts November 21-23, 2014 at Amherst College in Amherst, MA. Organized by Jason Robinson, keynote speakers were IICSI researchers George E. Lewis (Columbia University) and Daniel Fischlin (University of Guelph). Presentations included “Poetic Instincts—Thinking in Action” (Chris Aiken and Angie Hauser, Smith College), “Life Practices” (Ann Cooper Albright, Oberlin College), “Translating in the Conditional: Collaborative Music-Making, Emergence, and Breaking the Classroom” (Mark Lomanno, Swarthmore College), “Preaching the Gospel of Improvisation” (Sandra Mathern, Denison U.), “Thinking Through Improvisation: Creative and Critical Thinking in the Liberal Arts Curriculum” (Dominic Poccia, Amherst College), “The Media Arts & Sciences Major at Wellesley” (David Teng-Olsen, Wellesley College), “Improvisation as a Mode of Address” (Monique Roelofs, Hampshire College), “Improvising Histories: Performing the Experiments of Surrealism” (Mercedes Teixido, Pomona College), “International Improvisational Exchange” (Colleen Thomas, Barnard College), and “Jazz, Improvisation and Liveness: Historical Reflections on Jazz as a Live Medium” (Steve Waksman, Smith College). The keynote addresses can be viewed online here.
Research in Large-Group Improvisation

IICSI Memorial Research Team member Jason Caslor visited Guelph in late November to observe, document, and analyze the collaboration between Improviser-in-Residence, Dong-Won Kim, and the Guelph Symphony Orchestra. Based on his observation of workshops, rehearsals, and the final public performance (more details below), Caslor is carrying out research on the processes, challenges, and dynamic possibilities of large-group improvisation. Stay tuned for results of this project!
People: Jesse Stewart

Picture of Jesse Stewart.
An associate professor of music in Carleton University’s School for Studies in Art and Culture, IICSI researcher Dr. Jesse Stewart was among 15 local residents inducted into the Order of Ottawa at a November 20 ceremony at City Hall. As part of the ceremony, Dr. Stewart performed alongside IICSI’s 2014 Improviser-in-Residence, Korean percussionist Dong-Won Kim. “Inductees into the Order of Ottawa are remarkable residents who are being honoured for their service to our city through a variety of professional and civic-oriented endeavours,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

Jesse Stewart is an award-winning percussionist, composer, improviser, artist, instrument builder, educator and writer. In 2012, along with fellow Stretch Orchestra members Matt Brubeck and Kevin Breit, he received the “Instrumental Album of the Year” Juno Award. He received the Marston LaFrance Research Fellowship in 2013 and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Teaching Achievement Award in 2014. Jesse is a past recipient of the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award and is dedicated to building and strengthening communities through arts education and outreach.
Quote of the Month

As a filmmaker, Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) was a lifelong improviser: making That Obscure Object of Desire at the age of 77, facing the loss of his lead actor, he simply hired two actors, Angela Molina and Carole Bouquet, to play the same role. In his autobiography My Last Sigh, he writes: 

In my own village of Calanda, where I was born on the twenty-second of February, 1900, the Middle Ages lasted until World War I … When I was young, I played the violin, and later, in Paris, the banjo … But our attitudes towards music have changed drastically since those days. For instance, we usually heard several months in advance when the Madrid Symphony was coming to Saragossa, and we were always beside ourselves with excitement. In fact, the waiting was decidedly voluptuous. We made preparations way in advance, counting the days, looking for scores, humming the melodies, and when the concert arrived at last, it was an incomparable delight. Today, all you have to do is press a button and any kind of music you like will instantly fill your living room. I wonder what’s been gained, however. I can’t help feeling that there is no beauty without hope, struggle, and conquest.
Improv Notes

Improv Notes was initially distributed in 2008 as a quarterly newsletter. From June 2011 until Sept. 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 Rachel 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)