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Improv Notes: July 2012


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IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment
July 2012

Improvisers-In-Residence 2012: Scott Thomson and Susanna Hood

This fall, ICASP's 2012 Improviser-In-Residence program will resume with the arrival of two extremely talented Canadian improvisers and artists. Their interdisciplinary post involves initiating community impact workshops, musical dialogue, and performances, in order to advocate for community-building through creative practices. The Improviser-In-Residence program is a collaborative partnership with Musagetes.

Scott Thomson and Susanna Hood will share the role of Improviser-in-Residence through the ICASP project in Guelph, Ontario, in the autumn of 2012.

They will be in Guelph for seven weeks during the autumn of 2012 to immerse themselves in the community, and to collaborate widely as performers, creators, workshop leaders, and educators during their stay.

As a culmination of their work in Guelph, Susanna and Scott will create and present a site-specific event-piece to take place in Exhibition Park (on Saturday afternoon, October 13th, 2012). This yet-to-be-named event-piece will feature diverse collaborations not only with a cross-section of Guelph's scenes of professional dance and music-making, but also with numerous local amateur musicians and dancers with whom they will have worked. The collaborations among amateur performers, in particular, will emphasize creative exchanges across generations – parents and young children, grandparents and grandchildren, etc.  In Exhibition Park, these exchanges will be framed within Scott's concept of 'cartographic composition' that, through its creative approach to the spatial relationships between performers and audience members, fosters an unconventional, playful, and notably family-friendly context in which to experience performance.

In addition, Susanna and Scott will contribute to various aspects of the 2012 Guelph Jazz Festival, Colloquium, and Nuit Blanche (September 5th-9th), including workshops and a performance with young musicians from KidsAbility, a service organization for children with physical and developmental disabilities; workshops and a performance with the inaugural Guelph Jazz Workshop; participation in the colloquium on the theme of improvisation and pedagogy; performances of original conceptions as part of a John Cage Centenary 'Musicircus'; the presentation of a new work, Basso Continuum, featuring Susanna, videographer Nicholas Loess, and double-bassist Rob Clutton; and the third annual performance of Scott's site-specific composition for the Radiant Brass Ensemble on the banks of the Speed River in Royal City Park, Riveradiant.

Other aspects of Susanna and Scott's residency will include stand-alone workshops, the leadership of ICASP's Reading Group for one session, an on-campus performance by The Rent, and a general immersion in and interaction with the Guelph community and its creative practitioners from different fields.

Stay tuned for more news about the dynamic, innovative, and collaborative projects and workshops that Scott and Susanna are planning with various community partners in Guelph this autumn.

The Improviser-in-Residence program is funded with the support of Musagetes and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Please check out the Improvisers-in-Residence page for biographies and up to date information about the residency.

Oral Histories Project

Oral Histories is a showcase of interviews, performances, and articles by and about improvising musicians, artists, writers and scholars. This new monthly feature will offer 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.

Check out the Oral Histories Project

ICASP Graduate Student David Lee Launches Novel, Commander Zero

PhD student David Lee has written several books of non-fiction, and now his first novel has been published by Tightrope Books. Commander Zero was recently launched in Toronto at the Revival Bar.

Order your copy today.

Icasp proudly announces the Postdoctoral Fellows for 2012-2013 year

Mark Laver (University of Guelph) served as an ICASP Postdoctoral fellow for the 2011-2012 year and we are happy to announce that he will be serving as the ICASP Postdoctoral Fellow, based at the University of Guelph, for the 2012-2013 year. His work is published in several academic and non-academic journals, including Popular Music, Critical Studies in Improvisation, SAGAR, Discourses, The Recorder, and Canadian Musician. He completed his PhD in Ethnomusicology at the University of Toronto. His dissertation research (funded by a Joseph Armand Bombardier scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council) focused on the use of jazz in advertising. Mark is also a busy working saxophonist, and has performed with leading jazz and improvising musicians such as Lee Konitz, Phil Nimmons, NEXUS, Dong Won Kim, and Eddie Prévost.

Christopher Haworth (McGill University) is a sound artist and writer from Preston, Lancashire (UK). He writes about music, emotion and subjectivity; 'presentness' and the aesthetics of immediacy; and the mediumship of the listener in post-war experimental, electronic, popular music and sound art practices. This is informed by his work as an artist, which focuses on the use of psychoacoustic phenomena as a compositional material in computer music. Works such as ‘Correlation Number One’ (2010) and ‘Vertizontal Hearing (Up & Down, I then II)’ (2012) are designed in such a way as to ‘dramatize’ the listening act, revealing voluntary and involuntary mechanisms of audition and encouraging ‘perceptual creativity’. During his ICASP postdoctoral fellowship he will be researching the social and technological aesthetics of live coding and ‘laptop as instrument’ improvisational practices, with a particular focus on new approaches to what Derek Bailey has called ‘pro-’ and ‘anti-instrument’ performance ideologies. His publications include: “Xenakisian Sound Synthesis: Its Aesthetics and Influence on ‘Computer Noise’” (in Resonances: Noise and Musics, Continuum Publishing House, 2013); “Ear as Instrument: Sound at the Limits of Audition” (in Leonardo Music Journal, Volume 22, 2013); and “Composing with Absent Sound”, (in Proceedings of the ICMC, ICMA, 2011). Outside of his academic work he makes electronic music under the moniker 'Littl Shyning Man' and has released three records on London-based electronica label, Head+Arm (Sonic 360).

Staff Update

We are pleased to announce that ICASP has recently added a new staff member to our project team. Please join us in welcoming Mari Biehn to the Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice project. Mari has been hired as the Outreach and Development Assistant, a position shared between ICASP and the Guelph Jazz Festival. Mari will be coordinating the Improviser-in-Residence program, assisting with community engagement, and providing support for fundraising and development. She can be reached at
Mari has a background in non-profit management, development, and administration. She is a previous board member and fund developer with the Guelph Jazz Festival and worked for several years with Alumni Affairs and Development at the University of Guelph. Mari holds a B.A.Sc. in Applied Human Nutrition and a M.Sc. in Rural Extension Studies, both from the University of Guelph. 

Quote of the Month:

“If one can stop looking at the past and start listening to it, one might hear echoes of a new conversation; then the task of the critic would be to lead speakers and listeners unaware of each other’s existence to talk to one another. The job of the critic would be to maintain the ability to be surprised at how the conversation goes, and to communicate that sense of surprise to other people, because a life infused with surprise is better than a life that is not.”

-Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces
Greil Marcus
 (born June 19, 1945) is an American author, music journalist and cultural critic. He is notable for producing scholarly and literary essays that place rock music in a much broader framework of culture and politics than is customary in pop music journalism.


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. The newsletter is now distributed once a month. If you have anything improvisation related that you would like to have included in the newsletter, please send an email to:


This Month's Featured Artist:
Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim (عبدالله إبراهيم) (South Africa)

Prophetic. Ancient. Flowing. Mesmerizing. Multi-layered. Rhapsodic. Lament. Freedom. Love.
These are but a few of the words that could be used to describe the music of Abdullah Ibrahim. Amidst the hurly-burly of young student crowds, downtown celebrating the end of frosh week, thousands of community members, travelers, artists, volunteers, and casual observers, will have the opportunity to head to Guelph, Ontario, to hear the legendary South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim perform a solo piano concert. This is an extremely rare North American appearance for Ibrahim who usually performs in Africa or Europe. This is surely to be one of the highlights of the 19th annual Guelph Jazz festival.
While exiled from his African homeland in South Africa, Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand) was discovered and championed by Duke Ellington in 1962 in Zurich. Ellington insisted on producing Ibrahim’s first European recording, and since then he has left a graceful and very individual mark on the music’s history with an estimable recorded legacy, as both a soloist and in ensembles of varying sizes. The unmistakable sound of his music is shaped and fueled by a panoply of voices and styles, from black American gospel and blues—with harmonic resonances of Ellington and Thelonious Monk—to the African rhythms (kwela) of his Cape Town roots. This sensuous blending of musical panache has left us with some of the most elegant and lyrical compositions in the entire jazz canon.
In the 1960s in New York, Ibrahim collaborated with John Coltrane, Don Cherry, and many other groundbreaking artists. He is the father of New York underground rapper, Jean Grae, and his wife is the South African jazz vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin. As noted in a feature article about Ibrahim in The Guardian, his recordings and performances have been profoundly influential in “charting the trials and sorrows of exile and apartheid yet with an insistently celebratory lilt,” and have become “wordless expressions of freedom and defiance.” His inspiring music was one of the driving forces behind the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. His music is prominently featured in the film Amandla (a Xhosa and Zulu word meaning “power”): a documentary depicting the struggles of black South Africans against the injustices of Apartheid through the use of music. Ibrahim performed at the 1994 presidential inauguration of Nelson Mandela, and has founded the M7 Academy for South African Musicians in Cape Town. Ibrahim’s music has become representative of the worldwide struggle for freedom, and in his music, as well as writing, Africa remains a constant source of wisdom and inspiration. His poem, “Water From An Ancient Well,” attests:
oh beautiful Africa
that’s where I’ll always dwell
water from an ancient well.
His departure from Africa set him upon an odyssey that would not allow him to return to Cape Town permanently until after the 1992 referendum to end apartheid. Ibrahim continues to gift the world with his music in several contexts, but it is, perhaps, his solo piano recitals that are most memorable as mesmerizing and unbroken performances seamlessly moving, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, through “an almost cinematic sequence of musical settings: melodically flowing American spirituals, traditional African themes delivered in pristine chorale harmonies, occasional funk-driven rhythms, floating harmonies and unexpected musical twists and turns.”
The Guelph Jazz Festival and its patrons welcome this very special artist for a rare North American intimate solo piano performance at the River Run Centre on the evening of Saturday September 8th. Abdullah Ibrahim has also agreed to participate in a FREE onstage interview as part of The Guelph Jazz Festival colloquium on Friday September 7th.

“Amandla!” “Ngawethu!” Power to the people.

Abdullah Ibrahim sings and plays soprano on "Ishmael," from the album, The Banyana: Children of Africa:

“Bro Joe from Kilimanjaro” from African Piano:

“Manenberg (revisited)” from Water From an Ancient Well:

Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium 2012: 

The 2012 Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium

The Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium is one of the few events in North America to combine a scholarly colloquium with a music festival. Co-presented with the Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice research project (ICASP), the colloquium offers a stimulating mix of panels and keynote addresses by top scholars along with eclectic workshops and concerts featuring Festival artists.

Pedagogy and Praxis: Improvisation as Social Justice and Social Responsibility

How can improvisation create spaces of praxis that operate as socially responsible and social justice-oriented practices for human life? Do theoretical analyses of improvisation's pedagogic possibilities present us with socially responsible tasks as scholars, performers, and citizens? How can improvisation inform our social polity, and how are the poetics of improvisation applicable to our social present?

Investigating these and other questions, this year's colloquium explores the relationships among musical improvisation, pedagogy, social justice, and activism. Oh, and did we mention that it's all FREE?

Please join us at any or all of the events, from Wednesday September 5th to Friday September 7th. Events are held at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, 358 Gordon Street (at College), Guelph.

This colloquium is generously sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Lloyd Carr-Harris Foundation, the Chawkers Foundation, the SOCAN Foundation, Canadian Heritage/Patrimoine canadien, the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, the Office of the President, the Office of the Vice-President (Research), the Office of the Associate Vice-President (Student Affairs), the School of English and Theatre Studies, the School of Fine Art and Music, Hospitality Services, and the Central Student Association at the University of Guelph, and Universidad Veracruzana, Mexico.


In former ICASP Research Associate News:

Tracey Nicholls releases book: An Ethics of Improvisation: Aesthetic Possibilities for a Political Future

An Ethics of Improvisation: Aesthetic Possibilities for a Political Future

An Ethics of Improvisation takes up the puzzles and lessons of improvised music in order to theorize the building blocks of a politically just society. The investigation of what politics can learn from the people who perform and listen to musical improvisation begins with an examination of current social discourses about “the political” and an account of what social justice could look like. Check out the book with a preview online at amazon: An Ethics of Improvisation


Tracy McMullen has accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Music at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and will begin teaching there this fall.
Congrats Tracey and Tracy!

The Guelph Jazz Workshop

In the 1950s and 1960s, legendary jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus ran a group that he called “Jazz Workshop” in New York City. Under Mingus’s direction, some of the best musicians of the day – Pepper Adams, Jaki Byard, Booker Ervin, John Handy, Jimmy Knepper, and many others – came together to form one of the most exciting improvising ensembles in the history of jazz music.

In August 2012, we’ll be bringing the Jazz Workshop model to Guelph. This group will bring together musicians of all ages and levels of experience: local and international professionals will play side by side with high school students, university students, and members of the community. Together, we’ll explore new and innovative approaches to creating jazz music, exploring the inner traditions and the outer limits of the idiom: we’ll compose, we’ll arrange, we’ll rehearse, we’ll perform, and we’ll improvise.

The Guelph Jazz Workshop will run for two weeks, from August 20 to 31, at the University of Guelph campus. During that time we will have daily sessions dedicated to creating and rehearsing music. Each day of the first week (August 20-24, 1-4pm) will focus on a different framework for music making: “thriving from a riff” (riff-based ensemble improvisation), composition, sound painting, conduction, graphic scores, and free playing. During the second week (August 27-31, 7-9pm), we’ll rehearse the music we developed in the first week. After a final rehearsal at 7-9pm on Friday, September 7, the Workshop will culminate in a performance at the Guelph Jazz Festival on Saturday, September 8 at the main tent.

Directed by Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice Postdoctoral Fellow Mark Laver, the Workshop will feature appearances by some of the leading jazz musicians and improvisers in North America: Scott Thomson (ICASP Improviser-in-Residence), Susanna Hood (ICASP Improviser-in-Residence) Joe Sorbara (director, University of Guelph Contemporary Music Ensemble), Brent Rowan (director, Guelph Youth Jazz Ensemble), Daniel Kruger (ICASP Research Assistant), and some other faculty of the 2012 ICASP
Summer Institute.

The fee for Workshop registration is $75. Registration will be open until Friday, August 10, but space is limited, so get your name in early! For more information or to register, please contact Mark Laver at:

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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