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Improv Notes: June 2013


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IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment       June 2013
International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) Recipient of SSHRC Partnership Grant

Institute to Explore Improvisation as Key to World Harmony

How can people learn to live together in an increasingly global world? An important clue may be found through improvised performance practices, says University of Guelph professor Ajay Heble.

Somehow, musicians who have never rehearsed together or even met, who play different instruments, and who may not even share a common language can come together and make magic happen, he says.

“There’s something going on in the moment, something that resonates with musicians and artists adapting to each other,” said Heble, an English professor, musician, and the artistic director and founder of the renowned Guelph Jazz Festival.

That “something” might translate to other venues and issues, providing lessons about co-operation, negotiating differences, fostering trust and meeting social obligations.

In fact, musical improvisation just may hold the key to building successful communities, here and around the globe, he says.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) seems to agree. he federal agency awarded Heble and his research team a $2.5-million Partnership Grant to launch an International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation.

Following extensive peer review, the initiative was ranked No. 1 among finalists for the grant, which was one of 20 awarded nationwide. The new award builds on an earlier $2.5-million SSHRC Major Collaborative Research Initiatives (MCRI) grant.

“This is incredible news and well-deserved recognition of the groundbreaking work of Ajay and his team,” said Kevin Hall, vice-president (research).

“This prestigious grant is testimony to their creativity, ingenuity and innovation. They’ve established a new field of interdisciplinary study and firmly positioned Guelph as the leader in research on improvisation.”

The new institute stems from the Improvisation, Community and Social Practice (ICASP) research project directed by Heble, now in the seventh year of a seven-year SSHRC MCRI grant. ICASP uses musical improvisation as a model for building successful communities.

Heble plans to broaden the scope with the new partnered International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation. Using improvisation as a teaching and learning tool, he aims to improve society by bringing together the arts, scholarship and collaborative action.

The institute will involve 56 international scholars from 20 institutions -- including McGill University, University of British Columbia, Memorial University of Newfoundland and University of Regina – as well as more than 30 community partners.

“Our MCRI grant established such tremendous momentum – nothing like it existed previously – and we were looking for ways to sustain it in the long term. This institute at Guelph is the next phase in the development of our work,” Heble said.

“To know that our proposal was ranked first is fantastic. It’s wonderful when the work you are doing is recognized and appreciated.”

The venture will build on the successes of ICASP, including forging partnerships with varied groups, facilitating programs for children and at-risk youth through workshops, and creating novel software programs. Institute programs will bring together people from different backgrounds and help build and sustain co-operation, change and adaptation, including in countries all around the world, focusing on three key research priorities: community health and social responsibility; practice-based research; and digital technology.

“What we’re doing is unique in the world. We’ve propelled Guelph into a world centre for improvisational music as a form of social practice, an engine for change,” Heble said.

He emphasized that conceptualizing the institute and developing the grant proposal was a collaborative effort.

“I’ve benefitted tremendously from the input, support, and involvement of many amazing people,” he said. “In so many ways, our project seems to me to represent an exemplary instance of what a vital, resilient, and socially engaged community can be.”

For more information on the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada's and recipients of the Partnership Grant, please click here.

The team includes Prof. Daniel Fischlin, University Research Chair and professor in Guelph’s School of English and Theatre Studies; Prof. Frederique Arroyas, School of Languages and Literatures; Kim Thorne, ICASP project manager; Prof. Eric Lewis, McGill University; Prof. Ellen Waterman, Memorial University of Newfoundland; and Musagetes, a Guelph-based organization fostering community and culture through art.


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.


Eugene Martynec is a Canadian musician, composer, conductor, and record producer. Martynec first came to prominence as a guitarist in the Toronto group Bobby Kris & The Imperials in 1965. After leaving the group he went on to form Kensington Market in 1967 with singer/songwriter Keith McKie, bass player Alex Darou and drummer Jimmy Watson. Martynec also played acoustic guitar, bass and synthesizer on Lou Reed’s 1973 album Berlin, as well as providing the vocal arrangement on “The Bed.” As a producer he won the Juno Award for Producer of the Year for his 1981 work on Bruce Cockburn’s “Tokyo” (from the album Humans) and on new wave band Rough Trade’s hit “High School Confidential,” which was one of the first overtly lesbian-themed Top 40 hits in the world.

Martynec is known for his versatility, composing and recording with pop groups, orchestras, and in visual and live theatre settings. He is trained in electronic music, composition, and orchestration from The Royal Conservatory of Music (1970–1975) and has been awarded Canada Council for the Arts and Toronto Arts Council grants for music composition. His most recent interests are around improvised music, composing live electro-acoustic music, as well as with adding visual components to his improvisation performances. Martynec is well traveled and has lived and performed abroad, notably living in Beijing for two years where he performed in Yunnan Province with Yan Jun (a sound artist, critic, poet and organizer) and in Beijing at several music and art festivals. From 2007-2010 he was based in London, England where he performed with the London Improvisers Orchestra and with various other small ensembles throughout Europe. Upon returning to Toronto in 2010, he organized and formed the Toronto Improvisers Orchestra. Martynec remains a key player in the Toronto improvising community.

In this audio-interview, musician Eugene Martynec identifies the functionality and ideals of his group, the Toronto Improvisers Orchestra. He explains techniques behind conducted improvisation languages and hand signals for conducting improvisation. In addition, he talks about pedagogical devices that he uses to direct an improvising ‘community-like’ orchestra in Canada. The interview was conducted in 2011 by Sandro Manzon, a young composer/ pianist/ improviser, who was an ICASP URA at the time.

Manzon’s compositions encompass a wide range of musical traditions, having written works for various musical situations including chamber ensemble, orchestra, turntables with ensemble, traditional/experimental folk groups, etc. He is also the founding member and Artistic Director of the band ‘Edges’ who is dedicated to performing and creating experimental and contemporary music of many sorts.

Listen to Improvising as a Community: An interview with Eugene Martynec of The Toronto Improvisers Orchestra

A full transcript of the interview is available here.

For more information on The Toronto Improvisers Orchestra please visit their page on Array Music.

Stay up to date with Improviser-in-Residence Rich Marsella's performances in Guelph 

Photo: Todd Fraser
  • Saturday, July 13, 8:00pm: Friendly Rich and the Lollipop People, Silence, 46 Essex St.
  • Saturday, August 17, 8:00pm: Friendly Rich and the Lollipop People, Silence, 46 Essex St.
  • Saturday, September 7, 12:00pm: Finale Concert at Guelph Jazz Festival: A community-based music extravaganza, St. Georges Church, 99 Woolwich St.
  • Thursday, October 31, 12:10pm: Friendly Rich and the Lollipop People, University of Guelph, MacKinnon 107.
Visit the Improviser-in-Residence page for more information about the program.

Quote of the Month:

“Improvisation still gives me the greatest challenge and the greatest pleasure. I never know from moment to moment where I’ll end up, and sometimes I’m scared to death. Yet, with all the risks, being on the edge is always the most fulfilling place to be.”

-Bobby McFerrin, The Voice, liner notes.
Jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin, who was inspired by Keith Jarrett’s solo improvisations, is an American vocalist and conductor. McFerrin is a ten-time Grammy Award winner who has collaborated with a variety of instrumental performers, including Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Yo-Yo Ma, among others. McFerrin is known for his ability to switch quickly between modal and falsetto registers to create complex polyphonic effects, creating both the primary melody and the accompanying parts of the song by himself. He also often creates percussive effects with his mouth or by banging on his chest, and is known for his multiphonic singing. McFerrin is best known for his 1988 smash hit, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” His 1982 album The Voice is the first solo jazz album recorded without any overdubbing or accompaniment. 

Photo: Steve Jurvetson

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!

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Featured Artist:

Photo by Sebastian Ludvigsen 

Atomic (Norway; Sweden)

Atomic is a Scandinavian jazz acoustic quintet and supergroup—with a classic sax/trumpet/rhythm-section line-up—comprised of Fredrik Ljungkvist on reeds, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Håvard Wiik on piano, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Since forming in 1999, Atomic has garnered numerous accolades and continues to expand their audience and impress music critics with their explosive individual energy and cadence.
Atomic was initially conceived as a response to the “Scandinavian sound” that had become especially popular on labels such as ECM. And so while their music can’t be easily pigeonholed as “European,” especially if one interprets that adjective along the ECM line of cool detachment, their music is nonetheless “European” for its perpetual openness and non-idiomatic approach to accepted jazz norms. Atomic fearlessly blends American free-jazz with European attributes, or perhaps we can best understand the band as they describe themselves, as “part academic lecture, part a fun night out on the town.”
Thus, when listening to Atomic you might hear elements of Duke Ellington, Archie Shepp, and Charles Mingus, to name a few, as well as various progenitors of the European free improv circuit in the vein of Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun (1968). Yet, these blending of styles—of American jazz, rock, European free jazz and improvised music—are merely the springboards in which Atomic sets their own position and unique direction within the varied, complex history of living jazz music.
The members of Atomic are hardly strangers to the touring circuit as they have been on the road almost since their inception, having toured extensively in Europe, Japan, Canada, and the USA. Atomic burst onto the scene with their exciting and creative album Feet Music (2001), named after an Ornette Coleman composition. Since then they have released a total of 10 albums that display the depth of their music and just how flexible and varied their compositional structures are. Perhaps this is why it is often easier to define the music Atomic makes by what it is not, rather than what it might be - you be the judge. Make sure you check out Atomic, performing at the 20th Anniversary Guelph Jazz Festival this September.

For now, here are a couple tracks to hold you over.

Atomic performing "Two Boxes Left" live in Japan:

"Boom Boom":

Thought-provoking Improvisation Summit in Guelph was a resounding success

From May 23-25, ICASP hosted The Summit on Improvisation Pedagogy and Community Impact, with crucial support from SSHRC, Musagetes, the Guelph Jazz Festival, CFRU, Research Shop, and the SOCAN Foundation. With performers and presenters from across North America, the Summit generated inspiring conversations and fostered exciting new collaborations that will help to change the face of music education in Canada and the United States.

Check and listen to CFRU for information on future initiatives and activities.

Photos from the Workshop with William Parker. May 23rd, 2013. Photos by Paul Watkins.

For more photos visit our
Facebook page.

Call for Presentations: The Final McGill ICASP Conference! Time Forms: The Temporalities of Aesthetic Experience
September 18-21, 2013

To celebrate the final McGill ICASP conference we are partnering with IPLAI, and other Montreal based organizations to run a major-three day event. This will not be a “standard” conference, and in keeping with ICASP’s emerging focus on practice-based research, it will be a site for experimenting with new methods of both research dissemination and conference interactions. ICASP will have a dedicated session on temporality in/and improvisation, but much of the conference will address, both directly and more obliquely, this subject.
General Statement of Purpose: This event aims to explore forms in time and the ways time forms experience by bringing together scholars and creators of artistic media that intimately involve a temporal dimension in the experience they engender. Participants will explore different concepts, kinds and components of experiential temporality as they are manifested in a variety of artistic forms. The event itself is designed to have a large-scale temporal structure that modulates the temporal experience of continuity, immersion and distraction over the whole event, within which are embedded smaller structures with an interleaving of thought-provoking scholarly presentations, performances or presentations of art forms, creative workshops, and moments of repose, reflection and nourishment or other modes of distraction such as moving around space to get to different events, thereby discovering spaces in between the events.
ICASP will have a dedicated time-slot for presentations related to improvisation and time. We ask that you send your proposals by July 1, 2013 to Eric Lewis (

Proposals can include a standard oral paper presentation of up to 30 minutes, but, ideally, will also include other media/forms of presentation. You can also propose “interventions” or other events/happenings that might require or have a less standard temporal structure. Please be as specific as possible in regards to what you would like to do, and what your technical/space needs might be. This will be an exciting event!
See the PDF of the Call for Papers more details.

The Fierce Urgency of Now is now available!

The Fierce Urgency of Now: Improvisation, Rights, and the Ethics of Co-creation is authored by Daniel Fischlin, Ajay Heble, and George Lipsitz. The book links musical improvisation to struggles for social change, focusing on the connections between the improvisation associated with jazz and the dynamics of human rights struggles and discourse. The authors acknowledge that at first glance improvisation and rights seem to belong to incommensurable areas of human endeavor. Improvisation connotes practices that are spontaneous, personal, local, immediate, expressive, ephemeral, and even accidental, while rights refer to formal standards of acceptable human conduct, rules that are permanent, impersonal, universal, abstract, and inflexible. Yet the authors not only suggest that improvisation and rights can be connected; they insist that they must be connected.

Ajay Heble is Professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph and an editor (with Rob Wallace) of People Get Ready: The Future of Jazz Is Now!, also published by Duke University Press. He is the founder and artistic director of the Guelph Jazz Festival and ICASP Project Director. Daniel Fischlin is the ICASP Books Coordinator and Project Co-Investigator, as well as a Professor and University Research Chair in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph in Ontario. Most recently, he is coauthor (with Martha Nandorfy) of The Community of Rights – The Rights of Community (Oxford UP). George Lipsitz is Professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of many books, including How Racism Takes Place and Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music

Get your copy today directly from Duke University Press.

Catch more of the Silence concert series this summer in Guelph.

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


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.

There is a curious yet enormously fruitful duality in the way that improvisation plays on our expectations and perspectives.

– Tracey Nicholls