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Improv Notes: May 2014


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IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment       May 2014

ICASP Project Director, Ajay Heble has been awarded the Dr. William Winegard Exemplary Volunteer Involvement Award

Photo, from here.

In 2007, the University of Guelph, United Way Guelph Wellington Dufferin, and the Volunteer Centre of Guelph/Wellington introduced the Dr. William Winegard Exemplary Volunteer Involvement Awards. The Winegard Awards recognize the contributions that volunteers from the university community make in Guelph and Wellington County. 

Read the official announcement, here.


Author Anne McDonald explains how she uses improv as part of her writing process at the Improv Symposium held Thursday at the University of Regina. Natascia Lypny/Leader-Post.

The Improv Symposium, “Saying Yes,” recently took place at the Regina Improvisation Studies Centre. The Regina Improvisation Studies Centre, directed by Dr. Rebecca Caines, is part of the new SSHRC funded partnership with The International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI). The symposium looked at improvisation as a means for social change. The symposium focused on various lines of inquiry in regards to improvisations studies, such as, How can we shift public understanding of improvisation as a means to “maximize the moment;” to realize its potential to create innovative art and address social challenges?
See the full media coverage of the event in Regina’s Leader-Post, here


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.

Tracey Nicholls, Roger Dean, and Rebecca Caines:
Towards an Ethos of Improvisation

For this month’s Oral History we travel back to 2009 for a vibrant discussion between Roger Dean, Tracey Nicholls, and Rebecca Caines. Dr. Benjamin Authers facilitates a discussion with the three aforementioned ICASP researchers who cover a range of topics related to improvisation and social policy. View this month's Oral History page for short researcher biographies followed by the interview, included below.


Full transcript available here.

Quote of the Month:

“Several months later saw the return of Francisco the Man, an ancient vagabond who was almost two hundred years old and who frequently passed through Macondo distributing songs that he composed himself. In them Francisco the Man told in great detail the things that had happened in the towns along his route, from Manaure to the edge of the swamp, so that if anyone had a message to send or an event to make public, he would pay him two cents to include it in his repertory. That was how Úrsula learned of the death of her mother, as a simple consequence of listening to the songs in the hope that they would say something about her son José Arcadio. Francisco the Man, called that because he had once defeated the devil in a duel of improvisation, and whose real name no one knew, disappeared from Macondo during the insomnia plague and one night he appeared suddenly in Catarino’s store. The whole town went to listen to him to find out what had happened in the world.”
-Excerpt from Gabriel García Márquez's 100 Years of Solitude

Image from here.

On April 17th
, 2014, Gabriel García Márquez passed away at his home in Mexico City. He was 87. Márquez was a revered Colombian novelist, screenwriter, and journalist, known affectionately as Gabo throughout Latin America. He is considered one of the most important writers of the 20th century and in 1982 he won the Novel Prize for Literature. He is known for his use of magic realism, and what we might want to refer to as metaphors of improvisation. His work, The General in His Labyrinth is a kind of improvisation on the life of the 19th-century revolutionary Simón Bolívar, while his most famous work 100 Years of Solitude is full of references to ad-hoc performance, improvisation, and community. In this textured work, Márquez masterfully fuses the extraordinary with the realistic in a rich world of imagination.

The Shape of Jazz to Come: Downtown Jazz in 1959 and Now

FREE EVENT in New York with David Lee 
Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 6:30 pm 
Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall 55 West 13th Street, Room I202, New York, NY

In the 1950s and '60s, the Five Spot Café (in two locations on Cooper Square) was a major nexus, not only of top-notch jazz, but also of racial integration and artistic ferment. Leonard Bernstein, James Baldwin and, Norman Mailer were all in the mix alongside Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and, John Coltrane. When saxophonist Ornette Coleman and his band played for several weeks in 1959, they disrupted the scene’s social status quo as well as altering the sound of jazz. What is the downtown jazz scene like today – are there any parallels?

Karen Loew of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation will moderate a panel discussion with David Neil Lee, author of The Battle of the Five Spot: Ornette Coleman and the New York Jazz Field; Stacy Dillard, saxophonist and composer; and jazz critic Howard Mandel. A book signing with Lee follows the discussion.

This promises to be a fascinating conversation at the crossroads of sociology and musicology, with a performance by the Ornette Coleman Ensemble of the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, directed by Jane Ira Bloom. The Ornette Coleman Ensemble features: Allison Philips, trumpet; Alex Silver, tenor saxophone; Idan Morim, guitar; Antonio Mazzei Ocampo, piano; Daniel Durst, bass; Michael Dei Cont; bass; and Carter Bales, drums. 

Co-sponsored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and The New School for Public Engagement as Part of Lower East Side History Month.

This event is free, but reservations are required by calling 212.475.9585 x35 or emailing

McGill Colloquium 2014 Schedule Announced! Improvisation and the Politics of Everyday Sounds: Cornelius Cardew and Beyond

The Colloquium “Improvisation and the Politics of Everyday Sounds: Cornelius Cardew and Beyond” takes the work of British composer Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) as a point of departure for a reflection on the aesthetic, ethical, and political entailments of forms of art and activism that engage with improvisatory creative practices. In his work with groups such as the Scratch Orchestra and AMM, Cornelius Cardew explored modes of music making that emphasized social and aesthetic notions of freedom and gave pride of place to improvisatory, intermedial, and experimental poietic procedures, among them the use of chance, the recourse to everyday sounds, the exploration of unconventional music notation techniques, the incorporation of non-trained performers to music making processes, and the interplay of different forms of aesthetic perception and representation.

The colloquium will be held in Montréal, from June 9 to 11, 2014, as part of the Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival. It will feature, among other events, a concert by pianist John Tilbury and a performance of selections of Cornelius Cardew’s The Great Learning by the Bozzini Quartet.

Please click here to download a copy of the Colloquium schedule.

Please visit this page for updates and details!

Guelph’s portal for adventurous new sound events

Silence includes an ongoing concert series, occasional improvisation sessions, and handmade music nights and workshops.

Check out Silence's inaugural Membership programme

Supporter - Name your amount - thank you! You’re helping to keep the lights on, the programming flowing, and the music massaging your brain.

Member - $80 - 50% off all shows for 1 year.

Subscriber - $150 - Unlimited admission to all silence events for 1 year. Come to everything! a steady stream of arty goodies from the silence community and the satisfaction of helping to support our work. Sign up here and your membership will be valid until august 1st, 2015 - that’s an extra couple of months for you early adopters!  

Check the Silence webpage for more details.


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.

Artist of the Month:

Image from here.
Phil Minton (UK)

This year’s Thinking Spaces series has frequently emphasized vocal improvisation. We will build on this in the coming months by offering free vocal exploration gatherings, including a FREE workshop with the legendary Phil Minton and Maggie Nichols on Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 from 7:30pm-10pm at Silence Guelph (46 Essex). More details about the vocal workshop series, here.

No previous vocal experience is required for participation. Interested participants must register for individual workshops or the full five workshop program in advance by sending an email to

The workshops will be followed by a day long Symposium on Voice, Agency, and Improvisation to take place at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre on June 26, 9:30-5pm and an evening concert with all of the guest instructors in collaboration with workshop participants will occur at 8pm at the Guelph Youth Music Centre. All of the events are free and open to the public.

Phil Minton is a free jazz and improvising vocalist (and trumpeter) with a wide range of voices and extended vocal techniques. Minton is known for his theatrical baritone and his vocals include everything from burping, screaming, muttering, and crying, and he has a unique ability to produce two notes simultaneously. Minton has focused much of his efforts on literary texts, performing lyrics by William Blake, as well as extracts from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake with his own ensemble. His material is always original, and his dedications always diverse, as he once participated in a Jimi Hendrix tribute project—belting the lyrics out. His album, Songs from a Prison Diary (Poems by Ho Chi Minh) is truly a masterwork of modern creative music, composed for solo voice, choir, piano, and percussion, containing early baroque tenants and contemporary improvisational shades throughout.

Born in the Southern coast in England in 1940, Minton began as a trumpeter, playing in various jazz bands in late 50s, and doubling as a trumpeter/vocalist for the Mike Westbrook Orchestra in London in the mid-60s. He’s travelled and lived all around the world, from the Canary Islands to Sweden, and in the 1970s he worked in a variety of venues, from improvised duos to theatre groups. One of his most known groups at this time was the vocal trio Voice with Julie Tippetts and Maggie Nicols. As an improvising vocalist, Minton has performed all around the world with a range of creative musicians, including Peter Brötzmann, Fred Frith, and Derek Bailey’s Company. He has also maintained a longtime collaboration with pianist Veryan Weston. In 1982, he collaborated with Bob Ostertag and Fred Frith on the audacious Voice of America, appearing on part 2. Ostertag describes the ad hoc performance of this piece, which was very literally improvised on the spot: “A few months later Fred and I were in London for a concert. Moments before going on, my synthesizer was destroyed in a technical mishap. I was left with my cassette set-up and a contact mic I either kept between my teeth or used to amplify various toys. Fred had brought only a piece of wood with a few screws at either end and guitar strings strung between them. With my synthesizer still smoking, we hastily recruited Phil Minton out of his seat in the audience and without any time for discussion began the set that became Voice of America Part 2.” Minton, Frith, and Ostertag are proof that good improvisers are ready to go at a moment’s notice. Have a listen to “Voice of America” (Part 2) below, along with other pieces, and if you are in Guelph we hope to see you at the Minton workshop on
June 24th, 2014 from 7:30pm-10pm at Silence Guelph (46 Essex).

Download “Voice of America” (Part 2) from Bob Ostertag’s website,

Phil Minton’s Feral Choir at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, 2012:

Phil Minton sings the traditional English folk song “The Cutty Men” from the Peasants’ Revolt (1381). Veryan Weston on piano:

We Can Never Tell the Entire Story of Slavery: In Conversation with M. NourbeSe Philip

Photo by Paul Watkins
Check out ICASP GRA Paul Watkins’s interview with the great M. NourbeSe Philip. Her most recent work is a powerful untelling of the massacre of nearly 150 enslaved Africans during a transatlantic voyage. The poem, entitled Zong!, is the driving force behind this honest and intelligent discussion on improvisational arts, slave narratives, hauntings, amnesia, silence, and storytelling.

From the interview:
PW: About a year ago in Toronto, I heard you read Zong! in non-linear fashion with over twenty readers improvising the poem’s multiple meanings in discordant unison. While I think you might be more inclined to see your long poem in the jazz aesthetic, the multiple echoes (the dubs/duppies of the drowned African voices) in Zong! allow it to fit within multiple contact zones of sonic, oral, textual, and multimodal traditions. What do you think of reading Zong! as an improvised dub chant?

MNP: Your question is an exciting one and very generative and addresses some of the questions I myself have—questions that come out of doing these “improvisatory” performances. I should explain that there are two kinds of performances I have been engaged in with Zong!. One is the type of collective reading you were a part of and which you mention in your question. In the other type of performance I work with musicians in an improvisatory context. We chose small sections of the text and improvise on those. The work lends itself beautifully to this process. However, while I don’t think that there is necessarily an opposition between the jazz improv process and the multiple echoes of a “duppy performance,” or that you’re suggesting it, the “multiple contact zones” approach you speak of is what interests and haunts me. For instance, I am very keen to introduce the sounds of techno, scratching and turntabling into the text. Yes, oh very, very yes, it is an improvised dub chant. As it must be, for improvisation is what you are left with once you enter the Zong.”

Read the full interview at Toronto Review of Books, here.

CFP: 2014 Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium: Sounding Futures

University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, September 3-5, 2014 

“The future is always here in the past”
-Amiri Baraka, “Jazzmen: Diz & Sun Ra”

The Guelph Jazz Festival, in conjunction with the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, the University of Guelph, and the SSHRC funded International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) invites proposals for presentations at our annual three ‐ day international interdisciplinary conference. This year's colloquium will take place September 3rd to 5th as part of the 21st annual Guelph Jazz Festival (September 3-7). It will bring together a diverse range of scholars, creative practitioners, arts presenters, policy makers, and members of the general public. Featuring workshops, panel discussions, keynote lectures, performances, and dialogues among researchers, artists, and audiences, the annual colloquium cuts across a range of social and institutional locations and promotes a dynamic international exchange of cultural forms and knowledges.

In celebration of the centennial of musician, bandleader, and Astro-black philosopher Sun Ra’s arrival on planet earth, and in keeping with Ra’s use of music as a way to envision – and indeed to create – other possible futures, this year’s colloquium asks, What does your future sound like? How might jazz and improvised music offer ways into other and future realities? One of the legacies of Ra’s lifework has been the fusion, in his own performances and compositions, of Egyptian iconography with sounds, texts, and imagery of space travel and technology. The mid-1990s saw Marc Dery and other scholars formalize this aesthetic vision around the term “Afrofuturism.” As Dery has put it, “African American voices have other stories to tell about culture, technology and things to come. If there is an Afrofuture, it must be sought in unlikely places, constellated from far-flung points.” From the Afrofuturism of the Sun Ra Arkestra and the “sonic fiction” of Kodwo Eshun, to the Afro Science fiction of Octavia Butler, to the recent work of artists such as Nicole Mitchell and the works of feminist and other visionary thinkers, to other multiple and hybridized notions of futurity, music and sound have long been vital focal points for social movements and utopian imaginings.

In his Foreword to a special issue on Technologies and Black Music in the Americas of the Journal of the Society for American Music, George E. Lewis asks, “what can the sound tell us about the Afrofuture? How can we develop a new theoretical and descriptive language that both complements and exceeds the purview of the terms ‘music,’ ‘sound,’ and ‘listening’”? This year’s colloquium seeks to extend this line of questioning by focusing on the “other stories” that might be sounded about the future through jazz and improvisatory artistic practices. Possible topics might include (but are not limited to) the place of Afrofuturism and other liberatory sono-futurist movements in the historical narrative of jazz and improvised music, the ways in which other artistic mediums (literature, theatre, dance, visual art) grapple with the sound of future-making, how minoritized and subjugated communities embrace creative technologies and future visions in their expressive output and cultural production. We also invite papers and presentations on the lifework of Sun Ra.

We are particularly interested in interdisciplinary work that speaks to both an academic audience and a general public. We welcome presentations in a range of creative and unconventional formats, including but not limited to dance, theatre, spoken word, music, multi-media, and film. What might it be like, for example, to exemplify the sound of the future through concrete samplings of different forms of musical practice that herald new directions in improvised musicking? Please indicate the format of your presentation and any technical or other resources required. We also invite presenters to submit completed versions of their papers to our peer ‐ reviewed journal, Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études critiques en improvisation ( for consideration.

Please send (500 word) proposals (for 15 minute delivery) and a short bio by May 31, 2014 to:
The 2014 Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium
c/o Dr. Ajay Heble, Artistic Director, The Guelph Jazz Festival. Email:

Download the original call for papers by clicking here.

Vol 9, No 1 (2013)
Ethics and the Improvising Business 

Check out the latest Special Issue of Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation (Vol. 9, No.1): Ethics and The Improvising Business, guest edited by Mark Laver and Tina Piper, with house editor Ajay Heble.

The issue can be accessed online


Ethics and the Improvising Business                        PDF HTML
Mark Laver, Ajay Heble, Tina Piper
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:

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So one of the things that improvisation has come to mean in the context of highly technological performance is that improvisation is the last claim to the legitimate presence of a human in the performance of music.

– Bob Ostertag