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Improv Notes: May 2015

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Improv Notes: April 2015
International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation logo.
Improv Notes is a monthly newsletter distributed by the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation.

2015 McGill Colloquium: Improvisation and Community Health

The 2015 McGill Colloquium, Improvisation and Community Health, will take place June 5-6 as a partnered event run by IICSI, the McGill Institute for Health and Public Policy and the Société des arts libres et actuels. The schedule for the Colloquium is now available and may be viewed in both French and English by visiting the conference page here. Keynote speakers include Susan Bickford (Rethinking Socratic Citizenship) and Phillip Bimstein (Composing a Community).

This conference will explore themes related to improvisation and community health, asking questions such as: How might the improvisatory arts play a role in creating healthy communities? What do policy makers have to learn from improvisers, and improvisers from policy makers? How might improvisatory models of the distribution of agency, responsibility, ownership and action translate into constructive models for improving community health? What is/could be/should be the role and function of the improvising artist in creating and maintaining healthy communities? How might a study of the improvisatory reveal hidden assumptions, agendas and shortcomings in our conception of what constitutes a healthy community? What are the similarities and differences between “unhealthy” improvisations and “ill” communities? 
Leeds Dance Conference

Improvisation in Dance: A Philosophical Perspective Conference takes place at the University of Leeds, 21-22 May 2015. It is an interdisciplinary and participatory conference on the philosophical issues raised by dance improvisation: “… by integrating the scholarly and academic perspective (both in philosophy and dance studies) with the practitioners’ experience and viewpoint.  To this end, [the] conference will incorporate traditional academic talks along with practical and performance elements.” Keynote speakers will include Renee Conroy, Vida Midgelow, and Barbara Montero. There will also be presentations by Carla Bagnoli, Louise Douse, Ian Heckman, Sherri Irvin, Donnchadh O’Conaill, and Rebecca Stancliff. 
Colour photograph of keynote speaker Vera Midgelow.
Vida Midgelow
Canadian Musicians On Tour
Photograph of the Craig Pedersen Quartet playing at Artword Artbar in Hamilton, Ontario.
Craig Pedersen Quartet @ Artword Artbar, Hamilton. Screen capture by Taien Ng-Chan.
To celebrate the release of his new CD “Ghosts,” Ottawa trumpeter Craig Pedersen toured Montreal, Kitchener, Peterborough, Toronto, Guelph and Hamilton in April with his quartet of Linsey Wellman, alto saxophone, Joel Kerr, double bass and Bennett Bedoukian drums. A growing network of presenters is making it possible for improvising artists such as the Pedersen group to appear in these smaller communities. Also touring during the spring were the Tim Crofts / Norman Adams / Lukas Pearse  trio with special guest Gerry Hemingway, the Dave Rempis / Darren Johnston / Larry Ochs trio from the USA, Hat & Beard with Ken Aldcroft and Dave Clark, and the Scandinavian quintet Atomic.
Dragu in Berlin

Our April Artist of the Month, Vancouver-based Margaret Dragu, writes: 

“I am totally CHUFFED as they say in English murder mystery novels especially "period" pieces to be included in your newsletter cum blog cum e-zine cum broadsheet. Merci.
… I have a research section on improvisation and chance operation that I created for my Richmond Art Gallery exhibition, available here.
... I am working in Berlin for most of May, [for the] Month of Performance Art Berlin Festival at gruntaler 9 gallery to do THE ARTIST IS WORKINGan occupation of a gallery to pursue daily chance operations, improvisations, and an investigation of wheel of knowledge / archives / pedagogy.”
Photograph of Margaret Dragu.
Translating Improvisation in Belfast
In support of women and children suffering domestic violence, the Translating Improvisation team ran in the May 4th Belfast City Marathon.
Translating Improvisation is pleased to present a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-sponsored international symposium entitled “JUST IMPROVISATION: Enriching Child Protection Law through Musical Techniques, Discourses, and Pedagogies” will be held at the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University Belfast on Fri 29 – Sat 30 May 2015, with keynote addresses by IICSI team members Pauline Oliveros (USA) and Ellen Waterman (Canada), and concerts by Maria Chavez (USA) and Okkyung Lee (Korea).

Bringing together academic and non-academic participants, both locally and internationally, this symposium explores the improvised creativity that is at the heart of legal decision-making, specifically as it applies to the area of child protection law. Through panel discussions, keynote addresses, improvisation workshops and performances, symposium participants will interrogate how to best equip those working in child protection (lawyers, judges, social workers, policy makers, community activists and third sector employees) to be confident in the improvisatory role which they are being called to undertake, where improvisation is understood as the technical ability and responsiveness to negotiate a smooth path between the general system of legal rules and an individual case. The symposium is free and open to the public. Please RSVP in advance to Matilde Meireles (
Quote of the Month

Everyone’s got to be different. You can’t copy anybody and end up with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. And without feeling, whatever you do amounts to nothing.
     No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.
      I never forget this wonderful old Spaniard Pablo Casals, who played the cello once on TV. When he finished some Bach he was interviewed by some American chick. “Every time you play it, it’s different,” she gushed.
      “It must be different,” says Casals. “How can it be otherwise? Nature is so. And we are nature.”
      So there you are. You can’t even be like you once were yourself, let alone like somebody else.
      I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, then it ain’t music, it’s close-order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music.

—Billie Holiday, 1915-1959
Black and white photograph of Billie Holiday (left) and Coleman Hawkins (right).
Billie Holiday and Coleman Hawkins

International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation LogoThe 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. 

The Adaptive Use Musical Instrument (AUMI) project is profiled in the following French-language video on their partnered project with the Mackay Centre School, a Montreal-based school for children with motor, speech, or sensorial difficulties. McGill-based AUMI researchers and Mackay Center School staff have completed their second pilot project at Mackay, and will present the preliminary results of this research at the Improvisation and Community Health Conference  June 5-6 in Montreal.
Photo still from the video showing the AUMI software in use.
FREE AT FIRST: The Audacious Journey of the AACM
Black and white photograph showing members of the AACM in the early 1970s.
AACM Ensemble, Early 1970s
This year, Chicago is enjoying city-wide concert presentations to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). As part of these celebrations, from January 19 until September 6, 2015, the DuSable Museum of African American History is presenting an exhibition entitled FREE AT FIRST: The Audacious Journey of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Curated by Carol L. Adams and Janis Lane-Ewart and designed by Dorian Sylvain, “Free at First” features historic and iconic photographs, a musical soundscape extending from AACM founders to the organization’s latest generation of composer / performer, performance costumes, uniquely crafted awards of recognition, performance posters from around the globe, and a recreation of the famous Henry Threadgill “Hubkaphone.” 
L'Année Jean Derome

As this issue of Improv Notes is being written and assembled in southwestern Ontario, to the east our neighbours in Québec are entering a new year—l’Année Jean Derome, celebrating the composer / saxophonist’s forty years of music-making and musical community-building. In keeping with the artist’s iconoclastic nature, L’Année Jean Derome is a thirteen-month year, beginning April 28, 2015 and extending to June 10, 2016, including performances by a wide range of Derome ensembles, and the premiere of the Richard Jutras film Derome ou les turbulences musicales. L’Année Jean Derome has been declared by  Derome himself, and the record label DAME, and is made possible by a Career Grant of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ), “and the help of all the different music associations, ensembles, festivals and musicians involved in its activities.”
Photograph of composer/saxophonist Jean Derome.
Jean Derome, Montreal 2014.
(Thanks to Scott Thomson for bringing this Canadian musical milestone to our attention.)
The Black Atlantic Reconsidered
Colour photograph of the cover of Winfried Siemerling's "The Black Atlantic Reconsidered,"
McGill-Queen’s University Press has released a new book by IICSI research collaborator Winfried Siemerling, of the University of Waterloo. The Black Atlantic Reconsidered: Black Canadian Writing, Cultural History, and the Presence of the Past is a survey of English and French black Canadian writing and its transnational connections from the eighteenth century to the present
Koumaria: Experimental Artist Residency in Greece

September 11-21, 2015
Residency Theme: Remote Site-specific acoustic improvisations: A Recording Project
Since 2009 the artist collective Medea Electronique has organized an annual 10-day experimental artist residency in Greece, focusing on improvisation and new media practices. New-media artists from all over the world, inspired by the Greek natural landscape, come together to create a multicultural and cross-media dialogue, culminating in a collective presentation both locally and in Athens at the end of the residency. Past residents have formed lasting friendships and new artistic partnerships. Medea Electronique views the residency as a model for future creative collaborations.  

For their 2015 residency Medea Electronique proposes something slightly different. This year they will focus on acoustic musical improvisation, and site-specific performances / recordings scattered amongst a variety of sites in the Peloponnese: “Residents should be excited by the idea of, and prepared to, hike with their instruments, a pack, sleeping bag and gear, and then perform in possibly rugged conditions … If you like the idea of performing in an archaic Greek ruin one day, on a remote beach the next, and on the mountaintop mythological home of the muses the next, every day adapting to different combinations and permutations, different acoustic conditions, weather, musical styles and situations, then this residency may be perfect for you!” Please click here for more information.
Artist of the Month: Judith Malina (June 4, 1926 - April 10, 2015)
Black and white photograph of Judith Malina.
Judith Malina
This spring, the director and actor Judith Malina passed away at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in New Jersey, at the age of 88.

When they founded The Living Theatre in New York City in 1947, Malina and her partner Julian Beck (1925-1985) were very influenced by Antonin Artaud’s seminal anthology The Theatre and its Double. In the 1950s The Living Theatre became a major influence in the development of “off-Broadway” theatre as a significant force in American drama. In 1959 they premiered Jack Gelber’s drama of jazz music and drug addiction, The Connection, and continued to build a unique reputation for being collective, experimental, anti-commercial, even confrontational, its openness to nudity and transgressive language and concepts resulting in its members being arrested and imprisoned in New York, Brazil, and throughout Europe. They spent much of the 1960s touring Europe, often living together and collectively devising works such as Antigone, Frankenstein and their best-known play, Paradise Now, a semi-improvisational piece involving audience participation.

Judith Malina was also known for her acting on film and television, including an appearance on The Sopranos, and in the films Awakenings, Radio Days, The Addams Family and Dog Day Afternoon. After Julian Beck’s death, in 1988, she married Hanon Reznikov, who had taken over as co-director of The Living Theatre, and the company continued to produce fiercely contemporary work that referenced issues such as the Persian Gulf wars and the Wall Street bailouts. They also created site-specific new works in Italy and Lebanon. The Living Theatre continues to this day, and staged Judith Malina’s Nowhere to Hide at the 2014 Burning Man Festival.
Improv Notes

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

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International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation 

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Improvisation implies a deep connection between the personal and the communal, self and world. A “good” improviser successfully navigates musical and institutional boundaries and the desire for self-expression, pleasing not only herself but the listener as well.

– Rob Wallace