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Improv Notes: November 2012


IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment
November 2012

Good times for the arts in Guelph: Guelph Jazz Festival director and University of Guelph professor Ajay Heble discusses the growth and future of Guelph's arts community
By Joey Sabljic, Special to Guelph Mercury

What is putting Guelph on the map right now? What distinguishes the city from your Torontos and Montreals in the Great Canadian Scheme of Things?

To find out check out this great interview between Joey Sabljic and Ajay Heble in the Guelph Mercury.


Ajay will be giving a TED talk entitled, "Improvisation as a Model for Social Change" at the TEDxGuelphU conference on Saturday November 24th at Rozanksi Hall, University of Guelph.

For more details please visit the TED page.

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.


In this interview with Mauricio Martinez (PhD candidate and ICASP researcher), Bob Ostertag (scholar, journalist, and improviser) talks about the possibilities and the limits of machines and electronic based music. He talks about how improvising on a machine, particularly a synthesizer in the 1970s, is a very different thing than improvising with an acoustic instrument. The automated processes of synthesizers in the 70s make it nearly impossible to accurately predict the decisions one would make “live” in the moment. Ostertag goes on to describe that improvisation is perhaps the DJ's last claim to a legitimate role in live performance: “so without the claim of improvising there’d be no reason to have a human involved in the process at all.” An interesting and stimulating interview that is far reaching in its exploration of technology, improvisation, human ambition and desire in relation to the limits and possibilities of the machine, the human body in performance, and politics and art. Also discussed is his time spent with Anthony Braxton, particularly his confession to Braxton that he could not read sheet music. The interview concludes with a critical reexamination of Walter Benjamin’s insights on art with respect to contemporary forms of digital media distribution. Ostertag poses the important question: “is the way the art is distributed now gonna change the very meaning of what we think of as art?”

A full transcript of the interview is available here

Silence Concert Series, October 25th, 2012

From left to right: Ryan Barwin (pedal steel guitar), Gary Barwin (poet/saxophonist), and David Lee (bass). Photo by Paul Watkins.

Paul Watkins (DJ Techné). Photos by Meg Watkins.

Moon Phases in action. Photo by Daniel Fischlin.

David Lee on the Silence Concert Series:
"The Silence series organized by Ben Grossman and Daniel Fischlin got off to a flying start with three very different performances. Offered a spot playing double bass in this series debut, I opted to bring in Hamilton’s brilliant performance poet/saxophonist Gary Barwin, who offered some of his always provocative and hilarious texts and brought his son Ryan Barwin, a quick-eared and responsive pedal steel guitarist. Next up was Paul Watkins, who apologized for forgetting his iPod, and proceeded to manipulate a stack of LPs through an analog aural collage in which the iPod, though absent, was not missed. The final set was a collective of young local improvisers - Alex DesRochers, Esmé Nandorfy-Fischlin, Eden Segal-Grossman, Elena Martin and Maryn Kleinbeernink Work - coached by alto saxophonist Mark Laver, whose sensitive group improvisation incorporating glassworks, percussion, alto saxophone and dance was latterly augmented by more experienced players - baritone saxophonist Brent Rowan, guitarist Daniel Kruger, Gary and Ryan Barwin, Mark and myself - although this group of teenage players, whose own performance was ever-changing, lyrical and evocative, had already proved that they didn’t need our help."

Look forward to future Silence events by watching this page.

Listen to live clips from the last show.

Space is the Place: Sun Ra Arkestra, students from the Regent Park School of Music and the dancers of Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie.

Toronto, Oct. 20th, 2012.

Photos by Paul Watkins.

Legendary Saxophonist Marshall Allen

Quote of the Month:

Jazz is a mode of democratic action, just as the blues is a mode of deep, tear-soaked individuality.


Charlie Parker didn’t give a damn. Jazz is the middle road between invisibility and anger. It is where self-confident creativity resides. Black music is the paradigm for how black people have best dealt with their humanity, their complexity, their good and bad, negative and positive aspects, without being excessively preoccupied with whites. Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Coltrane were just being themselves.

-Cornel West, Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom

Cornel West is an American philosopher, academic, activist, author, actor, critic and prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America. The bulk of his work focuses on the role of race, gender, and class in American society and the means by which people act and react to their "radical conditionedness." He is currently a professor of African American Studies at Princeton and of Religious Philosophy and Christian Studies at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

This Month's Featured Artist:
Bob Ostertag

Bob Ostertag (US)

Bob Ostertag is an experimental sound artist, composer, performer, instrument builder, journalist, activist, historian, and kayak instructor based in San Francisco. With ventures into so many diverse fields, Ostertag’s work cannot easily be summarized or pigeon-holed. As a composer and musician, he has released 21 CDs of music. His Living Cinema project (with Pierre Hébert) has released two movies and two DVDs. He has published numerous books on topics ranging from the history of journalism to art and technology. As a journalist, his writings on contemporary politics have been published internationally. Electronic instruments of his own design are at the cutting edge of both music and video performance technology. As a global media artist, he was once involved with the guerrilla group The Yes Men.

In 1976, he formed the improvisation ensemble Fall Mountain with Ned Rothenberg on reeds and Jim Katzin on violin, himself on electronic keyboard. The ensemble released Early Fall in 1979. Later that same year, Ostertag relocated to New York City, where he befriended John Zorn, Fred Frith, Zeena Parkins, and several other musicians interested in collaborative improvisation. In 1980, Ostertag released Getting a Head with guitarist Fred Frith and drummer Charles Noyes. Ostertag’s use of sampling, tape manipulation, and electronic custom-made instruments created a unique sound and approach to improvised music. Following the release of Getting a Head, Ostertag became the first of his generation of musicians to have his work presented at The Kitchen, at the time New York City's premiere venue for new music. With his sudden success came a greater involvement in politics, specifically in the turbulent revolutions and counter-revolutions of South America in the 1980s. In response to the political climate, Ostertag released Voice of America. As Ostertag became increasingly involved in political issues, and increasingly dissatisfied with the music industry, he moved to El Salvador in 1982 and, for nearly seven years, abandoned music altogether. His experiences in El Salvador were later synthesized into his piece Sooner or Later.

In 1999, after 10 years of working with the same Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler, Ostertag switched to a laptop computer and began writing his own audio performance software through Max/MSP. This allows him to use various controllers, including joysticks, game pads, and drawing tablets in his performances. On March 25, 2006, Ostertag made all of his recordings to which he owns the rights available as digital downloads under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 license. Bob Ostertag is currently Professor in t
he faculty of Technocultural Studies at UC Davis.


UC Davis students team up with Bob Ostertag and Jon Rose to create... something

Living Cinema presents Between Science and Garbage (with Pierre Hébert)

Fred Frith & Bob Ostertag Jam

Lost in Diversity: A Transatlantic Dialogue on the Social Relevance of Jazz

Photo of Daniel Fischlin

The international symposium, "Lost in Diversity: A Transatlantic Dialogue on the Social Relevance of Jazz" took place from November 8th - 9th at the Heidelberg Centre for American Studies, Heidelberg, Germany. The symposium featured a keynote address by project researcher, Daniel Fischlin, a University Research Chair and Full Professor of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph. Sessions included the following topics of note: "Jazz and Human Rights," "American Idols - European Identity," and "Jazz and Politics." The symposium also featured "Piano Lectures" by Alexander von Schlippenbach and Vijay Iyer, as well as a "DJ Lecture" by Thomas Meinecke.

For a copy of the official program, please click here.

For a copy of the schedule of events, please click here.


Special Session on the Improvisation-Based Theory Teaching of Peter Schubert for SMT 2013, Charlotte, North Carolina, October 31–November 3

Deadline for receipt (by e-mail) is December 14, 2012
The SMT Interest Group on Improvisation is proposing a three-hour special session on the improvisation-based theory teaching of Professor Peter Schubert of McGill University, to be submitted for consideration by the 2013 SMT Program Committee. We welcome proposals that would build on or complement different aspects of the innovative teaching of Professor Schubert. In particular, we are interested in workshops or lecture/demonstrations in addition to typical 35-minute papers.
These proposals should follow the guidelines for individual paper proposals required by the 2013 SMT CFP:
1. A proposal of no more than 500 words, including any footnotes or endnotes. A maximum of four pages of supplementary materials (such as musical examples, diagrams, and selected bibliography) may be appended; these pages will not be counted within the 500-word limit.
2. The proposal must include the title of the paper but exclude the author’s name and any other identifying information. References to the author’s own work must occur in the third person.
3. Identification and contact information, including the name, postal address, e-mail address, and telephone number of the author(s), as well as the rank and institutional affiliation, if any, should be included in an e-mail submission.
4. A list of all required equipment (such as piano or LCD projector) other than the sound system and CD player that will be available for all presenters. Presenters must provide their own computers, cables, and adaptors. SMT does not provide internet access for
Put all cover letter information in the body of an e-mail message, with the proposal as a separate attachment. All attachments must be either MS Word documents or pdfs. Send e-mail submissions to: Professor Vincent Benitez at with the subject line: “SMT IMPROV Special Session Proposal.” Submissions will be acknowledged by e-mail only.


20th Anniversary for the Leeds International Jazz Education Conference

With this in mind we are bringing a festival element into the conference and have therefore expanded our call for proposals. The event will take place on 21st and 22nd March and call for proposals closes on 14th December 2012. You can find details here:
You can also follow us on facebook here:
and get involved on LIJEC group page here:

About ICASP 

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. 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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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