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Improv Notes: November 2014


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News of the Moment
November 2014

IICSI in Athens, Greece
Sounding Possibilities: Improvisation and Community Action Symposium

IICSI researchers Eric Lewis (McGill University) and Daniel Fischlin (University of Guelph) with Wadada Leo Smith and Jesse Gilbert. Photo by Yiannis Soulis.
“Sounding Possibilities: Improvisation and Community Action” is the title of a symposium that took place November 1 and 2 in Athens. A joint production of IICSI and the Onassis Cultural Centre, Sounding Possibilities was an interdisciplinary colloquium focused on contemporary improvisatory practices in music, music education and the performing arts, as well as on new forms of social and political action.

Organized by Christos Carras (Onassis Cultural Centre) and IICSI researcher Eric Lewis (McGill University), the symposium featured panels on Political Practice, Educational Practice, Music and Community, and Creative Practice. It brought IICSI researchers Joel Bakan (UBC), Ellen Waterman (Memorial), Daniel Fischlin (Guelph) together with scholars & practitioners Matthieu Saladin (Paris), Alexander Kioupkiolis (Thessaloniki), Gascia Ouzounian (Queen’s University, Belfast), Panos Kanellopoulos (Thessaly), Danae Stefanou (Thessaloniki), Raynaldo Young (London), Ruth Wright (UWO, Ontario), Randall Everett Allsup (Columbia), Jesse Gilbert (Woodbury), Bojana Cvejic (Utrecht), James Wallbank (Access Space, UK), Christos Passalis (blitz theatre, Athens) and Wadada Leo Smith (Cal Arts). The symposium also featured performances by the artists’ collective Medea Electronique, Wadada Leo Smith, and Glue, a Berlin-based trio with Tom Arthurs (trumpet), Miles Perkin (double bass) and Giorgos Dimitriadis (drums and percussion).
Smith performed Ten Freedom Summers with his Golden Quartet (Anthony Davis, piano; John Lindberg, double bass; Pheeroan akLaff, drums; and featuring Jesse Gilbert, video).

The symposium featured a showing of … in a non-wimpy way, a film on contact improvisation pioneer Steve Paxton by Bojana Cvejić and Lennart Laberenz and available online here.

Gascia Ouzounian, Christos Passalis, James Wallbank, Bojana Cvejik, and Ellen Waterman (IICSI, Memorial University of Newfoundland). Photo by Yiannis Soulis.

Regina Improvisation Studies Centre (RISC)
University of Regina

Rebecca Caines reports the launching of the website for the Regina Improvisation Studies Centre at the University of Regina. The Centre is a “response to a growing sense that critical studies in improvisation, and improvising art practices were both important areas of Saskatchewan cultural activity.”

Check out the
website to hear more about the latest collaborations of IICSI researchers and partners.

RISC just hosted a series of workshops and concerts called Sounding Out! Improvisation with iPads, with the Regina Public Library, Glen Elm Branch. Over a hundred children and teenagers got to hear and experience improvising with tablet devices, including performances and workshops by local Regina sound artists Ryan Hill and Ernie Dulanowksy, and performances by the University of Regina iPad Orchestra, directed by Rebecca Caines, David Gerhard and Helen Pridmore. This event was co-sponsored by RISC partners Common Weal Community Arts and Holophon Audio Arts.

Participants in the RISC Improvising with iPads project (2014)

RISC also hosted a performance and workshop by Scott Thomson and Susanna Hood on their Muted Note tour. This 40-performance tour, based on the works of Canadian poet P.K. Page, crisscrosses the country and ends at Bar Co-op L’agitée in Quebec City on November 16.

IICSI in Vancouver
University of British Columbia
Following Susanna Hood’s and Scott Thomson’s noon-hour performance of The Muted Note: Songs Based on Poems by P.K. Page, IICSI convened a colloquium called “Extraordinary Presences: Women, Poetry, Art Song” in the Dodson Room of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre.

After a panel of Thomson, Hood, P.K. Page biographer Sandra Djwa and Phanuel Antwi from the Department of English discussed “Extending the Poetics of Song,” composer Lisa Cay Miller performed a version of her Lessing Stories for extended piano. The next panel, “Collaborations and Challenges, Sounding Out,” brought together Vancouver Poet Laureate Rachel Rose, composer Jacquie Leggatt and Bronwyn Malloy from the Department of English to cover subjects as diverse as the policing of the voice, the role of the unreliable 
narrator in Canadian indie music, and the Vancouver performance group the Institute for Domestic Research.  

Thanks to Kevin McNeilly for convening this fascinating and far-reaching afternoon of music and discussion!
Lisa Cay Miller
Quote of the Month

"The energy in Albert Ayler and in the Bomb (metaphor for all violence) comes from the same field. But the one is a breathtakingly beautiful psychic phenomenon, the other is a terrible force which destroys humans and all sentient beings, every lovely thing that lives where the fire hits, and in so doing, it degrades all of us and edges all of our psyches back into the dark and prevents any light and life within us from reaching out in even the humblest manner toward more light and toward the more startling possibilities within us all.
- Al Neil, Changes [c. 1970]



ImprovNotes was initially distributed in 2008 as a quarterly newsletter. From June 2011 until September 2014 the revamped ImprovNotes was assembled, written, and distributed on a monthly basis by ICASP's Media and Public Relations Coordinator, Paul Watkins. As of October 2014 ImprovNotes 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 to have included in the newsletter, please send Rachel an email at:


Artist of the Month
Al Neil

Al Neil, 1986. Photo by Chris Cameron.

Al Neil at Ninety
(Visit him online here!)

On October 7, in a ceremony at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre, on behalf of the City of Vancouver, Mayor Gregor Robertson presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to one of Canada’s pioneering jazz improvisers, Al Neil. Alan Douglas Neil received this honour a few months after his 90th birthday.

Pianist, composer, visual artist and author, Neil studied piano with Glenn Nelson and Jean Coulthard before shipping overseas to Europe with the Canadian Army in World War II. During the 1950s, Neil was a key member of Vancouver’s Cellar Club, playing with visiting artists such as Carl Fontana, Conte Candoli and Art Pepper. A milestone in the Canadian jazz discography is the 1959 Folkways record Kenneth Patchen Reads Poetry in Canada with the Alan Neil Quartet, which features the American poet accompanied by Neil on piano, Dale Hillary (alto saxophone), Lionel Chambers (bass) and Bill Boyle (drums).

Neil took a break from music in the early 1960s, but instead of returning to bebop, he resurfaced within a wider world of free improvisation, electronics and performance art, fusing them in a kind of performance that no one else had hitherto envisioned. His new trio featured two visual artists (Richard Anstey, bass and Gregg Simpson, drums) and some of its work was documented on the LP The Al Neil Trio Retrospective: 1965-1968, which has been expanded and reissued on CD by Blue Minor Records.

Under the editorship of poet Victor Coleman, Neil’s novel Changes was issued by Coach House Press in 1975 (reissued by Nightwood Editions, 1989) and in 1980 Pulp Press published his short story collection Slammer. He remained active into the 1990s collaborating with his life partner Carole Itter on performances and installations, and exhibiting his mixed-media collages. In 2008, Neil received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

Al Neil can be seen on video in the 1963 National Film Board documentary In Search of Innocence, and David Rimmer’s 1979 film Al Neil / A Portrait. 

An excerpt from In Search of Innocence spotlights Neil’s adventurous (but soon to be abandoned) post-bebop piano style, c. 1963, in a clip from the Cellar Club with Don Thompson (bass) and Glen Macdonald (tenor saxophone).


Ding-Dong with Dong-Won

Photo by Paul Watkins

Bring open hearts, open minds, voices, feet, bodies, ears, instruments, curiosity, and joy to this event. Both audience members and performers welcome. No prior experience necessary. Free.

Future sessions
Session #6: Composition in Improvisation - Tuesday, November 18th 7-9 pm. Silence, 46 Essex St., Guelph.
Final Concert: Saturday, November 29th, 7pm, Co-operators Hall, River Run Centre (details below)
Session #7: Homage to Silence - Tuesday, December 2nd 7-9 pm. Silence, 46 Essex St., Guelph.

Don't miss Dong-Won's finale concert and performance! He will be teaming up with a number of collaborators including the Guelph Symphony Orchestra (directed by Judith Yan), the Guelph Youth Jazz Ensemble (directed by Brent Rowan), dancer Georgia Simms, and musicians Jeff Bird, Adam Bowman, Daniel Fischlin, Ben Grossman, and Lewis Melville.

Also announcing a special concert on December 12th at 8pm at Gallery 245 in Toronto. The evening is titled "The Path Home: An Evening of Celebration with Lee Pui Ming (piano), Dong-Won Kim (Korean drum), Rob Clutton (bass), Randi Helmers (voice/visual art), & Mary Ganzon (movement)." These five extraordinary artists journey through the labyrinth in sound, song, and movement. Tickets $25/$15.
South Korean percussionist Dong-Won Kim is the 2014 Improviser-In-Residence, a joint initiative between the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation and Musagetes.
Sound It Out!
Radio Show and Podcast

Sound It Out is a bi-weekly broadcast produced in conjunction with the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI). On the show we think, talk, listen and yes, make sounds, in order to foreground how musical relationships institute and reflect social relationships. How can artistic practices expand our means for interpersonal recognition and respect? Sound It Out is produced and hosted by Rachel Elliott, and is broadcast in Guelph, Ontario on CFRU 93.3FM. Listen live on Thursdays from 3:00-4:00pm (and listen to past shows in the CFRU archive).

Visit Sound It Out online and access the podcast here!

Call for Papers
Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation
Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation (CSI-ÉCI) invites submissions for a special issue with the theme “Cultural, social, and political issues of current improvisation practices in music,” guest-edited by Postdoctoral Fellow Amandine Pras. We seek contributions from scholars whose interdisciplinary research lies at the intersection of music and life sciences disciplines (ethnology, anthropology, economics, politics, sociology, gender studies, cultural studies, psychology, among others). 

View the full call for papers here.

The Walrus Talks Resilience
Enacting the Possibilities we Envision: Improvisation, Resilience, Hope 

On October 8th, 2014, IICSI project director Ajay Heble delivered a talk at the Art Gallery of Ontario as part of The Walrus Talks series. Dr. Heble was joined by poet and student Mustafa Ahmed, Rick Huijbregts (Cisco Canada), Annie Kidder (People for Education), David Miller (WWF Canada), Gabrielle Scrimshaw (Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada), Matthew Teitelbaum (Art Gallery of Ontario) and Frances Westley (SIG@Waterloo).

This talk is now available online.

Ben Authers
From the beginning of 2015, Ben Authers will be joining the School of Law and Justice at the University of Canberra, Australia, as an assistant professor. A former graduate researcher with ICASP at the University of Guelph, Ben (who completed his PhD under the supervision of IICSI Director Ajay Heble) has held postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Alberta and at the Australian National University. In his new position, Ben will be researching and teaching in human rights and law and the humanities.

Congratulations to Ben on his new posting!

Ingrid Mündel
Please join us in offering our hearty congratulations to Ingrid Mündel on the recent completion of her PhD.  Ingrid is a former graduate researcher with ICASP and IICSI, and her dissertation was completed under the supervision of IICSI Director Ajay Heble.


The International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation stemmed from the work done by the Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice (ICASP) research project. IICSI explores musical improvisation as a model for social change and 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 the Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice research collection.

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Listening itself, an improvisative act engaged in by everyone, announces a practice of active engagement with the world, where we sift, interpret, store and forget, in parallel with action and fundamentally articulated with it ("Mobilitas Animi" 113).

– George E. Lewis