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Improv Notes: October 2013


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IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment       October 2013

The Guelph Reading Group is Back and it Swings!

ICASP Postdocs Lauren Levesque and Chris Tonelli introduce this year's Thinking Spaces. Photo: Paul Watkins.

Thinking Spaces: The Improvisation Reading Group and Speakers Series 2013-2014
The Reading Group is open to all - community members, faculty, and students - who are interested in improvisation as a model for creative thinking and action. 

This year’s Thinking Spaces is divided into blocks based on selected research themes:
BLOCK 1: Oct-Dec - Improvisation, Community, & Conflict Transformation
BLOCK 2: Jan-Feb - Improvising Lives, Working Musicians, & Solo Artistry
BLOCK 3: March-April - Improvisation, Gender, & Vocality
We hope these themes resonate with your concerns and invite you to collaborate on the planning and realization of the Reading Group activities. As part of this collaboration, we would like members and those interested in joining Thinking Spaces to consider presenting their own research, experiences, and/or community projects as part of this year's line-up.
October 25, 2013
Please join us for the third meeting of the 2013-2014 “Thinking Spaces: Improvisation Reading Group and Speakers Series” on October 25th starting at 3 pm in the boardroom at the Guelph Public Library at 100 Norfolk Street (at Paisley). The focus of this session is the use of improvisation and other forms of music in contributing to local community building. Members of the Guelph Ukulele Club will share experiences creating fun and inclusive musical spaces. Dr. Kati Szego, an ethnomusicologist from Memorial University of Newfoundland who has studied the history of the ukulele, will join us for the discussion via teleconference. Feel free to bring your ukulele(s)!
If you would like to prepare for the discussion, please consult the video clips provided on the official website of the documentary, The Mighty Uke: The Amazing Comeback of a Musical Underdog: Thinking Spaces.

November 8, 2013
In this session, Dr. Lauren Michelle Levesque will discuss her research on the intersections between conflict transformation and improvisation. A principal question for dialogue will be: How can improvisation contribute to the ways local communities creatively engage with violence and social healing? Insights for answering this question from local activists, artists, community members as well as students and faculty are welcome.  
If you would like to prepare for the discussion, please listen to the interview with scholar and conflict transformation practitioner, John Paul Lederach, posted here.

If you have comments and/or questions about the Reading Group and Speakers Series, please contact Chris Tonelli or Lauren Levesque at: or


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.


Tanya Tagaq is an Inuk throat singer, a cappella artist, songwriter, and visual artist from Cambridge Bay (Ikaluktuutiak), Nunavut, Canada, on the south coast of Victoria Island. While studying visual arts at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design she developed her unique solo form of Inuit throat singing, which is normally done by two women. Tanya Tagaq might be the only “pop” artist to combine free improvisation with Inuit throat singing. As Jon Caramanica of the New York Times describes, “[Tagaq] made it (Inuit throat singing) sound fiercely contemporary, futuristic even. Recalling animal noises and various other nature sounds, she was a dynamo, delivering a sort of gothic sound art while she stalked the small basement stage with feral energy.”

Tagaq is perhaps best known for her collaborations with Björk, which includes touring with Björk and appearing on the 2004 album, Medúlla. Tagaq has collaborated with a number of artists, including Buck 65, the Kronos Quartert, Mike Patton, among many others. Her 2005 album, Sinaa, an Inuktitut word meaning “edge,” was nominated for five awards at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, winning awards for Best Producer/Engineer, Best Album Design, and Tagaq herself won the Best Female Artist award. Sinaa was also nominated for the Best Aboriginal Recording at the 2006 Juno Awards. Her most recent album, the 2008 Auk/Blood, won a Canadian Aboriginal Music Award and was nominated for two Juno Awards: Best Aboriginal Recording and Best Instrumental Recording. In 2011, she released a live album titled Anuraaqtuq, recorded from her May 2010 performance at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville. More recently, Tagaq has ventured into film, contributing to various soundtracks and working as both musician/narrator for the award-winning National Film Board documentary, This Land. In 2012 Tagaq performed the theme music for CBC’s televised show, Arctic Air.

In the following live interview, Laurie Brown, the host of The Signal on CBC Radio, interviews Tagaq about everything from her biography, musical intuition, performance and collaboration, homecoming, and the energy of her live shows. The interview took place at The Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium on “Improvisation, the Arts, and Social Policy” on September 9-11, 2009.

Intuitive Collaboration:
An Interview with Tanya Tagaq

A full transcript of the interview is available here.

Quote of the Month:

"Everything is art. Everything is politics."
-Ai Weiwei 

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) remains relentless in his pursuit of free expression through art, social media, and political protest. For Ai Weiwei there is no clear division between art and politics. For him, art is a vehicle for social change, and a vehicle for the possible. His major exhibit, According to What?, is currently being showcased at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) until October 27th, 2013. For those who don’t know, Ai Weiwei is one of China’s most prolific and provocative contemporary artists. Taking the old and making it new is certainly a large part of Ai Weiwei's approach, which speaks to improvisation. Through his art he advocates for freedom of expression and places value in individual lives within the totalitarian state. After an earthquake in China’s Sichuan province in 2008 killed more than 5,000 children he has become ever more outspoken in his criticism of the Chinese government. His activism and controversial artwork has led to the seizure of his passport and he is currently not allowed to travel outside of China.

"A historical property has morals and ethics of the society that created it and can be revived. What I mean is that we can discover new possibilities from the process of dismantling, transforming, and recreating."

He Xie, or "river crab," consists of more than 3,200 porcelain crabs. "He xie" is also a homophone for the Chinese word for "harmonious," which is part of the Chinese Communist Party slogan. Today, "he xie" has become an ironic Internet euphemism for official censorship.
He Xie, or “river crab,” consists of more than 3,200 porcelain crabs. “He xie” is also a homophone for the Chinese word for “harmonious,” which is part of the Chinese Communist Party slogan. Today, “he xie” has become an ironic Internet
euphemism for official censorship.

Photos: Paul Watkins

Featured Artist:
Tomomi Adachi

All photos of Tomomi Adachi by Paul Watkins.
Tomomi Adachi (Japan)

Tomomi Adachi (足立 智美) is a Japanese vocal and electronics performer, improviser, composer, instrument builder, installation artist, theatre director, and sound poet. He is the only performer of sound poetry in Japan and performed Kurt Schwitters’ “Ursonate” for the first time in Japan. He has performed with numerous musicians, dancers, and filmmakers, and along with his incredible vocal improvisations, he is known for his unique improvisations on his self-made instruments, many of which are made from Tupperware: a material that is both affordable and portable. Adachi describes his creations as an extension of his improvisatory practice: “I began to build instruments by myself in 1994, it was almost the same period with starting my activity as an improviser.” Last month in Guelph we were treated to a performance by Adachi on one of his self-made instruments, as well as a vocal performance, followed by a self-reflexive talk about his artistic praxis.

The event took place at the inaugural Thinking Spaces Reading Group in Guelph. After the performance, Adachi discussed his work as an improviser with a focus on his own approach to self-made instruments, as well as his newest project PUTIF (People’s United Telepathic Improvisation Front), a collaboration with Jennifer Walshe. In PUTIF, Walshe and Adachi improvise together at a specified time in two separate locations, listening to one another at distances beyond the reach of the human ear. These improvisations are recorded and later combined and compared. They also encourage others to listen telepathically to their improvisation and send in descriptions of what they hear. At the Reading Group, Adachi discussed how telepathy functions as a conceptual framework for musical improvisation, demonstrating how others can be present in their absence. He also discussed how improvisation can be a tool for being together despite physical distance, as well as posing questions about the advantages of telematic technology in an age where it is becoming increasingly common.  

If you get a chance you should check out Adachi’s fantastically creative work and
discography. For now, here is a video of Adachi performing on a self-made instrument, similar to the one he performed with in Guelph:

And, here are a few photos of Tomomi Adachi’s performance, talk, and visit to Guelph.

Chris Tonelli and Adachi gift the audience with a vocal improvisation.

Sound Check: Thomas King’s Jazz Photography (September 26 to December 15, 2013) at the MacDonald Stewart Art Centre
(358 Gordon Street at College Avenue)

Henry Threadgill at Guelph Jazz Festival 2011. 
Photo by Thomas King

If you are in Guelph make sure you check out “Sound Check”: the first major exhibition of storyteller Thomas King’s jazz photography. King’s contribution to the discourse of contemporary Canadian photography focuses an acute eye and a behind-the-scenes perspective on twenty years of The Guelph Jazz Festival. In celebration of the Festival’s 20th anniversary, the MSAC’s 35th anniversary, and ICASP’s capstone year, we are collaborating on this presentation of Thomas King’s jazz photography. MSAC, GJF, and ICASP have co-published the exhibition catalogue, which contains a jointly written foreword by Ajay Heble (GJF) and Dawn Owen (MSAC), an interview with Tom King by Dionne Brand, an essay by Mauricio Martinez, and a biographical profile by Christine Bold. Get your copy today at MSAC.

Lawrence Hill, The Massey Lecture
Blood: The Stuff of Life
Tues. October 29 @ 7pm
Lakeside Hope House)
Lawrence Hill will be coming to Guelph on Oct. 29th to give a talk based on his Massey Lectures, Blood: The Stuff of Life. Further, he will be in conversation with Dionne Brand (ICASP Advisory Board Member). Advance tickets available at The Bookshelf now!

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.

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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...partly because I know that’s the only way that we could solve a creative problem [using improvisation with children ranging in abilities] and what doesn’t work is trying to impose a template on the students who are not able to respond to that template.

– Pauline Oliveros (in working with Abilities First)