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Bob Ostertag

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

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