Improvisation31 marzo 2022
Improvisation, whatever it is, opens the doors to our true potential, it is the tool through which we can amaze ourselves and discover new worlds hidden in our depths.
This is a process that I have been observing for some time in others and in myself (through music and dance) and about which I have already written in the past.
CONTACT IMPROVISATION AND THE MISSING STEP
“WHAT TO DO” AND “HOW TO DO” IN C.I.
(these articles refer to contact improvisation but the principle is basically the same).
What I am about to share here is a widely questionable point of view, since the subjective nature of perception does not allow us to frame experiences in a univocal way. This article is therefore proposed more as food for thought than as an objective description of the phenomenon.
First of all, I would like to clarify that in my vision, music, dance, painting, theater, etc. .. are just “tools” through which the improvisation process acts. The primary spark arises at the neurological level, in the mechanisms of the nervous system and in the complex dynamics of the mind. The body / mind system is behind everything. Improvising is an attitude, which even before manifesting itself in a gesture, a word or a sound, originates in the depths of our being.
If in the past I have dealt with the topic more from a physiological point of view, here I will focus more on the mental aspects. We are in fact dealing with a real “state of mind” which as such is affected by all the influences and variability typical of this sphere.
It all started from the need and curiosity to provide a few possible answers to some questions.Everything started with what improvisation should absolutely avoid, as in thinking and trying to understand. But doubts had surfaced and I had no choice, research had become a necessity.
Other questions were calling me. I recognized with regret that this satisfying state of “almost grace” (as I will define it at the bottom of this page) was not continuous, the loss of concentration and exits from the flow were numerous and often for no apparent reason.
Why do we get lost? What can be done to get back into the flow? These were some of my most frequently asked questions.
We cannot be aware that we are improvising.
The moment we realize we are improvising we separate ourselves from what we are doing … and the magic ends.
And it is when we live this split that questions, doubts, uncertainties arise. That magnificent sensation ends or fades away when we try to rationalize events.
The “observing oneself”, aspiration of many paths of Self-realization, is not enough here. We must sublimate the quantum concept in which the observer influences the phenomenon to go further until the observer merges with the performer himself.
It is a real “altered state” in which we seem to be everywhere and nowhere. A bit like when we try to remember something, the mind wanders in search but never stops at any point.
One of my first thoughts was:
Why do the most beautiful improvisations always come when we are alone,
without even a recorder or camcorder turned on.
Perhaps because improvising is a game that is played mainly with oneself?
Any external eye (even a phone recording) seems to alter the process, leading us to the thought of a possible future reproduction, actually changing the purpose of our performance. The purity of the moment is lost. The concept of a possible “judgment” enters (also and especially from ourselves).
And it is precisely when we do not want to prove anything to anyone that we are in the best position to generate our potential. There is no fear, we welcome mistakes and we like them even more.
All of this is actually a consequence of another parameter, time. By definition (wikipedia) improvisation is ‘the instant resolution of something that manifests itself in a sudden, unexpected way. Unexpected and resolution should ideally occur at the same time.’
(I would like to clarify that I use the term “improvisation” always with the idea of total purity (100%), which in itself is impossible, but is still what we want to strive towards).
It follows that improvisation is an experience that aims to exist only in the present moment. That is, the less sudden (past) the event, the more time I have to organize myself (/planned/avoiding improvisation).
Recording is a process that moves us into the future, when it will be reproduced.
The projections into the past and into the future have the effect of pulling us out of the improvisational process.
The present tells us what should be done,
the past what we would like to do
and the future that we missed
Improvisation is insatiable, what has been done loses, a moment later, its uniqueness and belongs to the past. That gesture no longer surprises us, it is burnt up, it becomes a pattern.
So that everything that improvisation discovers and creates becomes a distraction for the next one, a distraction that is all the more appetizing the more successful it was the first time.
The “unique and unrepeatable” present moment would also suggest that it makes no sense to reproduce an improvisation if not in the exact same mental, physical and environmental conditions. So basically never.
The present of improvisation lies in all those moments that we usually consider steps towards something else.
This was my first attack on the enemies of improvisation. Our nervous system works largely on structures and considers the transition from one pattern to another only as a suspension (not particularly important) towards a specific future goal. When I use my arm to take a glass, for example, the nervous system focuses more on the start and finish of the movement. In between, in that suspension, we lose the present, the potential for a thousand different directions from the one planned. Enhancing the act of listening in that gap opens up a whole world of new, unexpected and creative possibilities.
A certain technical ability manages to express a certain amount of improvisation.
Obviously, in order to be able to express ourselves, the ability to manage the “tool” is necessary, even if not sufficient. This does not mean that those without technique are unable to improvise, but the creative power of the mind may be too free and imaginative to be managed by the real abilities of the body; we can easily fall into a state of chaos.
Isn’t chaos also improvisation? It could be, but we define improvisation as a resolution. Staying in the state of extreme disorder for a long time can also be very dangerous for physical and mental health.
Technique, however, even if on the one hand allows us to better channel the improvisational impulses, on the other it creates a minefield of traps filled with known gestures, patterns and familiarity, that is, the exact opposite of what we would like to do.
During improvisation, control loosens its rigidity, vacillates to seek a new balance. Abandoning oneself, letting go, challenging oneself, taking risks, are works that touch our psychic levels. In order to be safe, de-structuring should never exceed that limit threshold beyond which we are no longer able to reconstruct a new project.
Pure improvisation is on edge between the known and the unknown, a margin in which the possibility of error is high.
Great scientific discoveries are the result of errors; considered not such, they allowed access to new information that otherwise would not have occurred.
But what is the mistake if not “something new”, a perfect stimulus for improvisation?
We have defined improvisation as a resolution, so here we must “resolve the mistake”. It means first of all removing that bad taste of “mistake” and then making sure that it connects to everything else.
In other words, rather than solving we should “integrate”.
Integrate the mistake by considering it as a stimulus for novelty and creativity.
What if we fail to integrate it? What if the error is too big?
You can end up in the world of chaos, which to a certain extent is manageable (and even interesting), but furthermore distracts us from our intent.
How much we put on the fire, how much we decide to risk, how far we go into the world of the unknown is a game we allow ourselves. It is basically an exploration.
A good improviser is for me the one who solves, integrates and transforms as many errors as possible into a creative flow.
Integration, as explained in the other articles, is only possible if the nervous system is not under stress. The error should therefore always be faced in a relaxed way, otherwise it is not possible to integrate it.
It is certainly possible to improvise in a state of tension or chaos for some time as mentioned, but this tends to wear down both, the mental and physical condition, in the long run (chaos and tension stimulate the adrenals to produce adrenaline).
The fear of making mistakes is the first enemy of improvisation, making mistakes an excellent opportunity.
There is a slogan in the soundpainting technique that proclaims “Wrong Strong !!!”. That is, if something is done wrong, but with conviction and determination, it works. Nothing is more true, the state of improvisation suffers much more from indecision than from error. Many jazz musicians suggest “If you make a mistake, do it again and again and it won’t look like it anymore.”
The ridge we travel on therefore has on the one hand the risk of chaos, on the other the safe and comforting plane of the known (schemes), where there is certainly no improvisation, but we feel safe and stable.
So, if we lose the fragile balance of improvisation, it is undoubtedly safer to fall towards the structure (here the importance of technique), than towards a disorder from which we would probably not be able to reconstruct the basis to start over.
Getting back to safety is a shelter, of course, but let’s not forget that it is also the great trap of the repetitive, of the absence of the new, of conformity in extreme serious cases.
I like those performers who manage to amaze and explore themselves during the performance. I feel them.
The connection between performance and improvisation is perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects. Improvisation, a fundamentally intimate mechanism, seems to clash with the idea of an external interlocutor, which represents a distraction from what is mainly happening inside us.
We often find ourselves oscillating between internal and external attention (public), a dance that over time ends up getting tiring and frustrating us.
One solution would be to consider the audience as stimulus for the performance, to include it exactly as we do with a mistake. It would mean giving up a little of our self to focus more on something that is outside of us. We should get lost, dissolve in what we decide to integrate and trust that the body will be able to follow in any case.
It is clear that the more technique we have, the more we will be able to project ourselves into the public without getting lost. It is an extreme act of trust that turns our desire for control into a game, it is a surrender to become a channel.
When you succeed, the result is amazing, it is as if the strength expressed was the result of the sum of the people present. A resonance that inevitably involves the public, who will consequently enjoy it.
The other solution is to be so focused on yourself as to completely exclude all the people present.
If the first solution was a vortex towards the outside, this is towards the inside. Now you will probably have the image of a performer who sucks in all the people in the room, and it is energetically true at first, but once inside we will feel open to the expanded and grandiose world of a creative process.
Marina Abramociv talks about a charismatic space capable of creating a strong pole of attraction.
In summary, we can choose whether to include the public by expanding or contracting and obviously this can happen with infinite nuances towards one or the other form. The mode chosen will probably reflect the character of the performer and the state of the moment, and I don’t think there is a better way than the other.
Improvisation can also be used as a tool to resonate with an external environment.
Resolution and integration through ourselves under the stimulus of a space rather than an audience. Again we want to eliminate borders, divisions. There can be a strong connection between a person and the space that surrounds him, so strong that it makes an otherwise inanimate environment almost alive.
Improvisation is neither catchy nor confidential. The viewer who wants to follow it is challenged outside the field of custom in a continuum of unexpected events and surprises.
But it is also true that in order for it to work, the actor must take a step towards the habits of the spectator.
The audience must show a consensus that allows the improviser to be comfortable, especially if the performer wants to use it as a source of inspiration. Listening and the predisposition to creative openness are the basis for a connection with the exhibition. Active listening, ready to welcome new stimuli requires presence and attention. The viewer should be in a state similar to that of the performer. Only in this way will it be possible to deeply enter into the understanding of an improvisation. A distracted listening, on the contrary, considers a source of new and unknown stimuli even disturbing.
The improvised gesture must also be understood considering what comes after. We usually listen by traveling in only one direction, the time line. In improvisation, however, we open ourselves to the possibility that what will happen in the future can make us understand the present, a short circuit that requires the cancellation of judgment, evaluation, criticism.
Within improvisation, time loses shape and linearity, it dissolves into an experience for which only the present moment counts.
Interesting is the connection with the Flow theory developed in 1990.
Improvisation has characteristics similar to those described by Csikszentmihalyi who in his writings describes Flow as a real state of mind connected to a very satisfying experience capable of giving a sense of happiness.
The best moments of our life are not the passive, receptive, relaxing ones. . . The best times usually occur if a person’s body or mind is strained to the limit in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and useful.
The author describes that moment, in which one is completely absorbed by something, as a state of effort (not perceived as such) in which the challenge is just beyond our capabilities. Otherwise, as already mentioned, it would be chaos and therefore not fluid.
The simple “letting go” is therefore not improvisation, on the contrary its predominance of unconscious activity (thus deriving from past experiences – no present) makes it the exact opposite.
The 8 characteristics defined by Csikszentmihalyi are:
- 1. Complete concentration on the task;
- 2. Clarity of objectives and immediate feedback;
- 3. Transformation of time (acceleration / deceleration);
- 4. Intrinsically rewarding experience;
- 5. Perception of absence of effort;
- 6. Balance between challenge and skill;
- 7. Actions and awareness merge;
- 8. Feeling of control over the task.
I believe that total and continuous improvisation is a kind of state of grace, a feeling of being in the flow of life. Fully authorizing ourselves, in a creative space, makes us recognize. We respond to every stimulus we receive by translating it through our being, our body, transforming ourselves into an expressive projection of our intimacy and the surrounding environment.
Order and disorder do not exist as there is nothing that can judge the process, nothing that is outside of it. When improvisation is successful, there is a strong sensation of pleasure, of accomplishment. A perception of things falling into the right place. Exploring the unknown requires a small loss of control, an abandonment of some patterns or beliefs, which just like any growth system carry a risk. We improvised to take the first steps, the first ride, to our first game of ping pong, in short, every time we had to explore, (with many errors) to find a solution. When we stop challenging yourself, to play with ourselves, improvising, we stop growing. The proprioceptive system stops evolving and we begin to lose perception of ourselves.
I believe that improvisation is a great research path to define what we are, our potential. It is a vector that projects us into an idea of us in our full potential, beyond judgment and recognition. I have often wondered “how am I” at the end of a good improvisation and I realized that I perceive a change that goes beyond the physical / mental sphere. Allowing the mind and body to wander, to naturally go towards what they are attracted to, to stay in the present, I believe is a need of the innate tendency that the spirit has to evolve. Behind every improvisation I see a man who seeks, who confronts his potential, with himself. I have always been fascinated by those musicians who seem to be able to transform the instrument into a sort of extension of themselves, by the actors who become part of a scenography, by the jugglers who are such masters of the manipulated object that they seem to include it in the body.
The artist, the instrument and the performative act become a single essence. It is, on balance, a mystical experience.
I must admit that this research has somewhat contaminated the naturalness of my improvisation, dissecting a spontaneous process in this way is a bit like pretending to have a natural breath while observing it. At the same time I clearly feel that the search is not over and that logic can become so elastic that it carries out an apparent magical process.
There are cases where improvisation is used as a source to build a song or a choreography, for example, a balance that integrates new discoveries into a more or less recognized and shareable structure. Logic and improvisation can interact in many ways until they reach a utopian point of fusion. Structuring improvisation can also make us masters of ourselves, research itself becomes teaching. I believe this is the basis of the best self-taught artists.
Improvisation is a performance dedicated mainly to ourselves.
We deserve it!