(These are notes from a rehearsal on 2/22/14.)


Hi Ian,

I have done some thinking about today’s work, and (as a result of the work and also of our discussions) I think I’ve come to understand more about the problem I’ve been experiencing with my idea for “possession improvs.”
What I have uncovered is the “hidden lack of meaning” within my conception of the Possession Form. (And there is nothing quite so challenging as uncovering the hidden lack of meaning in one’s own favorite notions.) My idea for the Possession Form is based on a misunderstanding about the nature of improvisation, albeit an extremely common misunderstanding. When one sees a supreme example of a masterful improvisation, the performance does indeed have the quality we’ve been describing: that the improviser has completely “surrendered” to the inner nature of the tune he is playing (in the case of music), and it seems he has become “completely possessed” by the music, in a way that seems to resemble someone going deeply into a trance state, in a possession ritual. (My very first work to explore improv was a piece I did in college called “Speaking in Tongues, a possession ritual” which explored this very idea.) This misunderstanding (in its most extreme form) is to think that, therefore, if you try to completely cede control of what you’re playing, and let yourself blow your horn in an endless stream of loud random notes, that this will be the most intense, amazing kind of improvisation, since it entails the most complete form of surrender to impulse. Variations on this misunderstanding led to works like Coltrane’s “Ascension,” the John Zorn improv you saw at the Knitting Factory, and countless other childish, bad improvs (both dance and music) which I’ve witnessed over the decades. It is because this idea, naturally popular in the revolutionary and freedom loving moment of the late 1960s, is genuinely a misunderstanding, that this style of improv has never gone anywhere or developed much of a loyal and lasting audience, the way that more traditional jazz improv has.
As a result of our discussion, and your description of seeing a masterful improv by Mal Waldron and Marion Brown, it became clear to me that their sort of mastery does indeed give the impression of a player who has completely surrendered to the sprit of the very particular melody he is playing, and become “possessed” by the music. It has the wonderful quality that he is trusting the music utterly, and allowing each note to be exactly what it needs to be. This is one example of the sort of performance I had in mind when I was originally thinking of a “possession form.” And we were right, in our discussion, when we said that this kind of performance represents the musical equivalent of what Lake Ivan Classic form should be, when it is extremely well executed.
The important point is that this experience of complete, effortless surrender and possession is not achieved by instructing oneself to “surrender,” to “cede control,” or to “allow the scene to possess me.” In Lake Ivan Classic, this kind of improv is achieved by using the exact Classic technique that we have developed in such detail and that serves us so well: to imagine that the scene we are playing already exists in its perfect form, and to open ourselves up to becoming more and more saturated at each moment with the flow of the scene. It is at the moments when we achieve this goal particularly well that we have the experience of effortless surrender and possession, the experience that the scene really is a real thing that already exists, and we are simply allowing the scene to take over and speak through us. So this experience is the result of our realizing our normal technique, not the result of instructing ourselves to “surrender.”
Similarly, Landscape form, as I have developed it with you and with Cassie, is a genuine and distinct form of improvisation, because it has a distinct idea of how time is structured in the work, which differentiates it from Classic. In Landscape, each moment of texture is simply itself, experienced in as full and as physical a way as possible, as opposed to Classic, where the focus is on the connectedness of the energy, and the way that each moment in the scene develops into the next moment. I have experienced many, many times, that there are peak moments in my Landscape improvs in which I also feel that I have fully, effortlessly surrendered to the energy of the moment, and allowed it to possess me and speak through me. These peak moments are not necessarily the moments of most intense, big energy. Again, they are not achieved because I instructed myself to “allow the energy to possess me.” They are achieved because I am following the normal Landscape technique and succeeding very well at it: using my words and silences to feel the particular qualities of the energy at each moment in the piece in as fully physical a way as I can. When I am most successful at achieving this, the result is the experience of being fully, effortlessly possessed.
In other words, I don’t think there really is a legitimate distinct form of improv which one might call “possession form.” I think that the quality I was seeking, when I originally thought about the idea, is simply the quality that all improvs have when they are are being realized with consummate skill. The best Classic improvs and the best Landscape improvs would all have this quality. The better our technique gets, the closer we can come to making work which has this desirable quality all the way through, from the first moment to the last.
So the detour we took in looking for the “Possession Form” served a purpose: it identified a particular quality which is the ideal form of any kind of improv. And it also clarified for me that this quality is achieved by mastering the techniques we are already using, and not by instructing ourselves to surrender to a Force or to allow the scene to possess us. We can recognize and enjoy ourselves when we achieve this kind of effortless surrender, but the way to get there is by using the exact same approach we’ve been using all along.