Anything unplanned could be called improvisation. Getting more specific, instant composition implies an awareness of the material that appears in the improvisation and of how this material is part of a whole time-space unit. Material. This word is often used when improvising composition/composing improvisation. A subcategory of material appears by the word growing a possessive appendix: my material, your material… That is, what each of the performers is generating. If you attend instant composition performances with the same artists you may get a sense of what “their material” is. If you practice improvisation yourself you may get a sense of what “your material” is. If there is a common denominator that makes material recognizable as one’s own it must be because there are some similarities reappearing. Is this narrowing down of all the possibilities under the big blue sky a limitation, or an opportunity? I have explored my Bulk or Treasure question and have so far come up with four categories which seem helpful in order to mine into opportunities and not let potential limitations undermine what I can call “my material”.
BT #1 – Basket of Textures and Themes
Everyone has their own ways, their character, which is a result of their experiences and their way of processing them. Each person is a world. And so is each performer. Their character comes together with their social and historical context, their aesthetic preferences and the performing situation they are in. This cocktail of raw materials is like the individual timbre of the performer that makes them unique, and which I would say is impossible to emulate or transmit. It can be multifaceted or monochrome, it can be enriched or left to stagnate. Also, one can stew a bit too much in one’s own broth and become a self-distilled saturated solution of oneself with not much space for anything else.
BT #2 – Box of Tools
It is somehow contradictory to say that improvisers rehearse, as they don’t know what they will do. However, they do practise. Well, if they don’t practise what they’re going to do, what do they practise? Skills. A range that can go from technical skills that need to be completely assimilated before they are available organically to more subtle skills like getting into a certain mind-body state or compositional skills involving awareness of all the elements that come into play in the performance. The same tools can be used by different performers producing different results. Good tools are multipurpose and can be used to build a wide variety of things – if one tool produces always the same thing, perhaps it’s a template rather than a tool, which in my mind belongs with category #4.
BT #3 –Bunch of Tics
The survival-programming in our mind successfully records that which makes us feel safe. Tics are forms that are reproduced to give us a sense of security, of recognizing the territory, of knowing who we are or what we’re doing. In fact, any tool or texture can become a tic, can they not? It’s like a certain solidifying of something that once flowed. Tics can be endearing, if we like them as a leitmotif, but if we don’t they can be irritating. If there’s too many of them it could seem like each performance is a cut-and-paste version of the previous ones. Which is an option.
BT #4 – Bag of Tricks
The reward-programming in our mind successfully records that which makes us feel good. Anything that worked on stage will leave a trail of dopamine behind it. And we could find ourselves following this motivation. Tricks can be expected and demanded by certain audiences as the trademark of the artist they follow. Other audiences can reject anything that suggests that the performer is looking for an effect. A trick can be a conscious tic that the performer likes or even something completely new but which is launched to get an extra fix of dopamine. Even if the trick wasn’t planned, the moment it comes into action there is a certain will behind it which takes away lightness and adds impulse. It could work intensely well. Or all this momentum might make it crash.
I’m sure there must be more categories that make up “one’s material”. Perhaps the little BT rule I played with has stopped me from seeing them. At the same time, I started with only two categories, and by playing the BT game I ended up with four. Limitations can be synonimous of repetition or narrowness, but they can also generate new variations and greater depth because of the conscientiousness with which the available options need to be considered. Bulk or treasure? Take your pick!