Having completed my visualization of Esperanza Spalding’s „Lest We Forget (blood),“ I have now tried to prepare the master students for the experiment as best as I can without anticipating too much. Below you can read the assignment:
Procedure and info
At first you will see a surface of color and soft pattern, the task of the harmony section here is to develop a key or a basic harmonic noise.
(Melody instrument 1 may join this soundscape discreetly.)
Keep in mind: A change of color also means a harmonic change!
Then the first melody follows, which I have made visible as a line. This is followed by a second and a third melody line. At the end it seems like a conversation between three voices.
Very important: it’s not about „sight reading“ (or watching) – it’s about hearing music along what you see. Don’t try to perfectly mirror acoustically what you see in the video. If the melody line inspires you rather to a certain motif, let it be a motif. The melody line will vanish and return.
For Singers: The name of the video is „SOIL“. Maybe you will find some associations to this word and prepare one or two short sentences (or only words) to improvise on.
For the rhythm section, you will see rhythmic impulses, but I don’t expect you to translate them into a fixed rhythm. Maybe it will work or maybe it’s too hard to react simultaneously. Keep it intuitive! The melody line also provides rhythmic impulses. You can be guided by both elements.
The entire video has a length of 2:40 minutes and is inspired by an already existing song. Now the resulting visuals are to be brought into a new sounding context. I’ll divide you into 2 groups so that we end up with 2 different lineups as well as improvisations. The second group must wait outside the door for the first run and should not hear anything from inside, so that the experience is new and unmediated again.
FEEL FREE TO MAKE THIS SONG YOUR OWN. THERE ARE NO MISTAKES. DON’T HESITATE TO BRING IN YOUR MUSICAL IDEAS AND HAVE FUN! 🙂
I have divided the two groups as follows. The result can be seen directly below.
Melody 1: Pierre (sax)
Melody 2: David (sax)
Melody 3: Narim (voc)
Harmonies: Pian (p)
Harmonies/sounds on guitar: Philippe
Doublebass (bowed): Schlapbe + doublebass (plucked): Laurent
The result can be seen below:
Melody 1: Petra (violin)
Melody 2: Flor
Melody 3: Julia
Harmonies/sounds on nord stage: Rouzanna
Electric bass: Manuel + doublebass (bowed): Felipe
The result can be seen below:
It was very exciting for me to watch and listen to the improvisations. I tried to look at things with a completely fresh and unbiased eye and realized very quickly how biased from my own ideas I had gone into the experiment.
I expected that the unchanged blue color would immediately produce a clear harmonic layer which would create an easy entry into melodic development.
However, both groups took a little time to feel their way in.
With repeated listening afterwards, I had time to follow each voice more closely, and the musical intentions of the improvisers crystallize more clearly now.
In group 1, a lot of harmonic context has already flowed into the improvisation through the melody instruments. After that, a fairly clear motivic emerges, guided by melody instrument 1.
The transition into the „red phase“ was not as evident through harmonic change as it was through a sharp dynamic rise.
I also have the feeling that the increased visual impressions have created a harmonic variety that is largely detached from the actual color palette.
Unfortunately, the percussion was not oriented towards the screen, so it was more of an acoustic orientation only.
All melodic instruments responded very clearly to the visual rhythmic impulses
From the moment of the re-entry of the melody (1:38), the melodic motif 1 is clearly recognizable as a recurring element and is also subsequently taken up by the second melodic instrument. The hoped-for canonic dialogue structure between the melody voices is thus clearly depicted here in the form of the motive (roughly: D-F-G-G#-G-F-D). This adaptation of a blues scale here roughly follows the visual appeal of the line, from a philosophical point of view, it could also be considered as an onomatopoetic interpretation of the color blue.
Group 2 has surprisingly not let the keyboard instruments do the atmospheric intro but basses and percussion, which to my subjective feeling emphasizes the earthy character of the background.
A clear onset of harmonic and melodic structure happens from 0:33, a bell-like rhythmic pattern also briefly establishes itself. The melody parts adhere very closely to the disappearance and recurrence of the colored lines throughout the entire process.
With the insert of the „red phase,“ harmony instruments and melody find their way into a different atmospheric space, which dissipates as the visual chaos increases. Especially the harmonic evolution starting at 1:43 with falling bass movement opens up a very wide, melancholic soundscape. We find ourselves in a G minor11 cosmos, the bass changes from Bb to D.
In any case, the experiment exhibits a certain degree of sensory overload. The player has to be fully centered to oneself and the task assigned to him/her, while he is confronted with the virtual stimulus for the first time. Here the main goal is to discard the demand for simultaneity and exact mirroring of what is seen. In parallel, it is important to keep an open ear for the ideas of the fellow musicians, especially for the instruments whose task it was to enter into melodic dialogue.
One consideration would be, with a little more time to have each group play 2 runs to feel a little freer in their interpretation of the video.
After conducting the experiment, I couldn’t help but think of my former teacher Reinette’s pedagogical methods again. Her way of introducing improvisation to a group of people was named „Bildersingen“ (singing pictures). It is a great warm up for choirs and impro workshops: Some photos lie in the middle of the room and the participating group facing the opposite direction. Only a small selection of max. 3 people chooses one of these photos and starts to interpret it vocally. After the improvisation, the group guesses which of the photos it was. Apart from overcoming the hurdle of „giving voice in front of others“, it is a wonderful way to bring a new group closer together.
So, in addition to the compositional inspiration, I am convinced that my experiment „SOIL“ and the concept of „bringing visuals to music“ has a special pedagogical value and proves to be a playful method to introduce free improvisation to young students or people interested in jazz in a less academic way. Also in the context of a songwriters circle or workshop the method could be applied and influence the overall dynamic within the group in a positive way. For this purpose, certainly many kinds of animated or even naturalistic videos can be chosen, it does not necessarily have to be in line with an improvisation project. But they should still follow a certain artistic standard to give the right basis for a free improvisation.
The simplification of a simple task provides the security of an anchor point during the free improvisation, while room is also given to all subjective interpretations of the visuals. The visual stimulus may also prevent the fear of running out of ideas and favours the creation of a non-judgmental atmosphere.