I’ve been doing Sonic Sandbox for a few years now, developing improvisational games that result in music I don’t know how to categorize. I guess “experimental” fits. But our music is related to jazz, world, meditation, and probably a whole lot of other things, too. Here’s something we recorded this past week: Sparx.

Roses in June

Sparky roses in my back yard

Sparx is interesting because it was short, and we don’t often do short. Most of our pieces come in around fifteen minutes or so. What we do is as much about the interaction between us, or is a way of holding conversations as much as it is about music. I don’t know if it would be interesting to anyone who wasn’t a part of it, but I do invite people — whoever is around at the time — to join in. If the spirit moves me.

Since we have horns and traditional (non-electronic) instruments, our improvisations often seem more melodic than a lot of electronic free improvisation I’ve heard, which, like the piece you linked to, are more about texture, and probably, though one can’t see it when there’s no video, about the interaction between the musicians.

Then again, who knows? Do you close your eyes when you play and just listen, or do you use eye contact. In Sparx, Hugh Wattles (the sax player) and I, were using eye contact and body language to decide when to come in together. We’d look at each other, and then lean in with our upper bodies to decide on the attack. We were about a foot away from each other.

Ralph Posmontier (Dunbek) was sitting three feet away to my left, and Steve Beuret (analog synth) was sitting at the point of the diamond formation opposite me. I’d give them the eye, or maybe I pointed at them, so they knew when to fill. It was spontaneous, but I directed it a little bit.

I considered cutting Hugh’s opening riff and then the laughter that followed, but decided they set the scene, and were a part of the piece, so I left them in the recording. The name came to me as I was editing. I don’t think too hard about names. Whatever comes to mind gets slapped on the tune. Then, I thought of the flowers in my back yard, which seemed to be the closest thing to hand that might fit the image of sparks, and went out and took a picture.

After we ended that piece, which was probably the shortest piece we’ve ever done, we laughed, and I said, “That was short.” I’ve been working on endings with my musicians, and trying for us to get an intuitive sense of them. It was interesting that my violin player (Ken “Bob” Parker) wasn’t there that night. I call him “Bobby last note,” because he often doesn’t want to end things when the rest of us have stopped.

I think, for him, and I’m just projecting here, that he never wants the music to end. He wants to go on and on because he loves the feeling of being in the music and in the interaction. I like thinking about endings because I am mindful of audiences and how they participate. I know they want to applaud and be a part of the sound, and endings give them a chance to do that. It also gives them a break from the concentration, which might be a bit much for them, trained as they are by commercial music for songs to be two to three minutes long.

On the other hand, I just went to a concert with a couple of musicians improvising and they did one piece that came in at around thirty minutes. It was very textural. But I could tell when they were coming to an end because I listen for that kind of thing.

I spoke to the leader — and yes, it was also clear that there was a leader, although I would expect that they would find that idea anathema — afterwards, and her comment was, “I’m a little disappointed you could tell the end was coming.”

I understand that impulse, and I could see that her partner was tempted to go on, but then gave in to the ending. The leader said she was tired and ready for the end. She had been pounding on the piano for three or four minutes at that point, after doing a lot of physical exertion on microphones and electronics and symbols and such throughout, so she was done, and I think her partner, who was thinner and wirier and maybe had more stamina, took pity and let it end then. But I can imagine that at other times, perhaps when they are just rehearsing, the partner doesn’t let things end because she’s like my “Bobby Last Note,” and doesn’t want things to stop.

Anyway, this concert made me feel like maybe I don’t have to think so much about endings and make things short for audiences. I want us to have that skill, but the more interesting music happens when we do go on longer. That asks a lot more from audiences, which, as you say, are sparse, though in Philadelphia they are probably less sparse than in Scotland.

But for us, the musicians, who are in this as much for meditation and changing our state of consciousness as we are in it for the sounds, going on for longer is really beneficial. If you want to hear other examples of what we do, listen to these: Sonic Sandbox

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