My second end-of-November improvisation concert (my first one was in 2008) with percussionist-singer-bassist Uwe Schumacher in a church in Bonn, Germany was an interesting experience for me in several ways.
Firstly of course, improvisation concerts are always interesting experiences, especially when there is no plan at all. Uwe’s regular church concerts (sometimes solo, sometimes with musical partners) are based on complete openness. The resulting music can develop into many directions – often there are jazz, world music, or ambient influences. It seems to be a successful concept – the number of visitors slowly increases and many people come on a regular basis.
On this evening, a sound engineer class from the nearby university came to record us as an exercise, in professional quality. I’m looking forward to that recording – haven’t heard it yet.
I brought a number of new musical toys, such as a wonderful old Indian electric drone box with tambura sounds, an autoharp, and an electric classical guitar which always makes me want to play bossanova inspired music.
One item I brought was a vibrator. I knew it would potentially offend religious-minded people to play with a sex toy in a church but I used it in complete innocence, thinking purely in musical terms – the vibrating egg shaped device can be placed on various kinds of surfaces (metal bowls or drums or cymbals are great) to trigger a wide range of sounds. I played with it for a while and eventually found a vertical open metal tube that was probably a candle stand. I put the vibrator in there and left it for a few minutes, making the whole thing buzz and drone away with an interesting timbre.
Apparently, this was too much for some people who left the church at this point.
I also used my solo livelooping gear at times to create dense soundscapes. Uwe sang on top of them, and he played bass and looped percussion, especially the wonderful berimbau from Brazil that I love so much.
My own playing was ok I think (for my standard) but with hindsight, I would say I should have played less, leaving more room for Uwe and for a more dynamic interplay. Livelooping does not always lend itself for a group improvisation, and “less is more” is always a good motto anyway.
We even got an email with detailed criticism from a regular visitor of Uwe’s concerts. He hated what I did so much that he left earlier. I actually felt grateful for the email because usually, people leave without commenting when they don’t like a concert, and one is left with the part of the audience who liked it, with no way to learn from the negative views. We received some very positive comments for the evening too, so what we did can’t have been a failure entirely, and I didn’t feel completely devastated by the email, but I noticed that it successfully undermined my poor little musician ego for a while. I’m not a very experienced live musician yet, and I don’t always feel completely confident with what I do, especially if I move in potentially dangerous free-improvisation territory.
Having one’s ego attacked by harsh criticism is an interesting experience in itself – does one go into defense immediately, hitting back or powering up the ego self-repair mechanism, or does one try to tolerate the feeling for a while and look at it with interest? I found it difficult this time – the superego voices that come up in such a situation are very convincing, the reaction of the body is not pleasant, and inevitably, one feels like a child that is reprimanded by one’s parents. I’m grateful for the experience anyway – it seems I have been so successful setting up my life to run smoothly, avoiding edges and criticism, that I almost forgot how painful it can be.
I was happy to hear from Uwe that he liked most of what we did, even if we weren’t always playing together in a successful way. At this point, he would be my favorite partner for some kind of duo project.
Here are some video recordings I did with my little camera, the sound also being recorded by the camera. This doesn’t have the official recording sound quality (I haven’t received a copy of this yet) but it gives a good impression already.