Earnestness or Excuses?

Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about artistic intention and reception. It’s been difficult to get all of my duck-like ideas in a row, and I’ll in no way fully address the issue with one post, but it’s worth planting the seed.

I’ve quietly been focused on this the last couple months, but it really came to the fore when Matt Borghi and I touched on it in conversation during one of our recent lunches (where we wax philosophically about music, comedy, politics, the internet, our neighborhoods, and all things in between). Improvisation is perhaps the cornerstone of our musical relationship, and on this particular day we got to talking about improvisation itself. He mentioned an interesting dialogue he’d recently had with another musician, and – I’m paraphrasing so I could be a little off – that, generally, music that is largely improvised suggests at least a small degree of laziness on the part of the performer(s). In some cases this is true. However, to use that as an overall guiding principle shocked me. Especially since it came from another musician in a somewhat related realm.

As one example, my ambient-based work with Matt, we improvise not out of lack of forethought but because we’re feeding off of one another in the moment. What we each bring to the table continually changes. Yes, we have “rehearsed” many times, but we’re not rehearsing content. Instead we’re rehearsing our engaging one another musically. We’re continually learning and refining how we listen and respond to one another. Conversely, while there’s much room for improvising in our Teag & PK catalogue, we rehearse and adhere to our musical forms and roadmaps, as those songs are based on set content.

[Shameless plug: please check out Convocation if you haven’t yet. We’re quite proud of it. 🙂 ]

In both aforementioned settings – ambient and folkish – the performer’s respect for the content (and how that content is created) is a key factor. Another important element is a respect for the craft of being able to make the music. This could the technical facility/mastery of an instrument and/or the craft of songwriting or improvising. So not only am I concerned with the style of music I’m performing, but how well I may execute it on a given instrument. How can I properly express myself through an instrument I can’t play? Furthermore, how can I express myself on an instrument I can play but through a style I cannot?

Much more to come on this as I start to flesh out some related thoughts…

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