Friday, January 21, 2011

Dialogue Revisited

The concept of a musical dialogue has been visited on this blog before, but today, I'd like to consider specifically the dialogue that takes place in free jazz music.

As compared to improvisational jazz in general, free jazz tends to not emphasize so much the give and take of play between musicians. Whereas the saxophonist and the bass may respond and contribute to each other's playing, free jazz lets them do their own thing... but what does this mean in terms of the musical dialogue? Is there one?

I can think of at last three ways to view this. The musicians can be playing their respective instruments, without regard to what anyone else is doing, and this can be seen the same way one might regard a group of people each talking out of turn, not listening to what the other is saying, but instead talking over everyone else. This can be interesting, if somewhat confrontational-seeming in nature.

A second way of looking at free jazz like this would be the way John Cage and Merce Cunningham intended their collaborative efforts to be seen: As mimicking real life. That is to say, just as interesting sounds and sights can be encountered in the everyday world, and just as these things can occur simultaneously and independently of one another, so too can a performance exhibit to equally interesting, yet unrelated happenings, without their being in conflict, necessarily.

Yet another way this free-jazz performance could be viewed is as the activity of individuals who are so comfortable with each other that they feel no need to hold a formal dialogue, instead pursuing their own musical realizations while in the company of one another. It's much the same way that two best friends can hang out together and feel no compulsion to converse, or even participate in the same activity. Rather, the comfort level achieved by the individuals is such that they can enjoy each other's company in silence, doing separate things together. Even this creates a sense of community, communicates the solace of being in the company of another.

Regardless of which approach is taken -and given the individuals participating, I might say that all are possible and each is as likely as the other- even free jazz creates a sort of "dialogue". Whether this means they're shouting over one another, speaking as if the others weren't there, or saying whatever they want because the others are there, the final product is a forum into which voices contribute.

I also like the idea that the audience can influence the actions of the musicians, and I wonder to what extent the audience is able to play a role in free jazz. I would expect that their influence varies, much the same way the musicians allow themselves to be influenced by each other and respond accordingly.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Braille the Musician

This January was the 202nd birthday of Louis Braille, the well known creator of the Braille alphabet and writing system. But what I recently discovered -and maybe I'm the only one in the dark, but maybe you also didn't know- was that Braille' s system was not originally confined to written language. Rather, when he initially designed it, Braille intended for the system to be used to write music as well (which, when you think about it, really makes sense, because a blind person can't read sheet music). A musician himself (he played piano and organ), Braille became acquainted with many blind people who liked to play music -surprise, surprise- when he started his famous school. When he designed his alphabet system, it was only natural that he would also create a musical system to go along with it (which raises the question of whether a person reading his written music could play a two-handed instrument...).

With technological advancements, Braille's musical system has become less and less needed, and fewer and fewer people actually use it anymore, but in 1829, he published his book entitled Method of Writing Words, Music and Plain Song by Means of Dots, for use by the Blind and arranged by Them. Words, music and plain song all with just 6 dots. The above picture is the braille translation of three quarter notes.