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The pathways of music improvisers

Improvisers in experimental music do not record their music in a conventional score, but in ever-changing 'tactile pathways'. This is the proposition put forward by researcher Christopher Williams. PhD defence 13 December.

Scores are not fixed

Williams studied the interaction between improvisation processes and scores in contemporary and experimental music. He concluded that scores in experimental music are never completely fixed. 'Most artists and researchers see notations as established documents that prescribe music,' he explained. 'I believe that they should rather be regarded as "tactile pathways" in the  ever-evolving musical and social contexts in which an improviser finds himself.' Williams refers to tactile pathways because, in his opinion, they are closely connected to the sense of touch. How experimental music ultimately sounds depends on different factors, such as the moment, the space and the group of people, he says.

Barrett, Cardew and Goldstein

Musical notation for improvisers is made up of symbols on paper, just like conventional music notation, Williams, who lives in Berlin, explained. These symbols tell musicians to do something in a particular way. Williams, himself a bass player and composer, looked at how improvisers use these notations. He studied music by American and British experimental musicians, such as Richard Barrett, Cornelius Cardew and Malcolm Goldstein, and discovered that these musicians have a lot in common. 

Music is difficult to understand

Williams played most of the music himself, which was a good way for him to really analyse the music. 'Few people listen to experimental music, because it doesn't fit into any particular category. I know about it because I play a lot of experimental music myself, which is why I  was able to study it closely. Some research had already been done on notation for improvisers in other music genres, but I am the first to study notation in experimental music and to comment on it.'  

Website as dissertation

He presents his findings on his website Tactile paths: on and through Notation for Improvisors. ‘My research has no central line of thought; it is more circular and philosophical. That works better for a website than in a dissertation.' The site contains texts, music to listen to and Williams' ideas on the music. 'Every visitor, whether it's an artist or a scientist, will get something out of it,' Williams says.

Artistic presentation

On 12 December 2016 Williams will play music composed by himself during an artistic presentation in Studio Loos in The Hague. Three pieces of music will performed: a bass work from 2011 by American composer Phil Corner, a new work devised with Berlin dancers Jadi Carboni and fragments from Williams’ radio composition A Treatise Remix.

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