I’ve been thinking about practices for setting up successful live improvisation for two Ableton Live users. Coming from a background of performing in jazz and wind ensembles, there are significant differences to take into account: the “instruments” here are much more sophisticated and can produce an huge range of sounds, styles and tones. Improvisation must occur on multiple levels as a more textured composition emerges.
From my experiences over the past year improvising with another Ableton Live user, I think I can conclude the following:
- There is a tendency, even a desire, to be subsumed by the processes happening on the screen. At the top is the music and sound being produced; much as the actions of your improvisation partner are not always clear to you or in your perception, and you only focus on his/her musical contribution, so your own actions can be subsumed under the end musical results. The body and machine are integrated, and the product is what matters most.
- While one is improvising, one is primarily in a reactionary state and not an active state of thinking. This is true in most forms of improvisation, as years of study and practice on an instrument must make the performance of music as spontaneous as possible. It feels even more reactionary in Ableton, though, as more active forms of production, like the preparation of samples, instruments and other sound palettes are too time intensive to be done in the midst of an improvisation.
- Because of this, preparation of sound material and some sense of pre-arrangement of different instruments and samples is necessary for one to be successful in a group improvisation with DAW’s like Ableton.
On another note, I have found that working with Ableton Live in some ways mirrors my work with the Gnoetry 0.2 computer poetry program. The sense of being subsumed into the process unfolding on the screen is sometimes quite total. It is a part of the compositional thought process, and my own thought and decision-making is combined with the prosthetic cognitive tool on my screen and at my fingertips via my keyboard and mouse.
I plan to continue this writing on the connections between compositional practices and strategies in different digital art forms on an ongoing basis. My experience alternating between projects in digital music, digital poetry and digital art over the past year has helped me to see some of the similarities and differences clearly enough, I hope, to make some useful connections.