Amandine Pras, Caroline Cance and Gilles Cloiseau: Improvised meetings between New York and Kolkata: A collaborative analysis of a transcultural study 28:35
- Saison 2015-2016 - None - None > TCPM 2015 : Analyser les processus de création musicale / Tracking the Creative Process in Music
- Oct. 9, 2015
- Program note: TCPM 2015
- Amandine Pras (conférencier)
- Caroline Cance (conférencier)
- Gilles Cloiseau (conférencier)
Following a cross-disciplinary approach, we will explore two different musical improvisation cultures, one issuing from the jazz tradition in the United States, the other from Northern Indian classical named Hindustani music. At the crossroads of ethnomusicology, anthropology, and cognitive linguistics, this trans-cultural study stems from an ethnographic project lead within the New York free improvisation scene, carried out through the analysis of interviews and listening sessions following studio and public performance recordings (Cance & Cloiseau, 2015; Pras, in revision). In January 2015, two of the most active musicians taking part in the ethnographic study, Jim Black (drums), and Mickaël Attias (saxophone), improvised for the first time with two Indian masters, Subhajyoti Guha (tabla), and Sougata Roy Choudhurym (sarod), both accustomed to improvising in musical contexts outside the Hindustani tradition. The gatherings mainly aim at bringing under scrutiny how these outstanding improvisers adapt to a totally novel situation.
The idea of bringing into contact both these improvisation cultures came from a personal observation of the first author—listening to 60s’ Afro-American free jazz and traditional Hindustani music provided her with a similar type of energy, which is part and parcel of both musical genres. Both genres have met several times in the past, with the famous example of John Coltrane who went to study in India towards the end of his life in order to stretch out the limits of his improvisations (Turner, 1975), and that of the sitar player Ravi Shankar who might have described jazz as a child’s game (quoted by Farrell, 2000, p.189), but whose collaborations with American musicians significantly influenced Hindustani musical traditions (Slawek, 1993). Our transcultural study was conducted in close collaboration with Jonathan and Andrew Kay, two Toronto born jazz saxophone players who have been living for eight years in Kolkota where they are the students of a Hindustani music guru. In the wake of John Coltrane, J. and A. Kay are searching for an improvised music that transcends tradition and culture.
Before the joint improvised sessions, the first author carried out individual interviews with the two Indian masters to investigate their personal improvisation processes. Our interview guide was made up of questions quite similar to those used for the New York study, which enables us to compare the answers on both musicological and linguistic grounds. However, on consulting J. and A. Kay, some terms were adapted so that our questions might take into account the specificity of local improvisation tradition. The questions go over the earliest improvisation experiences, the current motivations of the musicians to keep on playing, and how their improvisation might be tied to their personal lives.
« Improvised meetings » consisted of four duos each of which brought together an Indian and a New York musician, followed by a quatuor session and a quatuor concert. The experimental procedure for duos—an alternation of improvisation, listening and individual and collective interview phases was elaborated from Jacques Theureau’s (2010) self- assessment interview approach, from the meeting of two instigators of free jazz with a young artist from the New York noise scene (Pras & Lavergne, en révision), and from two psychology case studies about understanding and misunderstanding between improvisers who play together for the first time (Pras et al., 2015 ; Schober & Spiro, 2014).
Our collaborative analysis of verbal descriptions is carried out simultaneously along three axes. The first author looks into the contents of the data, mainly for musicological and cultural aspects linked with the musical excerpts selected by the musicians. The second author focuses her linguistic and cognitive analysis on expression modes used in the discourse about musical improvisation as a practice and a synesthetic experience, and on how the musicians position themselves in relation with their discourses so as to identify their individual and/or collective conceptualisations of musical improvisation. The third author analyses the verbal data with a prosodic-semantic outlook, using prosody analysis tools developed by using contrastive oral corpora. Reusing the cross-disciplinary approach designed within the framework of the New York study makes it possible to shed light on different facets of the improvised meetings and to compare our results between the different studies.
The four musicians showed remarkable open-mindedness all along the meetings during which unexpected musical moments took place. Notions of language and vocabulary kept cropping up in individual interviews and listening sessions as tools the improvisers could use to communicate with another culture. Differences in the relationship with the audience and the way to go about concentration also emerged from the data.
Thanks to the mixity of verbal and musical data collected through different complementary protocols, our transcultural study fits in the theoretical framework of musical practice and creative process analysis according to Nicolas Donin and Jacques Theureau’s approach. It is part of a larger scale research project aiming mainly at analysing the improvisation practices of outstanding musicians from different cultures. We take note of how these personal practices and culture-dependent learning practices are related, without going into detailing these traditions. On the contrary, we aim at charting the state of affairs in a current musical context where the boundaries between musical genres are thinning out. This transcultural study will therefore be followed by other improvised meetings, the next one being scheduled in Argentina next year.