(This article is inspired by a talk given at the Philosophy of Improvisation: Aesthetics of Imperfection Workshops)
Improvisation is like instant coffee!
There is no romanticising – improvisation does not pretend to be anything it is not. Improvisation is incomplete; it is not given much thought, if any. What if this is precisely what makes improvised music impressive?
“We’re not here to be functions”, says Chris Corsano, free improvising drummer. We are here to create and transcend.
Chris is inspired by the use of the past imperfective in Spanish classes. The dictionary will say that the imperfect, not found in the English language, combines the past tense with an imperfect aspect.
If a perfect tense (such as past, present or future perfect) connotes something as ‘whole’ and complete at a definite time, the imperfect tense is to refer to something incomplete. This can be like saying “When I was younger…”. There is no definite time or end.
The imperfect aspect describes a repeated, continuous event – when something occurs in time, no matter what the external. It refers to the viewing of a situation with an interior composition. It is introspective.
Improvisation teaches you to listen.
Perhaps to use the dictionary perspective of imperfect – “faulty or incomplete” – is to inflict a value judgement; however, perhaps improvisation is valued for being imperfect. I don’t think an aesthetics of imperfection is paradoxical.
Just like improvisation is progressive and habitual, so is the imperfect – it is inherent in us, ever evolving with life and a ubiquitous part of living. The imperfection in improvisation is omniscient; it occurs in the past, present and future.
Whereas the perfect assesses a situation without interior composition (that is, it only describes forefront action), the imperfect sets the context (Chris describes this as an “investigation of the situation from the inside”).
Similar to the imperfect tense, improvisation leads to a “reverse-trauma-esque experience”. You remember how an event made you feel instead of remembering the exact trivialities and technicalities of the experience.
The imperfect tense can teach us that there is a place where time becomes abstracted, stretched and illusory. Improvisation resides there.