(This article is inspired by a talk given at the Philosophy of Improvisation: Aesthetics of Imperfection Workshops)
Improvising pianist, Adam Fiarhall, likes the rival aesthetics of imperfection and perfection and is, in fact, at peace with crudeness.
Perhaps where a problem with perfection versus imperfection arises resides in our tendency to separate practice from performance. This is relevant for the musician but does not exclude the dancer, the marathon runner or the surgeon practicing on a human cadaver.
How can the performance be the “real thing” if we don’t regard practice as “real”?
Adam spoke about developing an improvisation vocabulary for unconventional keyboard instruments. He prefers to play on “prepared” toy pianos (prepared as in arranged to perform extended techniques). This, in combination with actively developing his musical vocabulary during practice, reinvigorates his sense of ‘instrumental impulse’.
To me, the ‘instrumental impulse’ is the genetic component to improvisation that Hamilton depicts in his book. This is the idea that improvisation is undetectable; for what would it matter, aesthetically, if something was not improvised but had an ‘improvised feel’? Most audience member’s would not be able to notice a different.
Composer Eliot Carter said that improvisation is a theatrical act – undigested fragments of our unconscious float to the surface in the process. We subconsciously use the familiar patterns imbedded in our muscular memory.
Adam states that the function of his idiosyncratic techniques is to ensure that improvisation does not happen over fixed codes. Like Pak Yan Lau, Adam practices to be prepared for spontaneity. This is the premise of improvisation; being in the moment and not thinking too much.
Perhaps we should regard practice more as a means of “creating ourselves” than to acquire a skill. We make an effort to approach practice with the curiosity of a beginner.
Perhaps, then, preparation begins to hide itself when it reaches a certain level.