Aesthetics of Imperfection, Music
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Artist of limits.

(This article is inspired by a talk given at the Philosophy of Improvisation: Aesthetics of Imperfection Workshops)

To be the master of perfect is inconceivable to Joe McPhee – he can only ever learn how to be a bigger mess.

The Joe McPhee Trio concert on Thursday the 4th of October marked a reunion between Joe and Paul Hession, who had not played together in 15 years. With all but a brief sound check, the trio delivered a totally improvised performance to a general listenership who remained seated for the entirety of the concert, even between two breaks.

“The audience gives back”.

Total improvisation is not just musical. As we can see, it constitutes the whole act of getting on the stage with someone who you’ve not communicated with prior to the performance.

Thinking too much, therefore, will slow you down.

We return to the child as example. Children are not suspicious or protective. Because their responses are not analytical or self conscious, they are capable of purely experiencing. They don’t think too much; they just enjoy being. 

Kathleen Raine recommends that we have to “unlearn, to un-know, if we hope to recapture a glimpse of that paradisal vision” rather than trying to understand everything. To become a bigger mess.

Perhaps, only then we will see value in things we did not see before. This sense of awe will inspire us to appreciate and use opportunities that are otherwise invisible to us. Happiness after all, to me, is seeing the same things but with different eyes.

“Children make do with things”, claims Joe. Indeed, children – little artists of limits – can use scant materials to come up with imaginative results. Give a child a stick and a stone and they will create an imaginary world.

Joe’s affinity with sounds is linked to past experiences. Perhaps he values the subconscious process of assembling observational and sensory data from the past. For, we cannot be separated from these experiences; so we might as well use their creative or destructive potential. Use the ‘lasso’ technique to grab pieces of creatio ex nihilo.



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