It is both a surrendering of some fraction of personal control of your own movement and a receiving of partial control of our partner’s movement. We then become one organism composed of two.
Karl Frost on being off-balance, cited from a text he published on his website, called Fundamentals of Contact Improvisation.
In our Minimal Improvisation Lab today we worked on connections between sound and movement. We tried out different approaches: we omitted the sounds we normally produce during Minimal Improvisation and just imagined them in our heads. In doing so, we observed the little movements, the ‘small dance’ that we performed alongside the imaginary sounds. I loved the subtle, tender qualities of these movements, reminiscent of plants more than of human beings. They are not about manipulating the outer world but about being with oneself, merely existing. Also, tranquility and vulnerability come to my mind.
When working with audible sounds, we did it in a very limited scope: two performers facing each other, each of them performing only one sound, no specific regular rhythm, no specific coordination between the two. In doing so, we notice a certain tension rising in us. To listen to only two sounds can become pretty boring, two sounds is just not enough to entertain any listener or performer. So, after a while, there is a tendency to make something happen. This can take place in several ways: moving a slight step closer to the other performer, to grasp more of the subtle nuances of what he or she is doing. This is a strategy of changing the perception instead of changing what is going on, maybe to cherish the overtones of the sound or pay attention to it´s slight modulations. When a deeper perception is possible, this can be a cause of satisfaction. The tension of boredom is released into the pleasure of reveling in the opulence of the little details of the sounds. Another strategy to ‘make something happen’ is to break out of the reduction and add another sound. After being exposed to only two sounds for some time, the emergence of a third sound can have a dramatic effect and be the source of pleasure. In the reduced context, the introduction of a new element releases the tension of expectation.
I would like to proceed by connecting these thoughts with Karl Frost´s statement on being off-balance cited above. By reducing my musical output to just one sound, I limit my options of expression in a way that leads me to rely on my musical partner. I give up control of the overall musical impression, but as we both do so, I also gain control. The context of the sound that the other performer chooses to make is highly affected by what I do.
In Contact Improvisation, gravity, in combination with being off-balance, creates an unstable situation and becomes a constant source of movement. The instability creates a tension that is resolved momentarily and leads into another passing constellation. The moment of releasing the tension is only brief and in passing, but still, we find here the same structure of tension and release that I described above. So, on a structural level, being off-balance and gravity in Contact Improvisation, and on the other hand repetition and the fear of boredom in Minimal Improvisation share the function of building up a tension. In both disciplines, tension is build up and then released, and that is pleasurable.
‘We then become one organism composed of two’ – that is really an ideal for me to achieve with Minimal Improvisation, to perform music from a collective perspective. To perform music that emerges from the contributions of all performers.
To make such music possible, it´s crucial to be sensitive and receptive, and also to give in to a certain kind of vulnerability: to depend on the other performers and the sounds they make, just like a good practioner of Contact Improvisation relies on the one he is exchanging his weight with.