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Free Improvisation

The Open Hoose project that lets local musicians colour outside of the lines

To find out what Free Improvisation is all about, we asked Free Improvisation’s organiser, Calum Walker, ten questions to get an insight into this unique and exciting group.

Photography by Kirstin McEwan

What is Free Improvisation?

The sessions are based on the group improvisations I’ve participated in, during my time studying. It is focused on listening and playing intuitively with a group, in a way that is open and unrestricted by genre-specific styles or technique. A big part of it is trying new ideas and then reflecting on the outcome.

How did you get into playing music?

I’ve played guitar since I was young, but I guess I wouldn’t have thought of myself as a musician until more recently. My friends and I started a metal band when we were young, and that kept us busy for a long time. Through that, I started to learn about other musical styles and wanted to write music for a wide range of orchestral and electronic instruments. More recently, I’ve been working to take my music further, by returning to full time education and working in new settings.

Which musicians inspire you?

There are thousands. For guitar, I’m really inspired by Guthrie Govan’s books on creative playing at the moment. The concept of the group sessions owes a lot to composers like John Cage and Terry Riley. I probably get the most inspiration from people I know personally. Being able to jam and talk music with great, knowledgeable players really compels me to practice harder.

Are there any musicians or bands that took the art of free improvisation into mainstream audiences?

There might be. Improvisation is everywhere in music but I think less stoic practices can seem a bit more abstract. It’s more popular in the contemporary jazz, electronic and classical worlds. However, loads of songwriters and bands will have used group improvisation as a foundation for a track. It’s no different to an ensemble picking up their instruments and just seeing what happens, without the pressure of it having to fit particular parameters.

Is it ever too late to start learning a new instrument or a new way of playing an instrument?

I can’t say for every case but I don’t think so. I think it can be a challenge if you have to start from nothing or unlearn old habits. With enough motivation and time I think anything is possible.

What got you thinking about setting up the Free Improvisation group?

In the beginning it was based on the sessions I attended at my college. They were much more ‘out there’ than I had expected, but I really got something out of it. Now, the sessions are more refined to suit the interests of the group. The format is great because it doesn’t matter about ability levels or having specific numbers or instruments. It’s not about shredding or proving that you’re the best, because it’s based on listening and group dynamics. It’s so flexible and anyone can participate in creating music in this way.

What do you like about jamming with other musicians?

It’s nice to have an objective, even if that objective is simply to be heard once in a while. The hard work and gruelling practice seems to all be worth it when you’re locked into a jam with players that share the same respect and enthusiasm.

What can newcomers expect from taking part in Free Improvisation sessions?

Each session tends to be quite different. It can be quite lively or serene. I usually come with a few ideas I want to explore, but it’s group led so it has the capacity to go in unexpected directions. There’s always a mix of shorter exercises and longer, experimental improvisations. Lately, we’ve been looking at AV projects to create sound for. The atmosphere is always really exciting and the group are really friendly and eager to create.

What do you see for the future of Free Improvisation?

I’m hoping that there’s still room to expand and collaborate with different mediums in new ways. There are loads of great players in the area. Free Improvisation might not be their burning passion, but I think there is something really interesting to be gained from it. The priority is the playing, and the benefit of sharing ideas with like minded musicians.

Just for fun – is there a particularly memorable highlight of a Free Improvisation session?

There’s been a few interesting moments. We did an exercise where one of the group members read lines from Karl Pilkington’s books, and the group would use the text as a stimulus for music. The most memorable parts of the sessions are in those moments when it all comes together and you can sense that everyone is really into the sound that’s being collectively created.

Open Hoose is a project at the heart of the Stove’s community venue. Ideas are given the space, time, resources and support of the Stove Network to launch ambitious projects to galvanise and gather our communities together. From climate cafes to bread clubs, jam nights and creative writing groups, Open Hoose offers an eclectic mix of different activities for everyone to take part in. Find out more about groups like this one on our Open Hoose page, here.

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