Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Aaron Otheim - December 9, 2012


This Sunday, I want everyone to focus on controlling and shaping the harmonic elements of group improvisations. My aim for this evening isn’t necessarily to force people to improvise with a certain key, tonality or chords in mind but instead to encourage everyone to play and listen in such a way that makes harmonic color and motion more apparent to players and audience members alike.

I’d like us to meet some or all of these goals during this session’s improvs:

  • Create intentional and distinct harmonic colors — Sticking to particular chords, tonality, intervals or event a set of notes can give moments in a piece a unique mood or identity. Shifting from one distinct harmony to another helps make form and progression more apparent. Remember, creating unique compelling harmonies doesn’t necessarily mean you have to play a lot of notes, especially if you are one of many in a group. 
  • Access and utilize leading tones to generate forward motion — Listen to how the notes you are playing fit into the overall harmonic picture being generated by the group. Do you sense that the notes you are playing could significantly alter that overall picture? 
  • Use harmony as an expressive agent — Can members of a group work together to incorporate the element harmony as a viable source of drama and interest within an improvised work?

We will explore different kinds of harmonic playing and try approaches that attempt to make it easier to collectively manipulate harmony in freely improvised music:

  • Establish parts and roles within each group that enable each participant to actively contribute and influence the group’s overall harmonies. 
  • Choose textures that make harmonic color or motion clear.
  • Strive for simplicity and succinctness in melodic and rhythmic content.
  • Be sensitive to how timbre and acoustics influence blending of harmonies.

I’ll perform a few structured improvisations with Natalie Hall and Cameron Sharif in the opening set that demo some of my ideas for the evening’s jams.

Please note: I’m going to take a more hands-on role during the session and will form and coach each group. So, conceptually, this session will be less “open” than others but by no means exclusive to anyone!