Racer Sessions

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

Luke Bergman, December 4th, 2011


Lately at Racer Sessions I have been focused on improvising with a simple approach: beginning to play without planning anything and taking whatever it is that I play in the first couple seconds and using only that idea for a long time. I like to think about stretching the phrase length out to infinity and developing my initial idea with a rate of change that’s very slow. I’ve found that it’s one effective way for me to play abstract stuff with other musicians and still retain the feeling that everything I play flows clearly from the first idea i had. I enjoy the surprise of how the character of my first idea is unfolded over time as other musicians react to it and how it bends to the things that they are playing.

I find that I am most successful in creating spontaneous group music when I am able to minimize the amount of thinking, planning or asserting that I am doing in the moment, and I’m able to just flow with everything without trying. Therefore it’s useful to have a little seed to start out with so that I don’t have to spend time thinking of what I can create, I can simply stir it around and let it become a part of the group.

I wanted to make a piece that exaggerated the starkness of the relationship between the quick idea that I start with, and a group’s contribution of how my idea is defined over time. I decided to make a recording and have a trio improvise along to it. In an effort to preserving the spontaneity of my contribution, the directions for the recording were decided in a very short amount of time (about a minute and a half) so I wouldn’t be able to second-guess and/or revise any of my initial ideas. Instead I would plan everything out down to very specific details and then execute it being as true as possible to my directions.

My idea was to record myself running with a portable 4-channel digital recorder. I would run from my house to a bridge on the Burke Gilman Trail and back to my house. Then separate the way out to one track in the left channel and the way back to the right channel. I hoped to capture both the stomping foot noises and breathing noises with surround recording.

Then I would record a five-part bowed bass texture. Each part would be a cluster of microtones surrounding a central pitch and each part would be slowly heaving at slightly different speed and direction. Each part starts more sparsely and becomes more frequent over time. The parts layer themselves in and are out of sync when they begin, but eventually come into sync.

The parts intensify in a number of ways and eventually turn into slow glissandos approaching a final chord. 

All beginning and ending pitches where decided based on rough geometric patterns that I projected onto the fingerboard of the bass. Also all 5 parts were recorded separately so I wasn’t able to use my ear to adjust pitches and rhythms to be more harmonious on the whole. This was an effort to make the way that the parts interact to be an element that I had little control over.

Next, I planned to highlight all “accidental” (**NON-CAR) noises above a certain VU level (i.e. bow smacking the side of the bass, speech of passersby, bird chirping etc) by doubling them on the glockenspiel with my best approximation of the pitch that they occurred as. 

Finally, I wanted three musicians to improvise along with my recording. These three are Wally Shoup on saxophone, Natalie Hall on cello and Gregg Keplinger on drums. I selected them because I knew that they were all capable of playing captivating solo improvisations though I had never heard any of them play together, so that would be an element beyond my prediction. My only directions to them were, “wait for a while to come in and make sure there are times when each of you is playing alone or two of you are playing as a duo.”

I will also have two improvising exercises to impose on the first two ensembles after my piece is finished. They will be based on another approach to elongating initial ideas in improvising.

I hope to see you on Sunday!