Friday, July 15, 2011

2011 I.R.S.A conference

This is not a travel blog, but I recently attended the 2011 International Rhythm Studies Association's annual conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. You can find out more about the I.R.S.A. here. It's put together primarily by Ronan Guilfoyle and Marcel Coelho. I presented a paper on the use of Elliott Carter's rhythmic language as a basis for improvisation. I recorded the lecture and plan to put the video up when I get home in August. In the meantime, I recorded some of my thoughts regarding the conference.

One of the first things I realised is how much there is to learn. While I feel I’ve placed rhythm at the centre of my practice and music for around 5 years, and I feel comfortable playing things like quintuplets and septuplets in a variety of groupings, playing over grooves composed using Marcelo’s Coelho’s ‘rhythmic line’ concept was extraordinarily difficult, as was playing Love for Sale at 250 B.P.M. in 11/4. Finding out you’re terrible at something is always a great thing: there’s always more work to do.

Also, I was struck by everyone’s willingness to engage in any demonstration; singing and clapping was present almost constantly. This stands in contrast to many attitudes I’ve experienced in Australia: trying to get people to stand, sing and clap is often met with fear. What students seem not to realise is that involvement of this kind is the best way to gauge where you’re at with the materials; if it’s not in your body and voice you don’t stand a chance of playing it on your instrument.

As always it’s good to be reminded of the international standard: it seems more and more musicians all around the world are placing rhythm at the centre of their musical concerns. From what I can see so far, this is resulting in music as complex as ever. No doubt some people hate this direction for improvised music, and I must that, personally, I swing between loving it and hating it, depending mainly on the aesthetic the performers bring to this sort of music.

If you remember my post about the work concept in jazz, it might come as no surprise to you that I’m wary of complex written music in improvised music becoming and end in itself. Personally I prefer to marry complex rhythmic structures with interactive ensemble playing. What this means is that I’m conscious of avoiding structures that hinder the use of a multitude of rhythmic speeds, as I believe that these are key to maintaining the expansive ensemble sound I enjoy in jazz and improvised music.

Thinking more about students, Ronan Guilfoyle’s lecture outlining his compulsory four-year rhythm studies course at the New Park school in Dublin, Ireland made it clear that very soon 5/4, 7/4, 9/4 and 11/4 will no longer be thought of as ‘odd’ time signatures, and that an understanding of Konokol and Korvai will be basic knowledge for any student who has a Bachelor degree or equivalent. With huge amounts of information available online, it is really up to students to get to work on this stuff sooner rather than later.

The discovery of Jose Eduardo Gramani two books: “Ritmica” and “Ritmica Viva” has been a revelation. While I’ve only just grazed the surface of what is in these tomes, it seems pretty clear that hundreds, possibly thousands of hours of practice and frustration await me. Marcelo Coelho is in the process of translating his doctoral thesis which possible various musical applications the ideas contained in these books; I look forward to reading it.

All in all, the conference has been incredible, and I’ve learnt a lot. I have every intention of applying to attend the next in Sweden.

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