Making it up as we go along

Andrew Booker 2007-07-29 17:02:47

Here's an entry for Improvizone in a recent listing in I don't know why I'm bothering with a link to it, it will probably be gone by this time next week. Today's listings, tomorrow's chip-wrappings.

Description: Chilled out beats and electronic soundscapes from the make-it-up-as-you-go-along fivepiece.

Not my words exactly, but about right. Describing our music in that way should not stop people coming to the gig, or enjoying the whole thing once they're in. The misleading bit is the make-it-up-as-you-go-along.

It is what we do, and it is why we're called Improvizone. But it's misleading is because it suggests we roll in off the streets, down a total of seventeen pints of lager, pick up a few musical instrument-shaped bits and pieces that happen to be lying in a cupboard behind the bar, then sit in the corner facing in different directions and strum/noodle/tap for a couple of hours. Well, one day I would love to progress to that level, but for now, a little bit more has to go into an Improvizone evening than that.

In the manufacturing industry, making it up as you go along is not a good thing. If you buy an expensive car, you don't want a collection of nerdy-looking individuals turning up in front of your house with a pile of steel, claiming to be good at welding, saying don't worry, we'll knock you up a great luxury motor vehicle, we make lots of them and sometimes they turn out really well. No, you want a finished product that has been through many, many iterations of design, building and thorough testing before you even look at the brochure.

In live music, that sort of contrivance leads to something generally dull. Like miming. Before going out to play, a typical band develops and finalizes a set of songs to play at every gig. Live, those songs do not come out the same every time. They're not really meant to. Sometimes magic creeps into the playing, and when it does, you can be sure it didn't come from the rehearsal room. It came out of the human variation in the playing of that song on that night. Intentionally or not, somebody did something a little different, and... wow... that was nice...

This is why live music is worth bothering with. Allowing creative magic to happen is what Improvizone is all about, on the basis that there are many more lush/sweet/surprising/unpredictable bits per hour to be had if you don't try and prefabricate them. Not that we hope great music will happen by chance and play itself. It takes good players, who we involve by invitation, unlike a normal open jam session. But you can always bring out the best in musicians by meeting new people with great sounds, and we encourage both.

Is that enough reason to come and see us? Or when people go and see a gig, do they only want to hear songs they recognise? If you're truly one of those, you can't possibly have read this far... :) And if you are, I'll bet that is not what you're really thinking. What you mean is you don't want to blow 40 quid and a whole evening on stuff you're not going to like. But there are other ways of predicting whether you're going to like something than by going and listening to it all first. Here at Improvizone, we give you all sorts of example stuff to listen to, at the same time guaranteeing that we will not be playing any of it at the next gig.

Musically, the more I think about it, the make-it-up-as-we-go-along element to Improvizone reduces to irrelevant. Except for it being a great way of getting the best playing out of musicians.

But there are also technical reasons why it's the wrong way to evaluate us. When we turn up to a gig, we're a lot more prepared than you might think. Firstly, nobody would turn up with interesting effects units if they hadn't invested many, many hours towards learning how to use them. Secondly, have a look at this picture.

That's a wiring diagram for next Tuesday's gig (31 July). I worked it out last weekend. The red leads are recording signals, the blue ones are for monitoring. If you think this diagram is complex, you should see the one from a couple of months ago when Os brought just his laptop and audio interface, or from the month before that when Jeremy recorded the gig. And this is another reason why we're not an open jam session, because to do a wiring map, I need to know where everyone sits, what their outputs are and whether they are bringing an amp. I also need to make sure everyone has a mains supply, as there are no wall sockets in the playing area.

This is the kind of stuff normal bands make up as they go along, even playing in a much bigger place than Imbibe. Not us. All this is sorted out before. It's nice to be able to work out the technical aspects of a gig, and not have to worry about working out any music. I like doing both, but one benefits the gig enormously, whereas the other takes away the excitement.

Ultimately, if we weren't making it up as we went along, how different would we sound? Pretty much the same I reckon, only not as good. If we were playing something we wrote, at best we would sound like we currently do, because we would be writing to our strengths and improvising new ideas as part of the writing process. If we did play pre-written stuff, nobody coming to our gig for the first time would recognise anything, unless they'd downloaded it. And everyone would have to listen to the same thing month after month. And the downloads list would be very much shorter.

So those are all sorts of reasons why I'm happy with making stuff up as we go along. I don't mind if the audience knows whether that's what we do or not. I guess it helps to cut down on requests for Wonderwall if they do.

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