The COVID-19 pandemic turned the music industry upside-down overnight and impacted music-making at all levels. In these special issues, we invited musicians, performers, scholars, arts presenters, and other cultural workers to reflect on the extraordinary challenges posed by the pandemic and to begin envisaging a post-pandemic musical landscape. The struggles to maintain connection and the unquantifiable intimacies of exchange that characterize live music at its best are counterpoised against, but also enacted via, the new necrophonics––or sounds made within, and in spite of, moribund, dying spaces––the pandemic has exposed. Improvisation, in this context, becomes even more salient as a practice of adaptation and resistance to the newly emergent norms. This volume is a start at assembling diverse voices that move from first principles to direct action, and we emphasize the remarkable scope of pragmatic, grassroots solutions proposed by contributors across a significant range of voices and experiences. We argue for a fundamental first principle in which direct actions that support the allocation of resources to the creative commons be lateralized to avoid top-down forms that limit access to, and use of, precious public commons resources.
Olivia Shortt is a Tkarón:to-based multi-disciplinary performing artist. This video contribution explores how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated already existing precarities for artists and musical communities but also generated a new activism.
La musique m’a permis de me construire, d’exprimer, de communiquer, de donner…Beaucoup donner. Car la musique est un don : un don de soi. Mais faudrait pas exagérer. À quoi bon composer lorsqu’on ne sait même pas quand nous serons sur une scène à nouveau et que de moins en moins de gens sont prêts à payer pour écouter notre musique? Marre de ramer, marre de la gratuité de la musique, partout. Auto-sabotage, protestation, sorte de manifesto silencieux? Je ne sais pas, je ne sais plus. Plus envie de participer à ce qui nous mène droit contre le mur.
2 - En apesanteur
4 mois sans public. C’est long. Trop long. Beaucoup trop long. Car la musique, et particulièrement l’improvisation, est un dialogue. Et comme je n’ai jamais aimé les monologues, je reste silencieuse. En attente. Comme en une sorte d’apesanteur…Telle une scaphandrière sans oxygène, j’attends. J’attends le retour sur scène, j’attends le partage avec les musiciens et le public. J’attends le dialogue. Le vrai. Cette expérience, unique, du moment présent partagé, évanescent de beauté, dans toute son éternelle éphémérité qui nous met en vie, à chaque fois.
3 - Et si?
Et si j’avais tout faux? Et si la Musique était la scanphandrière et moi la bonbonne d’oxygène…? Car elle aussi, pour l’instant attend. Depuis quatre mois. Muette. Et si je me devais de lui donner un peu de souffle?
âpihtawikosisâniskwêw artist Moe Clark is a nomadic songbird with wings woven from circle singing and spoken word. Originally from Treaty 7, she has called tio'tia:ke (Montreal) home for over a decade. In this interview, she speaks with Laura Risk about continuing to create music and build community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guitarist/composer Karl Evangelista writes of the quarantine projects that he carried out from his home in Oakland, California: two album releases—one with South African drummer-activist Louis Moholo-Moholo and one with art rock/experimental project Grex—and the curation of two online “Lockdown Festivals.”
I'm a dancer who engages improvisation every time I put on my shoes to brush, step, click, and knock the floor. Not surprisingly, my work until March 2020 was primarily with fellow sound-makers, usually folk musicians from Ireland, Scotland, what's now called Canada, and what's now called Appalachia. COVID-19 has forced me to listen to the extemporaneous music I make anew, in the absence of collaborators, within a soundscape of profound uncertainty. In this contribution, I offer a voice from the floor, enunciated by my lowest limbs contacting the surface upon which I stand. This is where my work as an LGBTQ2IA+ improvising step dancer finds its meaning. In this essay, I respond to the incisive queer horizon Thomas F. DeFrantz casts, as "imagining outside of what came before." I share ways I have been thinking about improvisation and offer thoughts on how we might learn from DeFrantz to imagine and improvise “outside of” critically, queerly, and generatively.
Antoine Gauthier, Director of the Conseil québécois du patrimoine vivant (CQPV), an umbrella organization of over 100 intangible cultural heritage organizations from across Québec, describes the impact of the pandemic on the traditional arts in that province.
Marjorie Deschamps, Yaëlle Azoulay, and Noémie Azoulay, co-founders of the independent booking agency Résonances, describe the challenge of supporting their artists while simultaneously pivoting their business model and negotiating their own work-life balances. They describe a new digital capture and broadcasting project, La Trame, that will offer alternative modes of diffusion for their artists and more socially engaged, community-based programming.
Alan Greyeyes is Director of the sākihiwē festival, which works to develop audiences for live music among Indigenous youth, and runs the artist and project management company Ogichidaa Arts. In this interview, he speaks with Anishinaabe musician/composer Melody McKiver about the impact of the pandemic on Indigenous musicians and music communities.
Karen Ng and Scott Thomson reflect on the impact of the pandemic on the field of creative improvised music from their perspectives as performers, composers, and presenters. Along the way, they explore the nature and limitations of livestream performance, and articulate why, as co-programmers of the Guelph Jazz Festival, they have not presented livestream or other digital programming during the pandemic.
This piece identifies some of the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic for non-profit arts administration. It profiles Silence, Guelph, a small music venue, art gallery and community space, and how we have experienced the pandemic and continue to learn from and grow through the challenges it presents.
In this profile of Club Quarantine, a nightly online LGBTQ+ dance party, Hannah M. Brown writes of the challenges of creating a virtual safe space and ensuring privacy for participants, but also the potential for online events such as this to generate increased queer visibility and connect clubgoers with others around the globe.
In this edited interview, Glenn Patterson speaks with Bruce Barr and Alison Boyle of Quebec's Chateauguay Valley to discuss their initiative to transition Brysonville Schoolhouse Revisited, a monthly open mic, to an online livestream format using Zoom and Facebook Live. They describe their personal motivations for making this transition, how it impacted their daily lives and weekly schedules in the first months of the pandemic, and their experiences as non-experts working with these popular technologies. They also point out some of the principal barriers facing ageing and rural communities wishing to transition to online performance spaces and contemplate the prospects for the future of the event.
My contribution is a personal account about my experiences with online participatory music-making in the first few months of the pandemic. As an old-time fiddler, I anchored a local Zoom jam and attended a Zoom-based music camp. As a Sacred Harp singer, I participated in regular singings via Facebook Live.
What does the music world three months into a pandemic look like to an Irish fiddler (Liz Knowles), a viola da gamba player (Liam Byrne), a violinist/pianist/composer (Dana Lyn), a Klezmer violinist (Lisa Gutkin), a world-jazz bassist (Juan Garcia Herreros), a venue owner (Terez Fraser), a concert presenter (Tom Rota), and a festival producer (Olga Barry)? Music is about arrivals, landings and leavings. As the pandemic arrived, the arts industry—and so many other aspects of life—"landed” or stopped, and we are now imagining what the future holds: what it will look like to “leave” this shutdown period and “arrive” into the new (and possibly changed) music industry.
Musical improvisation is about engaging with and crafting these arrivals, landings, and leavings in the moment. These conversations in this podcast reveal some surprising aspects of the pre-pandemic music world—different musicians’ concepts of time, trajectory, and improvisation in music and in business—and also offer perspectives on how we see the future, both as individuals and as a community.
When physical distancing became necessary as a result of COVID-19, I wanted to find out how to make music in real time over the internet. Fortunately, I found the Mannlicher Carcano Radio Hour! This improvisational collective has a history of networked performance—now facilitated via the conferencing platform Zoom—that stretches back to its origins in experimental call-in radio collage during the 1990s. This ‘community voices’ piece describes some of the ways participants from around the world join together on Saturdays to improvise and socialize as a networked community.
We are a group of musicians, artists, and educators who founded the Musical Learning Community within the Action Research Network of the Americas (ARNA). From Ecuador, Sebastián is a teaching artist working in a rural public conservatory in Amaguaña and David is a faculty member in a private university in Quito. Cristina is a dancer and educator working in Indonesia, while Víctor is an action researcher working from Miami. Natalie and Joshua are music educators in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. For the six of us, collaborating as an action research community has allowed our work to transcend our unique settings. In this article, through videos, testimonies, and collaborative analysis, we share our experiences in a way that resonates more like a chorus than the voice of a soloist.
As a professional bassist who identifies as female and queer, I have my share of horror stories about experiences in the music industry. But I also have a solid peer group that is actively working to improve things, and with whom I have an ongoing dialogue. Specifically, in the last year, we started to observe the radical behavioural changes we've made as a society in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how these protocols could be viewed with an anti-oppressive lens. I started to think about my values as an improvising musician, and how they provide an analogy and a framework for broader social interaction. I used the writing of this article as an opportunity to speak with some of my musical peers about their individual experiences and their ideas for creating safer spaces. We talked about the skills we had as improvisers, and how the pandemic could be a pivot point in creating a safer, more authentically inclusive music scene for women, trans, and gender queer people. This piece reflects those conversations and offers practical considerations and theoretical frameworks that are relevant to individual improvisers and ensembles, as well as promoters, curators, and venues.
Rinaldo Walcott discusses how the convergence of police violence and COVID-19 on George Floyd’s body encapsulates a history of violence that Black people collectively experience in North America. Walcott unpacks how, in the midst of a pandemic and under stringent restrictions on movement and gathering in groups, George Floyd was murdered publicly for allegedly passing a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill. His murder by police tells a story of the kind of society in which we collectively reside and the necessary changes that need to be made to achieve justice for all.
Within days of Vancouver locking down in March 2020, NOW Society’s artistic director, Dr. Lisa Cay Miller, crafted an imaginative means of engaging local and international improvisers in an online series, Creative Music Series #8 (CMS#8). The series showcased not only the musicians’ improvisatory skills, but their compositional abilities. Drawing upon conversations with musicians who took part in CMS#8, Parmela Attariwala reflects upon how the series shaped the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic for her and fellow improvisors involved in the series. She also considers the artistic potency enabled by the mode of creation developed for CMS#8.
Both telematic performances and COVID suffer from latency. In telematic performance, it is the lag between a musical gesture you make, and the time that others in the network receive it. In COVID, it is lags between contact and showing symptoms, and between public health policy decisions and their effects. I argue that we need to embrace latency as an improvisational partner both in our telematic performances, and in our health care policies. I argue that Black aesthetics and Black approaches to sound and improvisation have long embraced latency, and that we need to become what is sometime called Afro-logical improvisers both in our networked performances and in our COVID related health policies.
In this piece, Vancouver-based guitarist Aram Bajakian reflects on the ways in which the outer practice of performing for audiences and the inner practice of solitude are symbiotic for musicians, and the challenge of connecting with listeners in a virtual landscape.
This article develops the concept of an improvisational aesthetic of imperfection and intimacy for “trebling-effect” music livestreams, or webcasts where listeners may interact with each other (and possibly with the performer) during the stream via text chat. I position the pandemic-era turn towards livestreaming within scholarly discourses of “liveness” and in conversation with recent work on the impact of audio streaming platforms on listeners’ understandings of the functionality of music. I also consider the affective labour required of performers to generate a sense of human connection via livestream, and discuss video mosaics, by which musicians separated by time and space perform together in an illusion of copresence. I conclude with a case study of the #CanadaPerforms livestreaming series, a public-private collaboration between the National Arts Centre and Facebook Canada.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many disparities between diverse social and cultural groups, both inside the academy and throughout society at large. In this essay, Erica K. Argyropoulos reflects on her own experiences as a disabled, nonbinary person in academia during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Michel Serres states, “The one who has power is the one who has the source and emission of sound” (1982). The sudden soundlessness of our COVID-19 existence is one of the largest pandemic challenges facing musicians. While some argue that there should be a hiatus on creation, others are embracing music’s adaptations to less traditional forums and formats. As a public high school teacher and conductor-educator with a youth-focused private organization, I am experiencing first-hand the improvisations, challenges, triumphs—and attendant burn-out—of rapidly adapting new spaces in which to keep my musical communities intact. Fellow conductor-educators near and far, working with populations at all ages and stages, are also bravely forging onward, rejecting sound-less and ensemble-less realities by adapting online. This all begs the questions: What does the near future hold for choral singing? And what will singing ensembles look like on the other side of current restrictions? Drawing together personal experience, informal interviews, explorations of the transformations of public and private space, sound and media studies, drift methodology, and the proliferation of recent articles in news and arts media, this essay investigates the novel spaces being created by and for choral arts educators amidst the uncertainties of what new reality awaits us on the other side of the screen-scape.
This article follows the pandemic practice of The London Improvisers Orchestra between April and June 2020 from the perspective of a Malaysian musician. Virtual mobility and accessibility, isolation and belonging: traits and tropes of the COVID-19 life.
Erin Felepchuk and Ben Finley examine the use of improvisation within the language of crisis response. They argue that historic cultural anxieties have generated negative connotations for improvisation within such conceptual metaphors as “illness as war” (where improvisation is positioned as a defensive strategy) and, more broadly, “improvisation as disorder,” and draw on improvisation studies theory and discourse to propose alternate metaphors for disease and disease mitigation.
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