Matana Roberts is a saxophonist, composer, and artist. In this open letter—and call to action—she describes the intergenerational trauma that has resulted from the history of white supremacy and police violence against persons of African descent, and reminds us how race and racism are intimately linked to health in myriad ways.
Ty Defoe is an Oneida and Ojibwe interdisciplinary artist. This contribution includes a video entitled “Circle” and an interview with Nic Gareiss, in which Defoe discusses the ways in which he has worked to Indigenize, decolonize, and queer a variety of spaces, including online digital spaces, during the pandemic.
Presented here in conversation, guitarists Frannie Holder (Dear Criminals, Random Recipe) and Éléonore Pitre (Rosier, Star Académie house band) discuss the pandemic as a moment to reflect on their lives as musicians and to focus more on the “why” of their work. Both musicians also describe the singular experience of performing in person during the pandemic.
In this piece, Barbara Adler reflects on the Vancouver arts collective known as Sawdust Collector, which ceased operations during the pandemic. She asks how we might move beyond exhaustion by allowing ourselves the time to slow down and the space to reimagine creative praxes, and by contributing our energies to the unfinished work of others.
Patricia Nicholson Parker is the founder and director of the New York-based non-profit arts organization Arts for Art. In this piece, she writes of the ways in which improvisation is central to her work as both an artist and an organizer. She sees improvisation as a strategy of resistance to the degradation of “the sacredness of Life itself.”
Cellist Mike Block (Silkroad Ensemble), here interviewed by Laura Risk, describes the work of moving his music camps online and the transition to teaching virtually in a conservatory setting. He discusses the challenges of learning to teach and perform online, and finding new ways to generate revenue in the digital realm.
In this piece, percussionist Dong-Won Kim (Silkroad Ensemble) argues for the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink aspects of society, including the arts. This is the time for humanity to “engage in a collective improvisation,” he writes, and work towards “lasting change for ourselves and for future generations.”
Michael League (Snarky Puppy), here interviewed by Panayotis League, offers a frank assessment of the new economic realities for working musicians. He notes that even before the pandemic, digital streaming services such as Spotify had all but eliminated recordings as an income source for musicians. COVID-19 has now decimated their other primary revenue stream: live shows.
COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented crisis for performing musicians globally. But how are these new circumstances perceived by musicians in localities that have gone through multiple crises in the recent past? This article unfolds as a dialogue between two academics and two musicians from Greece and Iran, touching on issues of precarity, creativity, capitalism, state support and control, and radical ideas for a post-COVID cultural economy. Reflecting on conditions of economic crisis (Greece) and sanctions and military tensions (Iran), we argue that a return to ‘normalcy’ post-COVID is neither feasible nor desired by most musicians outside of institutional elites. By examining the experiences of musicians in the periphery of global markets and artistic circulation, we enrich the analysis of these unprecedented circumstances, but also find well-established coping strategies and seeds of resistance.
Uno de los países que más ha sufrido y sufre actualmente los efectos de la pandemia causada por la COVID-19 en todo el mundo es España, con decenas de miles de muertos en constante aumento. El presente artículo analiza el impacto que la pandemia está provocando en el delicado tejido de la creación musical en España, específicamente, y en Iberoamérica, en general, lo cual está acelerando procesos que ya se venían gestando desde hace más de una década, aunque la situación actual es tan urgente y apremiante que aún no hay datos ni análisis fiables sobre lo que está ocurriendo. A partir de datos recogidos en los últimos años sobre la caída de la asistencia a conciertos de música en vivo en España, se va delineando la situación actual de la música en general, extrapolable a otras regiones de Iberoamérica, donde ya casi nadie puede vivir directamente de la música; esto es, de la composición, creación o de su interpretación en vivo, como sí solía ocurrir décadas atrás. Esta situación se agrava notablemente en el caso de aquellos/as creadores/as de obras musicales más elaboradas y minoritarias; esto es, las que más recursos requieren en términos de tiempo de trabajo y dedicación, y que suelen ser, además, las más ricas e innovadoras en su aporte en términos estéticos, educativos y culturales. Este es el caso de las llamadas músicas creativas, improvisadas, contemporáneas o experimentales: un amplio abanico que abarca géneros musicales diversos cuyos límites no están delimitados, pero que son los que más están acusando el impacto de la pandemia. El artículo intenta dar una respuesta realista y concreta al primer punto de la convocatoria de este número especial, en relación con la nueva economía digital de la creación y el consumo musical, dada la desaparición de las actuaciones en vivo, y el surgimiento de las redes sociales y las plataformas audiovisuales online como alternativas. Por último, concluye con algunas propuestas para revalorizar la escena de la música en vivo y la situación actual de los/as creadores/as improvisadores/as musicales.
Juan Calvi writes about the devastating effects of COVID-19 on the Spanish music scene. Taking stock of the turn toward digital economies and the surge in social media and audiovisual platforms that took the place of live music, Calvi outlines how music in the time of the pandemic has been commodified in the same way as household, everyday products. For Calvi, digital platforms reproduce imitation in ways that concentrate attention on what is made visible by, for instance, online influencers, themselves shaped by majoritarian trends and habits that they mimic and replicate. What ensues is a logic of viral contagion: that which is most listened to as a function of digital platforming and influencing becomes that which is most recommended on the platform, which, in turn, becomes that which is most consumed. At the same time as the pandemic has created new forms of resistance and cultural creativity, it has also enabled new forms of alienation, control, egoism, and endogamy. Post-pandemic recovery will require a renewed focus on live musicking and renewed forms of engagement between musicians and their publics as relations are rebuilt and reimagined in the aftermath of the crisis.
The worldwide lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic initiated an economic crisis, especially in the performing arts world. With all events cancelled for many months and limited options to return to live performance in the future, the arts community had to respond quickly. The jazz model, specifically improvisational training, has been discussed frequently in entrepreneurship literature as a useful model for making decisions in uncertain situations. The principle of Effectual Entrepreneurship, defined as engaging in a continuous cycle of ideation and experimentation towards creating solutions from available means and techniques, is usually associated with a growth mindset fostered by training in improvisational techniques. This article documents how the directions and activities pursued by jazz musicians who train their improvisational capacities on a regular basis produce evolving new models of mediatized musical performance. Data collected from a survey, published literature, and several in-depth interviews and conclusions point towards a hybrid model of new technologies and modes of interaction combined with the need to preserve human engagement.
Dave Clark is an improvising drummer and founder of the Toronto-based Woodchoppers improv collective. In this piece, he stresses the need for more equitable methods of sharing the revenue generated by musicians working in the creative commons, and discusses an open letter that he wrote to SOCAN in May 2020.
Kevin Chan is Director of Public Policy, Canada for Facebook. In this piece, he describes the origins of the #CanadaPerforms series, a partnership between Facebook Canada and the National Arts Centre that presented over seven hundred livestreamed musical performances by Canadian musicians during the pandemic.
This piece profiles two DJs who moved online during the pandemic and discusses the restrictions placed by social media companies around certain modes of music making on their platforms. Hip hop DJs in particular have been scrutinized by many social media outlets for playing copyrighted music as part of their DJ sets.
Devon Léger is a music publicist (HearthPR) and music writer (Folk Alley, No Depression). In this piece, he describes how online music platforms Bandcamp and Twitch have supported musicians during the pandemic and provided new ways for artists to connect with fans, build community, and monetize their music.
Dale Chapman discusses the important work that the Jazz Foundation of America is doing during the pandemic, assisting jazz musicians with housing costs, medical expenses, and emergency financial support, and argues for the pandemic as an opportune moment to organize on behalf of policies that ensure the universal reach of economic and social security.
Improvising drummer and community organizer Joe Sorbara advocates for the implementation of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) that will “provide everyone with the space to hear and recognise a calling, and . . . ensure that we all have the capacity and support to answer the call.”
Our paper reflects on our experience with Weaving Music II—a web performance space we built with fifteen artists working across different disciplines. The website and our essay attempt to create alternatives to the “at-the-same-timeness” of streaming technologies as well as the forms of listening defined by data capitalism and corporate platforms like Google and YouTube. At the heart of the alternative practices we propose is an embrace of what we see as the creolizing potentiality of the Web and of listening. To unpack these potentialities, the essay and artwork critically reflect on listening that occurs through Afrofuturistic modes of engagement with technology, space and time. We consider the historical origins of Web improvisations, our approach to collaboration using Weaving Music II, and theories of information that move beyond the need for predefined codes of understanding.
Lisa Cay Miller is a pianist/composer/improviser and Artistic Director of the NOW Society. In this piece, she offers a poetic description of the technological challenges associated with a large-scale sequential improvisation project in which thirty-six musicians and two sound engineers collaborated with one another to produce a total of thirty-eight videos of improvised musical performances.
Guitarist Nathan Moore relates his experiences as an improvising musician responding to COVID. In this piece, he describes the practice of recording solo improvisations that are then sent to colleagues for an overdubbed, improvised response.
In this piece, Elizabeth McNutt discusses the creative responses of the Texas-based group Bitches Set Traps to the pandemic. Building on the legacy of the pioneering Feminist Improvising Group (which similarly blended the political, personal, and musical), Bitches Set Traps combines musical improvisation with theatrical and comedic elements to challenge gender stereotypes and to comment on current events. In the early months of the pandemic, the group staged a series of collaborative performances over Zoom, addressing pandemic-related themes including the household division of labor, the importance of self-care, beauty standards during quarantine, and social distancing.
In this piece, Ben Zucker profiles Chicago’s Experimental Sound Studio and its decision to move online with a series of livestreamed performances known as The Quarantine Concerts (TQC). He examines the meaning of “place” for virtual gatherings such as TQC, and discusses how musicians have had to rethink what liveness means and how it is practiced under the new constraints.
This essay takes the form of a patchwork of conversations with Hong Kong-based organizers and improvisers Dennis 'Sin:Ned' Wong and Steve ‘Nerve’ Hui to address the differences in conditions and implications of livestreaming for improvising musicians/’noisicians’ in the Hong Kong experimental music scene. Questions that formed the basis for discussion in these conversations include: How does online gigging in the era of the Covid pandemic extend pre-existing activities of the Hong Kong improvised music communities? What are the social, aesthetic, and operational impact of the digital 'platforming' on their musical activities? What is the potential for these online tools to generate deep-rooted and longer-lasting connections either between musicians, and/or musicians and audiences/other scene actors?
This article is a reflection of a collaboration between musicians Anton Hunter and José Dias who, in April 2020, organised a free, biweekly improvisation streaming festival, which ran for three weeks, entitled The Noise Indoors (TNI). Devised as a way of encouraging musicians and fans to stay home by providing the chance to continue experiencing and celebrating improvised music during confinement, TNI gathered twenty-eight artists based in seventeen cities across Europe who filmed solo or duet performances in their homes. As TNI progressed, this festival became a platform for sharing each artist’s intimate music-making, as well as an opportunity for networking and community building. Using an eclectic mix of critical and dialogic writing styles (including field notes and text messages), they reflect on their experiences as researchers, musicians, and curators who organised and participated in TNI, and consider its wider implications.
Dans cette époque actuelle de pandémie de COVID-19, la musique et les musiciens ont été obligés à se réinventer pour continuer la pratique artistique, étant donné que les activités culturelles ont été interrompues ou reportées. L’espace de diffusion le plus utilisé a été celui offert par les nouvelles technologies, en particulier les réseaux sociaux, que les musiciens ont utilisé pour l’organisation de concerts et performances, en live ou enregistrés, afin de ne pas arrêter le flux de la création et de l’inventive musicale. À l’intérieur de ce triste contexte de nos jours, dans une ville du Sud de l’Italie, nous avons pu suivre les activités du Giannimondo. Il s’agit d’un projet crée par un jeune salernitain, Gianni Fiorito, qui a inventé un espace culturel virtuel sous-forme d’émission en livestreaming Instagram et Facebook. Les épisodes ont eu comme objectif de garder les gens à la maison depuis mars (début des restrictions du Gouvernement italien), essayant de proposer des contenus culturels intéressants. En particulier, une place de relief a été consacrée à la musique par l’invitation d’artistes afin de les faire exprimer à travers des entretiens et par des petites performances. L’événement le plus important organisé à l’intérieur du Giannimondo a été le concert du 1er Mai (2020), qui a vu huit heures de performances par trente jeunes artistes, en livestreaming. D’autres activités sont prévues pour accompagner les jeunes et les adultes dans le lent retour à la normalité.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, musicians—and the music industry—have been forced to reinvent themselves in order to continue the production and dissemination of art, as all cultural activities have been interrupted or postponed. To this end, the most popular spaces in which artists have broadcast their work have been made possible by new technologies. Social networks, in particular—which musicians have used to organize concerts and performances, both live and recorded—have allowed these artists to continue the flow of creativity and musical inventiveness. Within the context of the challenging first months of the pandemic, in a town in southern Italy, myself and others were able to find some respite by following the activities of Giannimondo. Created by a young Salernitan, Gianni Fiorito, this was a virtual cultural space in the form of a recurring Instagram and Facebook livestream show. The episodes, which offered interesting cultural content, were produced to encourage people to stay at home after Italian government restrictions began in March 2020. This series became a prominent, online space dedicated to showcasing artists expressing themselves through interviews and short performances. The most important event as part of Giannimondo was its May 1 concert, which saw eight hours of livestreamed performances by thirty young artists. This series is also committed to planning other activities to support both young people and adults in the slow return to post-pandemic normalcy.
The era of COVID-19 has profoundly shaken the foundations of our lives. Our event venues have closed; the support systems that we depend on for delivering works of art have all been shuttered. In response, musicians have turned to the digital world. While the digital world has become an important collaborative interface, I believe it is imperative to also explore the opposite direction—and take it outside! Even pre-COVID-19, it has been important to expand musical methodologies by connecting music creation systems with environmental sound practices in new ways. As recent developments in technology have opened up the possibilities of new types of environmentally based artistic engagement, artists of all kinds increasingly feel a profound need to participate in climate crisis activism through creative work.
Immersive participation is at the center of the fields of ecoacoustics, soundscape ecology, and related fields. These practices involve acts of listening and responding in participatory environmental engagement. Meanwhile, the field of critical improvisation has expanded from methodologies rooted in music and other arts to connect to a tapestry of multidisciplinary enquiries. I postulate that a shared fundamental human musical “task-scape” lies deep within the behavior systems of both improvised music and environmentally based sound practices. Both areas are constructed with methodologies for engaging with interactive dynamics of the unexpected, and both explore the profound phenomena between the observer and sound. In this article, I will illuminate how to bring these fields together in new ways by connecting pedagogies and practices within these arenas. Moreover, I will connect these to some of the more profound issues of our time through methodologies of improvised music and ecoacoustics to create new opportunities for performance and practice during and after COVID-19 as well as offer new types of research and artistic expression in regard to climate crisis.
While many of our colleagues are avidly baking and feeding their newly acquired sourdough starters while sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are conducting ethnographic work with individuals who have embraced the stylistics and aesthetics of improvisation in acts of caring for, listening to, baking with, and recording their sourdough starters, as well as performing alongside their bread-kin. Imagine, in some instances, the multispecies improvisational style of David Rothenberg’s co-performance with birds, whales, and insects (Rothenberg 2017; 2016; 2002; Ryan 2020), but with wild yeast and freshly baked bread. In this article we ask: What is it about the conditions of sheltering in place, quarantine, and domestic isolation that fosters an experimental space for reconfiguring multispecies improvisation and performance to include our foodways? Why has baking, specifically bread (and sourdough), rather than other forms of domestic activity and craft fostered this specific sonic response during these pandemic times? How are participants sharing, scrolling through, and listening to these domestic performances across social media? What does the sonic register of these multimodal texts communicate to other socially distancing social media users? Through ethnographic fieldwork of performing with, listening to, musicalizing, and caring for sourdough starters, their “screaming yeast” (Roosth 2009), and the baked result, this article places improvisation studies, domestic practices, multispecies performance, gastromusicology, and pandemic spatial conditions in dialogue to address these questions.
This review addresses the book 'Free Jazz Communism' (Rab Rab Press), a volume concerning a performance at the 1962 World Youth Festival in Helsinki by the Archie Shepp-Bill Dixon group. The book argues that this hitherto neglected event is a central moment for studies of the relation between jazz and politics during the Cold War Era, combining source texts, interviews, and polemical interventions to make its case. Our review fills in some of the details about the event, and Shepp's political activity during the early 1960s, which are not uncovered in the book. The first half of the review concentrates on our research into the festival, and the second half turns more closely to the book itself, as well as to Shepp's involvement with political causes during this time. Our intention is to use the book as an occasion to stage original research, as well as to analyse the contributions and shortcomings of the book itself.