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24. Jun. 2016

Colloquium: Breath Turns Improvisation and Freedom

In the lead up to the 2016 edition of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Coastal Jazz asked various members of the jazz "family" to share their thoughts about artists who will perform at the festival. Today, Kevin McNeilly, UBC professor creative music stalward, and colloquium coordinator, talks about the upcoming free Colloquium at Robson Square, June 25 & 26.

We all improvise. We make hundreds of different in-the-moment decisions about what to do, what to say, where to move and how to live as we go through our normal days. Improvisation may be, as George E. Lewis notes, “a ubiquitous aspect of everyday life,” but it’s also – as he points out in his lecture – a potentially vital mode of understanding ourselves in our world.

Improvised music, dance, poetry, theatre and art offer us important and compelling ways to re-think how we interrelate as social beings, and to participate keenly and energetically, both as listeners and as performers, in our shared humanity.

The critic Whitney Bailliett once defined jazz as “the sound of surprise.” This quality of live and unexpected intensity is what the improvising artist often pursues, but it’s also in many respects the complete opposite of “the everyday” or of the banal. Improvisation, as a mode of knowing and as an artistic practice, seems to inhabit a tension between the unexpected and the habitual, between unknowing and the known. The International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) began in 2013 as an academic research group, involving more than eighty scholars and artists from around the world, to study the social and cultural implications of this tension; it emerged from work done to define the field of Critical Studies in Improvisation by a federally-funded research initiative called Improvisation, Community and Social Practice. One of the big questions many of these researchers pursued, and continue to pursue, is to ask how improvised social and artistic work can produce and can enable new, vital and exciting forms of human community. How does improvisation make possible better ways of living together?

Breathturns: Improvisation and Freedom, which takes place at UBC Robson Square this year during the opening weekend (June 25 and 26) of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, will be the eighth annual colloquium on improvisation supported by Coastal Jazz and by IICSI. Two days of presentations and talks by leading scholars, students, artists and members of the community will be free of charge and open to the general public. This year, the colloquium will focus on the relationships between improvisation and freedom. How do improvisational practices in the arts challenge our limits? How do liberation and spontaneity intersect? How do collective actions and communities negotiate with individualities?  Two keynote speakers, the highly respected improvisers Evan Parker and Georg Graewe, will reflect on their own relationships to artistic and social freedom. Musicians and performing artists—including Ayelet Rose Gottleib, Rup Sidhu, Kiran Bhumber and Tommy Babin—will give cutting-edge and exploratory discussions and demonstrations of their on-going work. This gathering of voices and perspectives promises to be of ear-opening, vital interest.

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