Marginal Consort--setting of the scene for collective improvisation
A form of sound that does not turn into music and a group that does not produce harmony; individual concepts and group fluidity; individuals who are at once independent entities and components of the whole; coexisting time frames and intersecting rhythms--these are among the images of group improvisation that have occupied my mind since the '70s. These images neither presuppose specific elements nor regulate the entire process. There always remain, however, the fundamental premises that sounds are separately produced phenomena and that their accumulation forms the whole.
In the period when I was thinking about individuals with originality, I learned that my old colleagues had (strangely enough) been working in somewhat diverse fields. How had their respective outlooks been shaped by the intervening 20 years? Each of these artists had continued to proceed from the same premise--that of eschewing musical and instrumental improvisation styles and starting with sound itself. I decided to ask them to join my project.
The participants place themselves far apart in order to clarify their respective methods and enlarge their performance areas. This called for a big space with a flat floor.
When people think of improvisation, which is made up of sounds, they think of playing music. But the activity that takes place here is not limited to playing. There are sounds, for instance, that result from certain actions, and actions that do not have sound production as their object. Furthermore, the sound production is not something directed towards other people; rather, it is the activity of listening and discovery on the part of the performers themselves.
Many people have been talking about listening in relation to sound and silence. If we take the position that this kind of listening involves much more than just the sense of hearing, we find that a wide variety of sounds come into view. Sounds go beyond the range of audibility and stimulate the human body. Listening (?) is not done with the ears alone. (Although the ears are open to sounds coming from all directions, the brain takes in only a limited amount of information. What is doing the selecting?) External stimuli are not restricted to specific organs; they are perceived by all of the sense organs (although certain organs predominate, no doubt, according to the nature of the stimulus). Thus, all stimuli are of equal value.
Individual speakers are placed next to each participant to accentuate the respective positions of and the differences between the performers. The main amp volume is fixed in order to equalize the maximum volume of all of the speakers. Then each performer, using his own mixer, adjusts his volume level as he sees fit. Thus, individual volume levels vary, but this poses no problem. In addition, the PA that puts everything together is either turned down as low as possible or turned off, to make clear the position of each performer.
The type of improvised music that originated in the '60s encompasses numerous styles and characteristics. One of these is improvisation liberated from instrumental language, which probably developed because the emergence of post-"cartridge music" live electronics, in particular amplification, made it possible to produce a wide array of sounds through easy manual operations. Marginal Consort is among the projects heavily influenced by this development; and yet it incorporates both electronic amplification and non-electronic elements in its highly physical performances.
The progression of actions, with their respective durations, does not always give rise to a common time frame. Some participants start sooner; others stop sooner. This is why we establish a time frame in advance.
Sounds generated by individual actions form and transform through repetition. Interference among members within the transformation leads to further transformation. These processes take time. And in the entire performance there may be only five minutes of beautiful time.
Marginal Consort was first held on October 18, 1997, from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m., at Asahi Art Square in Asakusa, Tokyo. (Parts of this performance are documented on PSFD-104 [CD; P.S.F. Records]).
Marginal Consort has taken place each year since. The performance time, for reasons having to do with the venue, was changed to three hours, but the length of these performances (from 2003 and 2004) was set at 140 minutes to fit the 2-CD format. Due to the special character of Marginal Consort, sound is heard differently from different places in the venue. For that reason, the performances were recorded with a one-point mike in a fixed position. I recommend experiencing Marginal Consort live at the venue.
October 1, 2006
(Translation by Cathy Fishman)