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  • Jamie McCarthy

Some Reflections After Playing Music for a Dance Jam.

18th July 2013.


I played for the Moving East Contact Improvisation Jam last Saturday and thought I’d like to write a few words about how I approach that. I always really enjoy it and I get such an amazing response from the room. People say that I ‘hold the space’ well and that from the inside they can really feel a sense of being listened to and of the music being in a dialogue with them.

Don’t quite know where to start, so I’m going to do some bullet points of what comes into my head:


I listen.


I play.


I allow myself to not quite know what’s going to happen sometimes. (with stuff that I'm playing on the laptop).


I try to allow myself not to worry where things are leading or how long they will last for, but to really feel in the moment what's happening in the moment and allow that to dictate how things unfold and the resulting structure.


There are so many elements that come to play in this: what an instrument suggests to me, what I’m currently playing suggests to me, what’s happening in the room, perhaps a specific moment of interaction with one dancer that encourages development along a certain line that I wouldn’t otherwise have pursued.


I create architecture in sound in the space.


I ‘perfume’ the space.


I sometimes follow my own line.


I sometimes consciously choose one person or a duet to relate to. It seems that by relating to a specific person or couple it somehow establishes in the room a sense of interaction and this seems to catch to the whole of the room.


Is this simply because I’m attuning myself to what’s going on in the room through relating to a specific example of it, or is it because the sense of interaction is somehow more widely perceived by others in the room? I suspect a bit of both.


I relate in a very literal way: rhythm, phrasing, sense of energy when I do this.


At other times I make no attempt whatsoever to accommodate to what’s going on in the room: I follow a line of my own or I shift abruptly regardless of what’s happening in the room.


This isn’t quite true … I make the decision to do these things based on what’s happened before that moment.


Following my own line allows me to develop a new strand / new energy in the room and offer it … based on what has happened so far in the Jam.


There are also times when I make a conscious choice to make shifts / transitions in energy and aim to bring the dancers along with me: in these instances, rather than following what’s in the room in the dance, I actively try to shape things.


It seems very important that I have such a wide range of textures available to me: violin, voice, laptop, percussion. These different textures allow different qualities to be triggered in the dance. They also prevent fatigue with one colour.


Sometimes I establish a regular pulse or rhythm. This seems to bring a kind of release in people … a kind of release into group dynamic, rather than individuals pursuing their own line. There seems to be a joy in the group when clear rhythms become established for a while … it’s like the sound carries the group. The pulse / the rhythm seems to help people to by-pass thinking to some extent and become supported physically by the beat.


Sometimes I establish a sense of rhythmic repetition but not a stable sense of pulse (through phasing … micro-poly-rhythms). This does something slightly different. I’m not quite sure what. It’s more about a texture that has a larger sense of rhythm t it through repetition.


The voice seems to bring a strong emotional element to things.


When I sing in a really open-throated loud style it seems to bring an incredible sense of release and openness into people’s dancing.


I used to find the three hours quite daunting and a long time to play … now it seems to disappear in no time. Perhaps this is because I’m used to the format or perhaps it’s because I’ve done incredibly long performances of my own piece Stilled so my sense of timescale has changed somewhat.


Sometimes I use chord progressions (but generally don’t).


Sometimes I make something like a traditional song structure.


I often like to play in ways that combine and change metre frequently (on a bar-to-bar basis).


I often stay with one atmosphere and investigate it for twenty, maybe thirty minutes and go more and more deeply into it.


There seems to be a regular (although not always predictable) rhythm of coming and going / building-up and letting go.


Sometimes I like to break this up with sudden unpredictable changes.

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