Scope of this site


Definitively describing this music in a single precise term or expression is extremely difficult. After 30 years, there is still no descriptor that is universally accepted and understood. For example, many people still seem to automatically assume that free improvisation is free jazz, or at least "it must be" a branch of jazz, because jazz is the one form of music where improvisation is a recognised and acknowledged major part of the creative process. I think Derek Bailey started using the term 'non-idiomatic improvisation' in an attempt to recognise that free improvisation could exist on its own terms, without having to be associated with other forms, which, in any case, are intended primarily so that music can be readily pigeon-holed for selling and media purposes.

However, I have not used the term 'non-idiomatic improvisation' for this site, partly because it has not been widely adopted, but also because, in making references to the type of music represented here, the term 'free music' or 'free improvisation' does appear to denote a certain understanding of what is being discussed or about to be listened to. It seems to me that the most telling thing about the music is that - as one might expect after 30 years - no matter what it is called, it is easily recognised as soon as it is heard. But this fact should not be used to assume that over the 30 years free improvisation has fossilised through recognition: like all positive and creative art forms it is changing as experienced musicians find new forms of expression and as younger players are attracted to the genre. Also, certain elements that at one stage were the prerogative of the free improvisor have seeped into other musics, and free improvisors themselves have been invited to play in what might be considered more commercial situations on the one hand, and more 'noise' oriented on the other. Not to mention those musicians who do not see free improvising as their sole activity but who, nonetheless, are an essential part of it when they do. The position of composition, or improvisation within 'agreed' limits, is often seen as delicate, with some musicians included in this site eschewing all such pre-ordained activities, while others actively encourage this type of approach, some being involved in both. As a result, in this site there is a mix of some rock oriented players and material, industrial, noise, contemporary classical, and even a sprinkling of jazz-biased material. This is the way the music is going and the site is a reflection of these trends. But at it's core is free improvisation as practiced in Europe.

Of course, with the mixing of musical genres, one comment that is made is that there is really no distinction between the improvisation made in Europe and that in the rest of the world. Certainly European musicians are (regularly?) invited to tour the US where they can often play with their US counterparts. So free improvisation is being internationalised but I think these invitations to travel and play are also a recognition of the fact that what was started in Europe in the mid to late sixties was different from anything else that had been heard up to then. Also, that it was unique, even if certain elements of the style have later been 'adopted' by players from outside Europe. But, as far as I am concerned there is also raised the prosaic head of pragmatism. After 15 months of working on this site I am having difficulty keeping up with just the European aspect; to include a more comprehensive view outside of Europe would be impossible on the one hand and impractical on the other, living where I do and given that several others are covering the US scene. Some pointers are given in the list of links.

When I first began this work, in January 1995, I asked if there was a need for this Web site. At that time, no similar information appeared to have been gathered together in English (not even in book form). I think this is still the case and, thanks to all the people who have contributed, it does appear to be establishing itself as a unique reference source of information, many musicians and labels just not being represented anywhere else. I hope this will continue to be the case.

Finally, please note that this is NOT a commercial site. It is created out of a love of the music, the recognition of a need for an information service in this subject area, and the desire to act as a focus for this music on the Internet.

Peter Stubley; 16 May 1996.

p.stubley@shef.ac.uk


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