Posts Tagged ‘Asima’

Should the concept of a standard musical performance be maintained, challenged, or removed entirely? Nearly everyone can close their eyes and imagine a concert of some variety – performers come, play a few songs which follow a specified setlist, and then the concert is over. The setlist is of course pre-determined and pre-written, and in many cases the audience is familiar with all or most of the songs performed. Improvisation offers a refreshing break from this standard. Some musical groups, such as Asima, may throw one improvised song into a concert to branch out – others, such as Disparate Bodies, rely predominantly on improvisation, using scores to define only structure.

Asima are a musical ensemble with a strong focus on vocals and percussion, though also featuring some pitch-oriented instruments. Many of their instruments were quite experimental, such as their use of a terra cotta pot as a drum. They also initiated the majority of their pieces with a small box creating a drone sound in the background, over which the entire piece was established.

Their performance, which featured mostly pre-arranged songs, did contain one improvisation. This improvisation was linked in quite clearly with the general sound which the audience had already come to associate with Asima – probably influenced by the musical timbres of the instrumentation available, as well as the band’s general tendency towards their own sound. Musical features of note were the presence of vocal dissonance (one was brought to wonder whether it was intentional, but it added quite a bit of tension to the piece and it can only be assumed that it was), some well-placed rests among the entire group, and the use of many notes which followed a different scale from the rest of the piece. Their method of communication was relatively standard, and it was often clear that the individuals were cueing each other through eye contact.

Eye contact, meanwhile, was not an option for the performance entitled ‘Disparate Bodies’. This performance was a collection of four pieces (sound studies) which placed far more emphasis on improvisation than Asima’s performance. ‘Disparate Bodies’ was a novelty of a performance – it was going on in three places (Northern Ireland, Germany, and Austria) and performers in all three locations were communicating via a network. The network turned out to be not only a medium for communication, but added so many factors to the piece that it arguably became an instrument in its own right.

The importance of improvisation varied between the pieces, yet was important to all four of them. A unifying theme of the entire performance was that of the restrictions set by the network. Network delays established subtle differences between timing cues. A very interesting factor was that the physical absence of many of the other performers removed the possibility for cueing through eye contact – meaning all communication had to be enacted either aurally (the most prevalent) or interactively (which was principal in part three, the synthesized piece being composed live through software). In the case of the first and last piece, however, ambiguous scores (resembling modern art) were followed which facilitated unity between the performers.

Overall, ‘Disparate Bodies’ was a very novel and interesting approach to a performance and made use of technology to an extent which would previously have been unimaginable to me. Where Asima made use of unusual instruments, Disparate Bodies took classical instruments and explored them in new ways over a new medium. While Disparate Bodies’ approach was the more cutting-edge of the two, these factors ended up defining the performances, with the music following them appropriately. Perhaps this is the future of music.

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