Posts Tagged ‘Kanye West’

The last concert that I attended involving improvisation was believe or not, the Kanye West concert in Belfast. Of course this was a concert with a planned set-list and during most of the night most of the artists involved were playing their set piece on their respective instruments. But there were a number of factors that were quite interesting in the way of improvisation.

The most obvious account for improvisation was during a song called ‘Good Life’. After hearing the piece basically as you would have on the track itself, each artist was allowed to express him or herself individually for around a minute each. The band was made up of: singer/showman/rapper (Kanye West), two backing singers, two rappers, string quartet, bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, and a DJ.

When the original version of the song was played each performer kept playing his or her own parts as for a normal verse whilst each musician took over for a solo part. Although each performer may have had a set amount of bars to express within, and each played separately, there was a definite sense that each performer was playing from the heart and had not planned their piece.

Another presence of improvisation during this concert was the performance of a rapper called GLC. After being introduced by the main performer as being a ‘freestyle’ artist, he began to rap over the next song being played. Basically this artist began to rap in time with the song but without any planning of what he was going to do or say. He did so throughout the whole song apart from the chorus, where he was given a break.

Occasionally throughout the concert itself he would throw in his own elements to the song, which are not present in recording. This would have been in the form of short phrases, full lines or even a verse completely improvised on the spot.

Another occurrence of improvisation during the concert was the scratch DJ playing. During all the songs that were performed he would add ‘scratching’ to each. This is pulling a record back and forth over a ‘cut’ of a song to produce a scratch-like sound. It is clear that this was improvisational as scratching is not something which is normally planned.

The final, less significant aspect of the concert that involved improvisation, was the main performer’s crowd interaction. This may have been in the form of an instruction given to the audience, such as ‘put your hands up’ or an action to signify the same thing. Although it is clear that improvisation was not the strongest focus of the event it certainly had a great presence and added something special to the night.

Another event, which I attended was Olaf Rupp’s performance in the SARC building in Queen’s. This was one of the most interesting and odd musical events I have ever been to see. The performer only need one mode through which to express himself and that was through his guitar (which was a nylon string guitar producing a beautiful sound).

During this piece it seems that Olaf was really trying to explore how unusual a sound can be produced from a single guitar. It seemed that everything that he was doing was centred on being different from anyone or anything else. From the sudden change of moods to the variety of playing techniques used, this piece was certainly original.

Most of the piece was quite frantic with quick plucking of notes and extremely quick vibratos. But there was great contrast between these types of sections with slower, sparser sections, which made the piece feel a lot more improvised as some of these changes did not sound very smooth.

His technical ability was nothing but fantastic, which he portrayed trough his wide range of playing techniques, such as: tremolo, bending, sliding along the fret board and most interestingly, his use of the guitar as a percussive instrument. He tapped the body of the guitar and also tapped strings to create different sounds from them.

The piece did not seem to have a specific structure, nor a very good one in my own opinion. It simply moved from moods as such using some ideas that he would go back to in order to keep interest. He had a few scales or tones that he would return to (maybe in order to give him time to think what to do next!), again showing how improvised the piece was.

The feeling he would put into everything he played as beautiful and this, I feel, is an important aspect of improvising while playing music. How the performer feels at the moment of performance has a great impact on how notes, chords or musically ornaments sound to the audience. This is what makes the piece truly different from anything else.

There is clearly a great contrast in the two events I witnessed. But the reason I chose to talk about each was because although they are completely different, both pieces involve improvisation. Olaf Rupp’s performance was a completely improvised piece where as Kanye West’s concert had a planned set of events. This shows us that in every musical event we go to see there is some degree of improvisation, be it structure, melody or even the feeling expressed through a certain instrument, which differentiates it from any other playing of the same piece.

Improvisation does not have a threshold so no performance will ever be the same as any other!

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