When I was 16 I went to a concert of F. Vattel Cherry from New York. The concert took place in the familiar atmosphere of an art centre in the Austrian mountains. It was the first time that I listened to free improvisation. This concert created a permanent impression and I think it was the starting point of my preoccupation with improvisation.
After finishing my art education, I founded, together with three colleagues, the formation tiefe Töne. There was Martin Tiefenthaler, a graphic designer and David Ender, an author who played saxophones, Felix Friedman, a photographer playing a didgeridoo, and me with my cello. We played solely improvised music. Among the concerts that we were invited to play for was the opening of a Dojo, a meditation hall. The Austrian Green Party, who also invited us for a rally, later cancelled as they were unsure whether our music was able to promote what they were trying to convey.
For a few years we met once a week to play music and I think we all learned a lot. We made a habit of playing long tracks, which took around 40 or 50 minutes to play. I really enjoyed the creativity of on the spot composing, which combined communication of emotion and instrumental technique, as well as the spontaneous responding to the other musicians. Improvisation for me means to steadily scan my environment with all my senses in order to be able to react. This monitoring was a movement or awareness in as many directions as possible.
Sometimes I got lost in a phrase or a rhythm, sometimes I got stuck on one single note. I do not know, how, when and why this state of confusion started but in any case I was not, at various points, able to interact any longer with the others. I lost orientation and became insecure, losing contact with my surroundings. My monitoring had no direction and the duration of this state was infinite. It was a loss of control and I became lightheaded. We had one rule that we had set up though; when you get lost, you had to play this phrase or this rhythm as long as possible, until you don’t know any longer what you are playing. Sometimes the others included your parts in their sound and together we transformed it. Very often these parts of our pieces were the most intense. Here we discovered the rare possibility of how to create new sounds. But very often we failed and the track came to an instant end.
For our project Dizziness–A Resource we met Marek Wyszynski in New York at the Moshe-Feldenkrais-Institute where Wyszynski is based. He spoke about the lack of familiar orientation in space, or light-headedness, in relation to the sensations that students often experience after the Feldenkrais lessons. Feldenkrais practitioners use instability to provoke reorganisation; the brain must leave its habitual norm and learn to adjust to unusual inputs and then regain stability. The brain always needs to figure out how to move, in spite of the body’s precarious situation. The corporeal instability used in Feldenkrais sessions relates to novelty, as the nervous system is stimulated by new information which produces a reorganising effect and a different state of awareness. This is an unknown territory for the brain. It creates a certain level of anxiety, but it is a necessary ingredient for a change from habitual (and self-limiting) organisation to a new and possibly better state.
When I learnt about Marek Wyszynski’s ideas I immediately thought of tiefe Töne and my experience with improvisation. I might better understand that which we tried to reach with our rule to insist on a phrase, a rhythm or a single note when we consider that this loss of control and instability can be the starting point of a process of transformation. We don’t know or can only imagine that we know what is on the other side of that transformation.