Improvisation as a Practice

This is a voice
These are the hands
This is technology
Mixed with the band

Grace Jones “This Is” from the album Hurricane, 2008

Composer, jazz musician, linguist and philosopher Jacques Coursil described the practice of musical improvisation as an event of time suspension, one which invites us to create a non-linear relationship with temporality.[1] In the synchronous point of simultaneous listening and uttering sounds, the present unfolds itself as a radical novelty. The very experience of music is challenging the division between past, present, and future. An improviser is described as a musician who opted for the field of non-premeditated events. As such, improvisation appears to be a practice requiring a special modality of awareness and being present, opening the space for exchange and dialogue. 

We warmly invite you to a series of experimental sonic performances, grounded in improvisation as a method. It will bring together sound artists, musicians, DJs, and music producers based in Berlin to propose formats of musical -exchanges, in order to emphasize the (pre)formal, quotidian, and social dimensions of creation as shared within sonic communities.

We feel an urgency to prepare, generate, and sustain common spaces for sonic articulations which foreground the experiences of non-normative, diasporic, and systemically peripheral communities in order to engage with alternative, hospitable, and accessible ways of making music and of listening.

Each performative action and its making process will be documented and aired on the radio platform of SAVVYZΛΛR, preceded by an interview hosted on Refuge Worldwide Community Radio. For each session, we look closely into our immediate surroundings to trace histories, memories and movements in the dynamic relationships between diverse communities of Berlin, specifically our neighbourhood of Wedding. Within this project we pose the questions of how deeply and closely we can listen to the voices of the neighbourhood, which holds long histories of violence and resistance, and which is currently undergoing accelerating gentrifying processes. 

The series focuses on improvisational aspects of music-making as a response and invitation to reflect on the performer-public separation in practice. It draws upon the fundamental roles play and sociality yield in creative processes, and pays attention to what precedes and follows the act of the public performance. This approach allows us to honour and interact with different sonic competences, identities, embodied musical archives, and ancestral traditions, departing from the experience with memories both our own and of others, in mutual activation. As such, improvisation is a practice of sensing others and responding to the over- and undercurrents of corporeal and technological calls of the body and bodies of instruments. By emphasizing the preliminary and preparatory elements of sonic practice such as rehearsal and improvisation, we aim to challenge the dichotomy between private and public, in which private preparations and rehearsals are often unseen, unheard pathways to the public performance. Emphasizing processual characteristics of music-making, we will open a space for shared experimentation with the formats of sonic walks and jamming sessions in order to surpass sonic engagements beyond formats of music industry and division between private and public performance.

Preparatory Scores and Codes of Conduction

Improvisational practice, which involves encounters with others or the self, creates an awareness that we come together in spaces differently prepared – with varied experiences, systems of knowledge, abilities, traditions, and ways of being present with each other. It means that during an act of improvisation we might “step on each other's feet” until we tune in and out in order to better connect with each other’s rhythms. It is a method of practicing how we better listen and learn in relation to experiences not of our own, to be present to absorb and transmit joined urgencies with and for each other. 

Being present is not a passive act but labour. It means actively shaping space and deciding how to inhabit it with others. The audience is not less active than a performer.[2] We ask the contributing artists to propose codes of conduction and preparatory scores as a reflection on the process. The initial conversation with the audience and the public will serve as an invitation to propose an experimental formula of sonic engagement, which can be repeated and shared in simple form as a set of scores. The sessions at SAVVY will be an occasion to experiment – a first rehearsal of the proposed method. The documentation will allow distribution and circulation beyond the scope of the project. 

The project focuses on developing methodologies to be shared via radio in collaboration with Berlin based community radio Refuge Worldwide and joining with SAVVYZΛΛR. Documentation serves as a form of mediation between artist, audiences and neighbourhood, thus it will take an artistic form of an experimental score and radio session. This format will allow audiences outside of Berlin to rehearse and develop further the method and through sonic exercise question the notions of near and far.


Improvisation as a Practice: a Conceptual Framework

Sylvia Wynter, in her essay of 1977, “We Know Where We Come From: The Politics of Black Culture from Myal to Marley”, underlines the importance of questioning the linear concept of time and space for constituting the identity of the non-normative community of Rastafarians. She notices that the structure of a reggae song has neither a clear beginning nor a clear ending, thus inviting an immediate experience of “another world”. This untimely presence is celebrated as constituting oneself outside of the norm of oppressive social structure, at the very moment of an aesthetic experience. Moreover it allows the experience of “transportation” to another place: “Far becomes near.” [3]

Musical improvisation and aesthetic experience challenge the normativity of linear progression within social and musical forms. It enables awareness for the simultaneity of existence, for different ways of living, of inhabiting the present. The project is a calling to preserve coexistence, to prevent its divisive threats, and to invoke a common present, a common presence, which is neither postponed to the future nor relegated to the past. 

To celebrate in a world shaken by violence is untimely. Exactly because of that, time suspension is a gift of joy, capable of building bridges. To recall Audre Lorde’s words: “The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” [4]


Jacques Coursil, “Improvisation is a Practice: The Hidden Principles of Improvisation” in: I Will Draw a Map of What You Never See: Endeavours in Rhythmanalysis, edited by Elena Agudio, Anna Jäger, Saskia Köbschall, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Berlin: Archive Books, 2019.


Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator [Le Spectateur émancipé], trans. G. Elliott, Verso, London 2009, 1-25.


Grace Jones “This Is”, from the album Hurricane, 2008.


Audre Lorde, Uses of The Erotic: The Erotic as Power, Out & Out Books, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1978.