Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Outer- and Inner-Directed Forms of Improvisation

Since my last recording,  I've come to realize that I rely heavily on two distinct forms of improvisation: outer-directed and inner-directed. Outer-directed improvisations are those heavily influenced by the musical values of those with whom we're playing. Simply put, our improvisations are shaped by external influences. Whereas with inner-directed improvisation our musical ideas are direct results of our own musical values and thoughts. Our improvisations are shaped by few if any external influences. This is very common with solo performances; this is also one of the reasons why playing solo is so difficult. 

Jazz by its very construct is an other-directed improvisational process. Being the communal art form that it is, what we create is heavily influenced by those around us, whether it be a rhythm section player, another horn player, or a singer that we are accompanying. Our ideas are often reciprocations of their musical influence. This is the norm in jazz--which is why we are very careful about who we choose to hire or even accept gigs with.

Inner-directed improvisation, like many of the pieces on Sopranoville, is a different creative animal. The improvisational reciprocations are to my own prerecorded musical ideas, which were composed in real time. This is one of the reasons I've likened my inner-directed form of improvisation to the self-appropriated portraits of Frida Khalo. She, too, found inner-direction to be the mode of choice.

Inner-directed improvisation certainly has its pros and cons.

  • It's easier to obtain musical clarity.
  • Having sonic uniformity is less challenging.
  • There's more textural uniformity.
  • Performers have more aesthetical control of the music.

  • Music can lack variety.
  • Music can become too predictable.
  • Music can become emotionally leveling.

Now, the same can be said for outer-directed improvisation.

  • There are more musical ideas to be influenced by.
  • There is more musical synergy between the performers.
  • Performers have to work less hard to stay inspired.

  • Sometimes you cannot control the direction of the music.
  • Too many musical influences can create less clarity.
  • Having the correct assemblage of performers is a must.

I would not say that one approach is better than the other. But outer-directed improvisation certainly is less limiting, which is why it's probably more commonplace. But then again, inner-directed improvisation might allow you to arrive at music that sounds original. It forces you to go more deep into yourself. When it's just you, you have no choice. My advice:  Give them both a try. Weave in and out of them as you venture down your artistic journey. 

And check out the most recent review of Sopranoville by Raul da Gama

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