Reflexions on computer improvisation

[Initially posted on the forumhub forum, in times where social media were mainly passionate forums]

Subject: Re:[forumhub] pause
From: Antoine Schmitt
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 00

Hello,
I react for the first time in this forum, because I feel concerned by the improvisation issue.
I am more a “visual artist” than a musician, but my work deals about autonomous programmed objects, which I sometimes call “artificial creatures”. These objects are in general visual, but last year I started working on audio objects.
I work on the shape of the relationship that takes place between the public and the autonomy of these objects. Which led me to consider the notion of improvisation, in which a relationship also takes place between the improviser and a public. I developed a few reflections on the subject, especially about the improvisation as it is experienced by the public.

Here are two of these reflections, which have some relationship with the current discussion:
1) the fundamental dimension of improvisation seems to me to be the freedom of the improvisator. The improvisator does not follow a pre-written path, but invents his own path, here and now, in a given context (a style of music, an instrument, other types of rules,…). This seems to be true for any kind of improvisation (dance, literature, etc…) And the pleasure of the public relative to the improvisation in itself can be expressed in this phrase: “I am listening to someone who is exercising his freedom here and now “.

As a hint: if the spectators *knew* that “it is written”, it would change their relationship to the musician: it would become a relationship to the music, or to the composer. And I think that the pleasure of the listening to improvisation comes mainly from the identification to the performer, who is exercising her freedom in front of us.

2) The improvisator must be able to identify herself to the public. That is, in the case of music: she must hear herself. I don’t know any human situation where this happens, but with computers, this is the usual case: a computer which generates music does not usually hear itself. And in this case, I don’t think that one can say that the computer improvises, it “freely” generates music, but does not improvise. This makes me think that the “gift” aspect is very important: the performer gives and the public knows it. Once again, if the public *knew* that the performer does not hear himself, they would just not care.

This makes me make the link between improvisation and tragedy. Tragedy is when people are struggling against powers more powerful than them (in improvisation: the rules). But in our environment, tragedy is either a written form (theatre, etc..), either real life (which can be difficult sometimes). And improvisation is one of the rare occasions where we have at the same time a “performance” and a real tragedy. Somewhere at the crossing of fiction and reality. Could improvisation be “a small tragedy lived before us by someone, who gives us this slice of her life” ?