Fusion That Works (Part 3)

2:34 pm Free Improv, Fusion, Music

In part 2 we saw how preconceptions about the music of the other triggered a series of decisions that eventually affected the sonic result of the fusion. Some of those decisions were sound. Others could have been better. In this post, I will try examine prior knowledge a little further and start the discussion of other decisions that need to precede a successful collaboration.

More on preconceptions

“Preconceptions” is not a neutral word. It implies prior knowledge that is not necessarily accurate, and the prefex “pre” somehow implies that the “post” might be different. Philosophically, one can argue that all knowledge is preconceptions waiting to be refined as we become more educated, isn’t that why universities never go out of business?

In my view, it is very important to know the musician(s) you are going to collaborate with and try to find out as much as you can about their idiom, the specifics such as their prior work and their influences, listen to recordings, and, if possible, educate yourself about the context and history of their idiom(s). Returning to the example in part 2, if none of the musicians knew about the music of the others, the decisions that helped in making it successful, time signature and modality, would not have been made. The performers would have spent a large part of the presentation discovering the parameters of the music of the other (which may be an interesting process in itself).

A note about free-improvisation: Brilliant musicians and thinkers in the free improvisation idiom question the necessity of prior knowledge and some go as far as seeing it as a possible handicap. There is merit to this thinking within the idiom of free improv. But free improvisation is an idiom in and of itself. It is not fusion. Considerations in the free-improv idiom are not necessarily applicable to other idioms, including fusion. Some are, of course, like the idea of listening to the other musicians and to the overall sonic result and making that an important factor in your musical decisions. But in the case of preconceptions and prior education, free improvisation is fundamentally different from fusion..

In addition to knowledge, the three other necessary components in a successful fusion type collaboration are: listening, being open minded to revise your assumptions and preconceptions, and intending from the beginning that the sonic result has to be a new music that is not within any of the original idioms, is not about any one performer’s ego, and is not possible to predict ahead of time. Those three components will be examined in part 4.

For today, I will end with a few words on ego. The great musicians that I had the pleasure to meet, and if I was lucky also study with, were always open-minded and well educated about the music of idioms outside their own. Perhaps the best lesson I have learned from them is that a confident musician is always open minded. Rumi’s words come to mind, that violence is the other side of impotence. Closed-mindedness, after all, is a form of intellectual violence.

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