Fusion That Works (part 4)

9:14 pm Fusion, Improvisation, Music

Fusion music, whether improvised or composed should sound different enough from the original idioms that go into making it to the point where it can not be considered to be within any of the idioms. At the same time, it has to have discernible characteristics of all of the original idioms that it can be heard as fusion of those idioms.

Each participant has to be aware of the overall sonic result and her part in it. This requires attentive listening. While listening is always crucial in performance, it tends to be a more complex activity in the case of performing fusion. The reason is that when playing within an idiom that one is trained in, the performer’s experience makes it possible to anticipate the overall sound without much effort. One is simply familiar with the different combinations of the instruments involved and how to influence them. Additionally, the traditional aesthetic of the idiom tends to define the role of each instrument and solutions to musical problems arising in an ensemble situation. There is no traditional roles, and no traditional aesthetic to fall back on in the case of fusion. Fresh solutions to these problems have to be invented. In the case of improvised fusion, these solutions have to be arrived at in real time. Listening, is more crucial and more difficult in the case of fusion than when playing within any particular idiom.

To reduce the complexity of the listening activity, the previous post proposed educating one’s self on the other idioms and the other participants which helps in providing assumptions about what to expect from the other players and making initial decisions that allow the performance to start well.

However, for the performance to evolve well, each participant must be testing and revising those decisions. The example in the previous post proposed one possible revision: leading the other performers to the discovery of characteristics of one’s own tradition. This, assumes that the other players are listening attentively to what you are playing. A performer should also invite the other participants to lead him into discovering things about their idioms that he can use. To do that, he must demonstrate that he is listening. How does one do that? Here are two fairly easy ways: restyling and reinterpreting. Restyling is taking a line from the other idiom and playing it in a style within your own idiom. Re-interpreting it as a melody characteristic to your idiom. The idea is very common in music. The western reader will probably be familiar with examples such as Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain” or Charlie Parker’s “Charlie Parker with Strings”. While neither of these works can be considered fusion, the idea of restyling and reinterpreting is prominent in both works. In fusion the same melody can be taken from one player to the next, exchanged and elaborated upon, perhaps played simultaneously etc..

Another possibility is to play responses to a phrase in another idiom, in ones own idiom. One thing that is already old over used is simple imitation. I would avoid trying to imitate another player, unless I use the phrase being imitated to take the piece in a new direction. In addition to creating confidence between players that everyone is listening, restyling, reinterpreting and responding also create relationships within the piece between the different voices. One of the first remarks in this series of posts was how common it is for fusion to sound cold and disjointed. One of the ways to avoid that is to create relationships between the different voices. That is another benefit of these three practices (restyling, reinterpreting, responding).

These are some thoughts on fusion that came up in my experience doing it. I would be excited to hear your ideas on the topic.

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