S. Szczelkun, Improvisation Rites
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Improvisation Rites: from John Cage's Song Books to The Scratch Orchestra's Nature Study Notes (2018) by Stefan Szczelkun. https://archive.org/details/NatureStudyNotesEpub18

Licensed with CC BY-NC and you can also pay to the author here: https://payhip.com/b/LsSP

What is written

In short, the book describes three projects:

In the two first cases, the group consisted of some former members of Scratch Orchestra and invited performers gathered together for four performances in London (e.g. in Cafe Oto). Further workshops were conducted by Carol Finer and Stefan Szczelkun (SO members themselves) in Athens, during Documenta 14).

The whole first half or so of the book does not reveal a lot about the author. Instead of an opinionated narration we are offered different materials like meeting minutes, e-mails, reviews, and other factographic sources. Observations show up in a dispersed way and come from different participants. This part provides a rare insight into the process of preparing the performance within the context of experimental music, what considerations are made and what effects are sought after.

A shift towards more general remarks on music and performance occurs in Chapter 3 "Archive and Evaluate" which is a transcription of a discussion summarizing earlier experiences of the performing group. Many quotes from this section will serve to enrich biographical information on the creators of improvisation rites.

What is said

From this point on there are insights into social and artistic function of instructional scores as envisioned by their proponents. For the reader interested in music games it may serve as an inspiration to compare the two forms and appreciate their potential. As the book is about performing both Cage and Cardew, their work is also compared. One conclusion is especially interesting from the game design point of view (p. 134):

In simplistic summary Cage was into chance whereas Cardew was into choice.

The chance vs choice question is well-known for both game scholars and designers. Modern practice is to look for a perfect balance between the two. The extremes of pure chance or full choice are considered good options only for niche players (e.g. children, gamblers, futurists, historians…). For broader groups of players, a random game will be boring and a very open game will be overwhelming. It might be useful to consider this dichotomy as chance vs skill as it's treated in Caillois typology, which also ties in to the next topic.

Second point of interest is target audience of Improvisation Rites. Here, Stefan Szczelkun presents hopes that it could become a (more) common practice and be influential towards the overall change of culture. It's again hard to make comparisons without clear definitions of "music games" and "improvisation rites" (are they actually separate things?), but most of improvisation rites that so far had been created are poetic and subtle, and the success of the typical improvisation rite depends on specific skills of their performers, like interpretation ability, social openness, motivation towards creativity. Contrary to that, music games tend to a more clear and guided experience and such an approach might be useful if we'd like to reach really broad circles with our instructional musical score.

Finally, another topical overlap between the book and our wiki is about the very playfulness of Improvisation Rites, and what it means. This is less directly covered in the text, although it runs through it, and from our perspective might be related to Huizinga's Homo Ludens. That classic book provides a pioneer definition of play, and specifically demands that play should be something separated from ordinary life (feature exemplified by a "magic circle", the term later adapted as general reference for such social contracts). This topic was further developed by Caillois who analyzed the paradoxical situation of gamblers and athletes. We may sum up the central matter as a question:
Can you have a "professional concert" of Improvisation Rites and stay true to them?
The book shows that the same consideration might be given to some pieces of John Cage. You will not find a definite answer neither here nor in Improvistation Rites […], but if you are interested in this topic, Stefan Szczelkun's work will give you food for thought.


New Improvisation Rites

During the events some new improvisation rites were added to the original set (which was indeed intended as extendable). It's not actually clear if this addition should be treated as "no rights reserved" following the source material, Creative Commons license (like the book) or other usage rights should be applied.


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