39 Rzewski

Little Bangs: A Nihilist Theory of Improvisation
Frederic Rzewski

Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938) is an American composer as well as a virtuoso pianist. He received degrees from both Harvard and Princeton where he studied with the likes of Milton Babbitt and Roger Sessions. He became interested in improvised music when he traveled to Italy (where he studied with Luigi Dallapiccola, oddly enough) and co-founded the performing ensemble Musica Elettronica Viva. This group viewed music as a collective and collaborative process and featured improvisation (often very free) and live electronic instruments.

This article basically sums up the difference between composition and improvisation, and throws in a description of improvisation in terms of political influence for good measure. When one of his friends was prompted to describe said difference in fifteen seconds, he replied: "In fifteen seconds, the difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to think about what to say in fifteen seconds, while in improvisation you have only fifteen seconds." Rzewski expounds upon this principle by saying that composition is the act of remembering long enough to write it down, while improvising is the act of forgetting and letting yourself forget. As these are both critical brain functions, he also argues that you cannot have one without the other - they are inseparably entwined. Another interesting point that he brought up: whereas composing is the act of getting rid of the "interruptions in life," improvising is allowing them to happen freely, and furthermore, believing that you wanted them to happen in the first place, or else people wouldn't improvise. He also explains that everyday "real" life doesn't have the ABA structure that so many classical compositions have. Instead it is random with not unknown causes to certain events, but no causes to said events. So, improvisation - especially in the form that Rzewski is dealing with it - has an ability to illuminate life for the very reason that it resembles it.

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