An Improvisation


I have been listening to Keith Jarrett. Something about the way the sound seems to flow from the strings to the hammers, the hammers to the keys, the keys to his fingers, his fingers through his body, his body to somewhere indefinable and back again. He improvises nearly all of his work. I wonder what type of energy it is that runs through his veins. Whatever it is, I want some. 

I have been thinking about improvisation in life, art, talk, thought, decision-making, movement. I think it’s the freedom or the openness that attracts me to it. I learn more and more (as if I didn’t already know) that I appreciate freedom. To me, improvisation is freedom, the freedom to think and play. I realize that the greatest, most influential and dangerous minds were free minds. Before publishing his findings on an anti-Ptolemaic universe, a young Galileo described watching a group of masons reinvent the process of lifting large granite blocks: in five minutes’ discussion, a method that had been used for centuries was abandoned for a more efficient system. Stopping to look at something and allow our instincts to choose for us is unusual in a world where everyone seems to have an answer.

I have been reading about Samuel Beckett. He wrote in French so that his work wouldn’t be unnecessarily clouded with linguistic flourishes and turns of phrase that would serve only to sacrifice clarity. He too seems to have listened to his gut. His characters are symbolic fractions of a human. Lucky is Pozzo’s critical mind and Didi is Gogo’s other half. He tried to find the skeleton of language.

I have been thinking about William Blake. I don’t even know his work very well, but I do know that he was a printmaker and a poet who used copper plates as his molds. He would complete intricate drawings and the text of poems with an acid-resistant chemical and then pour acid over the plate quickly revealing the positive space. It has been said he worked with God’s spirit moving through him. At any rate, he freed the print from the copper.

I have been thinking about acting. Even after the lines are learned, I wonder if there is a place where an actor can reach an optimal experience: one where it is like being half asleep and being unaware of anyone else around you. Climbing is the only time I have ever found such a focus. It is always improvised. There is no next move until you make it. And without focus, you fall and get hurt or die. How does the actor raise their stakes to such a level?

Keith Jarrett’s fingers are talking by themselves. His screams of elation at whatever it is that is pouring out of him are indicative that it is as new to him as to the audience. Like a happy Artaud, who crossed thresholds often with his instincts, Jarrett glides along in the world of his intuition.

Uninterrupted discussion is rare. We’d do good to find more time for reflection in our work because our work is, after all, about looking ahead.

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