Improvisation is not free!

The better you become at “improvising” the more you realize there is no such thing as “free improvisation”. Since music is a form of communication the best improvisations are those where the player succeeds in applying gestures that draw on rules known to the listener. Such gestures and rules can be timbre, direction in movement or plain music harmony theory.

I am especially excited by multi lateral improvisation, as I call it when a player improvises many musical parts at the same time – as opposed to simply improvising a melody over a given background. In this performance I use live looping, which means I record phrases I play and then keep changing those recordings while playing an additional part. So there is no “lead” and no “background” part of this improvisation. I do not play melodies and improvise chords to back melody up, nor do I play chords and improvise melodies that fit in. I invent all parts of the music at once. This is not “free improvisation” because in order to sound like some sort of music, although weird, everything has to relate to some common ground. The common ground in this particular performance is parallel transposition of minor chords. In this case using only the tonica, first, second fourth and sixth position transposition diminishes the palette further and creates a musical universe where almost anything can be played and still turn out harmonic.

The looping technique used here is to start out by playing an instrument and recording it as a very long loop. Careful to initially play only notes that will work harmonically even if transposed (thinking not only about actual sound here but also about what scales any given future transposition of the recorded loop may imply). So as lungs go empty of air I close the loop and it starts repeating. Now I use foot pedals to shift speed/pitch of this long loop into different intervals while I play along. Manipulating transposition of the recorded loop is one orchestral element and my live instrument is a second – both elements are parts of the same improvisation. This is a simple technical praxis of what I call multi lateral improvisation. If transposing a musical part in minor you get totally different harmonic scale options for your playing compared to transposing a musical part in major. It can easily become too complex to sound interesting so the challenge is, in my opinion, to find themes and refine them.

Composers use similar theoretical rules to create scores, but to me in this moment of time it is more fun to work out techniques that allow you to do it all at once in sound!

Since publishing I have received some questions on what software were used in this performance, so here we go: Mainstage by Apple is the “effect rack”, “mixer” and “patchbay”. Inside Mainstage I am running the AU plugin version of the looper Mobius. As soon as the first loop is recorded Mobius calculates the musical tempo I am playing in and sends out MIDI Clock which Mainstage adapts its tempo to. This makes tempo dependent effects follow my playing/live looping. Maybe I should also mention that the video doesn’t cover the extensive foot work done to simultaneously play Mobius from a Behringer FCB1010 MIDI pedal board. There are almost as many looping commands happening as there are notes played in this performance.

The audio sensitive live graphics are simply the iTunes Visualizer

The Chapman Stick totally rocks!!!

playing the Chapman StickI’m learning a new music instrument here, The Chapman Stick. It’s so fun because on the stick you can play both bass, comping chords and melody lines at the same time. The instrument has twelve strings divided into two groups of six and each group has its own set of electro magnetic pickups and output.

The Stick was invented by musician Emmet Chapman in the late sixties to be used by himself as his “custom instrument”. However, many folks that heard him play also wanted sticks so Emmet started manufacturing in -74. I feel honored having an instrument actually built by the inventor. Thank you, Emmet!

Here’s where you can read more about The Chapman Stick.

Epilogue: Below is a quick video I recorded as a freshman on the Stick. I will soon upload something more exciting, as I’m slowly rewiring brain to improve its skills as the conductor of the “two independent hands” orchestra.

How to sync plugins to Mobius looper in Bidule

Bidule is one of the most configurable plug-in hosts for setting up your own custom effect and live looping laptop rig. In this example we’re using the software looper Mobius. Here’s how you make all your plugins take on the tempo you create by the first loop you make:

Detailed walk-through:

1. Set Mobius to “Sync = Out” (“Configurations / Presets / Synchronization”).

2. Set Mobius to “Plugin Output Devices = IAC Driver IAC Bus 1” (“Configurations/MIDI Device Selection”. The IAC bus only applies if using OS X. If using Windows you have to download and install MIDI Yoke in order to be able to send MIDI through the system, between applications and plug-ins). 3. In Bidule, open the IAC Bus (as “MIDI Device”).

4. In Bidule, toss in a “MIDI Clock To Sync” bidule and cable it to the IAC Bus device.

5. In Bidule, right-click all tempo dependent plug-ins and chose this “MIDI Clock To Sync” bidule under “Sync To”.

I also think it’s cool to set Mobius maximal respectively minimum tempo to a BPM span I like playing in. This prevents ending up with a way to fast tempo if starting out a session by creating an extremely short first loop (for glitchy stuff) or with a boring slow tempo if starting out with a very long first loop.

Link to Mobius.
It’s a free download. On this site there is also a discussion forum, a manual and a scripting documentation.

I have posted similar walk-throughs for hosting Mobius in Mainstage and Logic at my Picture Album Area at the Mobius Forum (requires forum membership registration to keep bad spam out).

And there is more on Bidule:

I would appreciate if people post questions here or at the fora (above), rather than contacting me directly. I have no chance to help everyone individually and if I should try to do that no one else would benefit from it. So please let’s be friends at the fora, share the goodies and spread them to everyone!

Florence Live Looping jam # 1+2+3

This is the first improvised session, from the “Anteprima” of the “First International Live Looping Festival – in Rome”, that took place on the 6th june 2009
This recording was taken in Florence on the 3th june 2009, at the “Anfiteatro dell’Anconella”.

Rick Walker (USA)
Per Boysen (SE)
Fabio Anile (IT)
Sjaak Overgaauw (BE)
Koan Loop Ensemble (IT) (Massimo Liverani, Massimo Fantoni, Claudio Canaccini, Fabio Capanni, Fabrizio Orrigo)

Florence Concert – listen here!

firenze2The three clips below were recorded on June 3 2009 at the International Live Looping Festival of Florence. After the festival night we gathered all artists on stage and played a jam session together. The moon was full and sixty people were sitting in the purple neon lined open-air amphitheatre listening to these sounds. For a Scandinavian like me it was nice to be out at night in a park and not being attacked by mosquitos. Anyway, sound files are streamed from Fabio Anile’s podcast.


The musicians you hear playing on this recording are Rick Walker (Found Sound, Percussion), Per Boysen (EWI), Sjaak Overgauuw (Piano, Synth), Fabio Anile (Piano, Synth, Drum Loops). And then there were all the Koan Loop Ensemble members: Massimo Liverani (Theremin, Air-synth, Air-fx), Marco Canaccini (Percussion), Massimo Fantoni (Laptop, Drum Loops, Samples), Fabrizio Arrigo (Piano), Fabio Capanni (Electric Guitar).

Video clip from my Rome concert

I just got this video from Milco who was filming my gig at Dimmidisi Club on june 6. It was a lovely evening with quite a big audience and many exciting performers. Isn’t it wonderful that today’s music gear in a laptop lets you create this massive music with just one flute! No pre recording – just you and your instrument, instantly composing as you go and arranging on-the-fly with livelooping techniques. I-just-love-it! :-)

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Sounds and pictures from Blekinge Jazz & World Music 2009

Workshop: live looping

Live Looping workshops all week long

Fifty people got together for a week during the Swedish summer to improve in music. I was one of seven teachers and my focus at the camp was live looping. On the first day students were organized into six ensembles as to provide a varied instrumentation within each group. I did one mandatory live looping workshop with each ensemble plus a couple of opt-in open classes. Click the player below and listen to this five minute medley what exciting music the students came up with!
[audio:|titles=Live Looping Workshops Medley|artists=Deltagare vid Blekinge Jazz World Music 2009]

Workshop details:
After a short demonstration – where I explained a few basic commands like record, overdub, multiply and reverse – the ensemble sat down with instruments around a microphone and control MIDI pedal. One person created the first loop and then the next person in turn was to add something. I gave no musical directives – what you are hearing in this recording is just the music that was spontaneously improvised during the collective looping process.

Technical details:
We were using the freeware live looping software Mobius as an AU plug-in hosted by Apple’s Mainstage on a laptop. The MIDI control pedal board was a Behringer FCB1010. When a looping piece felt finished and no one wished to add more playing, I saved all loops by the Save Project command in Mobius. After the camp week I imported all those loops into Logic to mix and create this medley.

The Student's Concert

Listen to the final concert!

At the end of the week the students performed a public concert in front of an audience. Since I had a laptop I decided to record the concert with two stereo crossed microphones. Click the media player below to start the one hour concert stream:

[audio:,,,,,,,,,,,,,|titles=Stenristarna,Emigrantvisa,Woman On Vidda,There Won’t Be Another You,Spelmannen,All of Me,Malaika,Lisbet and The Hobyz Medley,Tango,Katarinas Humpa,The Herd, Världens Frälsare,Arabisk sjuåtta,Hur du än vänder|artists=BJWM2k9 Students and Anders Hagberg,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students,BJWM2k9 Students]

While you are listening to the concert you may like to check out my pictures from the camp week!

If you have additional picture or video links to share, please post them here in the comment section!

During the week I had one hour off and decided to use the free time to attend Kristofer’s workshop Percussion As Second Instrument:

And here’s the slow version, for all of us thick-heads… Please follow the master:

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“First Meeting” trio concert downloads

One night in Mars 2009 I met up with these two guys to play a completely improvised concert together. They had been playing together before, but not with me, so I was excited not to know whatever to expect on stage. It turned out great fun though and someone was even recording it.

We’d like to share these seven pieces that were born on stage that night:
[audio:unitrack4a.mp3,unitrack3a.mp3,unitrack3b.mp3,unitrack3c.mp3,unitrack3d.mp3,unitrack3e.mp3,unitrack3f.mp3|titles=Improvisation 1,Improvisation 2,Improvisation 3,Improvisation 4,Improvisation 5,Improvisation 6,Improvisation 7|artists=Kristofer Johansson / Niclas Höglind / Per Boysen,Kristofer Johansson / Niclas Höglind / Per Boysen,Kristofer Johansson / Niclas Höglind / Per Boysen,Kristofer Johansson / Niclas Höglind / Per Boysen,Kristofer Johansson / Niclas Höglind / Per Boysen,Kristofer Johansson / Niclas Höglind / Per Boysen,Kristofer Johansson / Niclas Höglind / Per Boysen,Kristofer Johansson / Niclas Höglind / Per Boysen]

Kristofer Johansson: cajon, snare drum and other percussive objects.
Niclas Höglind: 8-stringed guitar, Apple Mainstage laptop.
Per Boysen: fretless guitar, alto flute, EWI, Apple Mainstage laptop.

An interesting aspect of this group improvisation is that we were instantly recording ourselves and arranging this live looping to go with the bands playing. This was done with MIDI foot pedals and the live looping software Mobius.

Niclas and Kristofer are also active with Unit.

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Rome International Live Looping Festival

On June 6 Rome will experience an extraordinary music festival. The first of its kind in Italy to feature some of the worlds most creative live looping musicians.

Rick Walker (CA-USA) Headliner
Michael Peters (DE) Featured performer
Per Boysen (SE) Featured performer
Bernhard Wagner (CH)
Leander Reininghaus (DE)
Sjaak Overgaauw (BE)
Massimo Liverani (IT)
Paolo Cimmino (IT)
Fabio Anile (IT)

Already on June 3 there will be a mini festival in Florence!
“Best of Show”
presenting Rick Walker, Per Boysen, Sjaak Overgauuw, Massimo Fantoni, Koan Loop Ensamble and Fabio Anile.

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Solo Concerts | Film/media Music