Practising Improvisation and Rehearsing with an Improvising Ensemble


Michael Francis Duch is a double bass-player and Associate Professor at the Department of Music, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim. He completed his project “Free Improvisation – Method and Genre: Artistic Research in Free Improvisation and Improvisation in Experimental Music” through the Norwegian Artistic Research Fellowship Programme at NTNU late October 2010. He has been involved in more than 40 recordings including the critically acclaimed Cornelius Cardew: Works 1960-70 with the trio Tilbury/Duch/ Davies. Duch regularly performs improvised and composed music both solo and with various ensembles.

Bjørnar Habbestad is a flutist and research fellow at the Norwegian Academy of Music, educated in musica, art history and philosophy from Bergen, London and Amsterdam. Habbestad works as a soloist, chamber- and ensemble musician in Scandinavia, Europe, Asia and the US, covering musical grounds from classical contemporary to noise, electro-acoustic and free improvised music. He is a founding member of the N-Collective, Artistic Director of +3DB records and a co-curator at Lydgalleriet, a Bergen based gallery for sound art.

Duch and Habbestad delivered this presentation as part of the vs. Interpretation Festival and Symposium in July 2014.

“What constitutes the core of our collaboration, what comes across as important in the development of our musical and improvisational practice? We present three potentially important aspects: first, a sonic approach to developing musical material. Secondly, an interest in practising and finally, the different improvisational approach of the ensembles members.

“At our very first rehearsal, before we had played our first concert together, we found a shared interest in the actual sound of the ensemble. This sonic approach has influenced or way of discussing, rehearsing, performing and creating together. During these last eight years we have also met regularly for practise and rehearsals in between tours and recordings. This, we believe, is something that is less common in Free Improvisation than in other musics. Our concerts are always free improvised, but listeners comment that the ensemble sounds rehearsed or even composed. We believe that this is related to our rehearsals and methods of practise, creating our own exercises to shape textures, material and interplay.

“The background and aesthetic preferences and playing styles of each member of Lemur varies. While Grenager and Habbestad both have their background and formal training from classical music, Tafjord and Duch both have backgrounds and formal training in Jazz and improvisation. This often results in several ”styles” operating individually and melting together at the same time, rather than a specific area that all four are striving for together. More importantly we share a broad spectrum of different practise methods and techniques that we employ in making our own methods and exercises.

“When improvising in ad hoc-situations certain techniques or musical clichés may not sound as clichés at all. Whereas in an ensemble playing with some regularity, like Lemur, using the same type of material gets musically challenged and confronted in a way that does not happen in ad hoc-situations. An ensemble that plays together often, playing the same material could eventually lead to playing the equivalent of ”songs” or ”tunes”, rather than Free Improvisation. One of the important issues this paper questions is whether this form of music-making is less ”free” or less improvised than that of other free improvising ensembles? We strongly believe that the very opposite can be true, largely based on our own experiences from being members of Lemur.”