searching for, with
Last month I performed two solo sets for the first time! I improvised on flute / alto flute / piccolo with loop station for ~40 minutes — my first long solo performances since 2020. As I'm figuring out what growth means for me as an improviser, this experience helped me outline a few directions: one, to continue diversifying my sonic vocabulary; two, to dive deeper into integrating text into my performance; and lastly to collaborate more.
photo by Justin Audet, April 2023.
Expanding sonic vocabulary: While I've temporarily settled on "experimental / improvised music" as a label for what I do, the experimental element mostly resides in the act of building soundscapes for listeners without any planning.
When it comes to actual sound, for the most part I'm well within the box of what a conventional flutist does — reflecting over a decade of classical training, but also how I want to improvise from a sense of abundance, and for now I derive this from the wholeness and clarity of my sound as a flutist: the same sound that kept me a musician when isolated and drained by the classical music world, and gave me a voice during years when I needed a way to escape (transcend) a body I didn't know how to belong in.
A few years into dismantling the often-immobilizing, internalized perfectionism of Western classical training, it was upsetting to begin to internalize a similar tension in the world of experimental music, since I'd chosen to identify with it: the need, above all else, to stretch and break boundaries around what music is, even if that isn't the music that feels healing to create or aligned with my body.
Instead I'm choosing to expand my sonic vocabulary at my own pace. The times I've disparaged myself for sustaining an approach to sound doesn't seem "experimental enough," what recenters me is this belief that one of the most radical things expressive sound (or music) can do is to offer a place for bodies that have never fully belonged anywhere else, such as brown / female / queer bodies.
Integrating text: The particularity of embodied experience recurringly compels me to write creatively and to find ways of integrating words into my work as a performing musician — in 2015, through spoken word interspersed with flute; in 2020, a short film examining my internal dialogue around cultural identity and perfectionism, across years in practice rooms — and last month, a live performance of improvised soundscapes based on text about dysmorphia, memory, and place, which the audience could choose to read during the performance.
This last show left me wishing I'd brought text more directly into the performance — not through spoken word, which has never been a register in which I'm at home as a creative writer — but possibly through recorded audio samples, inspired by recent shows I've seen around Pittsburgh.
Collaborating more: Last month's solo shows were an opportunity to share and celebrate the kind of musician I've become after months of playing only to improvise with others — preceded by two years of only being able to play by myself, for myself — preceded by a decade of playing with and for others. Yet solo performance is far less the center of what making music is for me, more of a station.
At this stage in my life the best part of being a musician, by far, is the depth of connection with others that improvising opens for me — the freedom and abundance of dialogue enabled by cultivating a language with my instruments that can bend, flow, break, build with the languages others cultivate through their art. The most rooted I've felt in any creative identity is when my craft is in active dialogue with others.
Improvised last month at the Davis Cherry Blossom Festival in California, with flute / piccolo / loop station.
These days making music is less a matter of being interesting or edgy or palatable or technical or polished enough for countless people I can't please, whose interpretation of my music-making I can't control. What I can control is how I create within the vulnerability of improvising: not knowing what to say but believing I can search, find, lose, and rediscover it with those around me.
Improvising is teaching me that making music can be as simple as a way of being with others while growing into myself. It also reveals what I love most as a performing musician: the trust required in myself, in years of deepening a craft, and in the people around me to hold whatever I share — even if it falls flat, or if they don't understand or won't remember it.
Improvised in my solo basement show last month in Pittsburgh.
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