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Traveling with Electronics: Wei Wu Wei - Going Ancient School

"Perception and understanding have come to a stop
and spirit moves where it wants".....Chuang-Tzu



I'm going to digress a little this month into more esoteric realms and share with you some concepts about "improvisation", "being in the moment" and "doing not-doing", which can all be used as wonderful tools for musical expression. Traveling with these tools will take whatever music you play to the next level without the need for any additional equipment, cases or packing strategies. Applying these concepts to life in general will show very positive results as well.



IMPROVISATION: To make or provide from available materials.

The late saxophonist/composer Steve Lacy was once asked if he could articulate the difference between composing and improvising, in fifteen seconds. This was his response:                      

"In a composition you can take all the time you want to decide what you are going to say in fifteen seconds of music. In an improvisation, you have fifteen seconds to say it."

Once you bring it down to it's essence, "musical improvisation is the art of composing music in real time", nothing more, nothing less. This has been my experience as a soloist, as an ensemble member and as a conductor of improvising ensembles. Everything else is really just a discussion / debate about who controls the content.


The thing that I have noticed again and again is that truly great and moving performances (not spectacle), have one thing in common: "Everything else just Disappears." The performer, the performer's technique, the structure, the technology, thoughts, even the seat you are sitting in. Everything becomes transparent - in order to reveal the essence of the performance and you are transported out of your seat, out of the theater and sometimes out of your body to a place of "pure individual experience". Now that is a good show!

In my experience you can not be in your head (thinking) and be in the moment at the same time. If you are in your head, the moment is already gone and you are chasing it and in doing so you are missing the next moment and the next.....and the next.

This is one of the hardest yet simplest things to "get" as an artist. You can spend years learning your craft and developing your technique to the highest possible level and then, it can take an equal number of years yet ultimately only a moment, to discover how to transcend your technique, stay out of your head and perform from the center of the moment where it appears that : "In each moment you are doing the appropriate thing while not making any conscious decisions". This is doing not-doing (sometimes called - being in the zone).

WEI WU WEI: Doing Not-Doing

Wu-Wei (not-doing) is behavior that arises from a sense of oneself as connected to others and to one's environment. It is not motivated by a sense of separateness.

It is action that is spontaneous, without any interference from the rational mind. At the same time it is not passivity. Not-Doing isn't the same as Doing No-Thing.

You must be quiet (of mind) and watchful, listening to your own inner voice and to the voices of the ensemble in a non-interfering, receptive manner. In this way you develop and learn to trust, INTUITION.

Wu-Wei also implies action that is, natural and effortless. You simply become a conduit and music flows through you (not from you) because it is "right action", appropriate to time and place, serving the greater harmony and balance of the ensemble and the experience of the audience.

improvisation + being in the moment + wei wu wei = a conduit for creative energy to flow

"In the pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.
True mastery can be gained by letting things go their own way.
It can't be gained by interfering"....Lao-Tzu

These concepts may appear to be at odds with most of the currently accepted precepts of music, not to mention what is considered to be normal present day social behavior. But music more than any other art form has the potential to "open the doors of personal experience for the listener" (Out of Body Experience). Music is Pure Gift, Pure Magic and when you can begin to employ these concepts in the music you create, you can then begin to open those doors.

Safe Travels.....dino