Improvisation, insecurity, uncertainty and creativity

Since March 2020, the usual activities outside of my classes at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels have practically disappeared, confinement forced. The positive side of this situation is the return of a daily practice of the piano and this for my greatest pleasure. I hadn’t invested so much time behind the keyboard in years, improvisation and composition being at the heart of my practice. Since I started playing music, I have always loved to improvise, to be on the lookout for new territories and new sensations, to immerse myself in a creative process in which the astonishment, the unheard of, the unheard of are at the rendezvous. Improvise comes from the Italian improvisare, which is not planned but « Improvisation is not improvised! Nice formula from Bernard Lubat(1).

Indeed, to improvise, you have to know your subject, you have to work on your « scales » and the more you are at ease with the musical material, the more you can free yourself from your reflexes, from your clichés, to enter into a real creative process. This requires a particular way of being, phy

This is a physical and psychological process in which one must let go of the will to do well, to be in a state of non-effort, without certainty of a result, which places the improviser outside his comfort zone, in a situation of risk and insecurity. This way of acting, of being in the action, applies in reality to all the fields of the life, from the artistic to the political, from the education to the sports practice… In China, the Taoists have developed this idea with the notion of Wu Wei which can be translated as « non-action ». We are not far from the kairos of the Greeks, which is the art of seizing the propitious, unique moment to act. Alan Watts discusses this theme in Blessed Insecurity, an essay published in 1951 whose title is itself thought-provoking. In summary, in order to act optimally and creatively in our daily lives, it may be worthwhile to adopt the attitude of the improviser made of insecurity and uncertainty. 

In March 2020, the first confinement placed our small country as well as the rest of Europe and the world in an unprecedented situation made of insecurity and uncertainty for which I had the great hope that the dissonances of our capitalist, neo-liberal and globalized society were going to disintegrate in a joyful and « shattering » firecracker, that we were going to grab the hair of the kairos in full flight in order to start a radical change of our way of life by going towards a harmonious and salutary degrowth from which could emerge a society made of links, dignity, solidarity, respectful of our planet and of the living. I dared to believe that our politicians were going to open their ears to the chaotic sounds of the world, that they were going to tune their violins not only to face the Covid crisis, but above all to finally become aware in a firm and resolute way of the larger issues we have to face, loss of biodiversity, climate change, exacerbated extractivism, ultra-consumerism… 

I was soon disillusioned… and my high, warm, bright voice of spring 2020 began a long glissando into the depths of the bass. For a year now, our government has been playing a sinister and gloomy symphony in which a politics of fear resounds, dividing the population into « for or against », putting the different sectors of public life back to back, allowing the government the triumphal march, without any debate, of a security and totalitarian management filled with certainties. This « hymn » of the powerful, hammered continuously by the media, stuns the citizen, making him incapable of any possibility of autonomy, intelligence and creativity. And yet songs are being sung all over our little country to cover up this din and give meaning and connection back to society. « Still Standing for Culture »(2) has liberated the voice, proving that through imagination and creativity there are ways to find spaces for cultural expression and advocacy. 

Pirly Zurstrassen, musician and composer 

Notes et références
  1. Multi-instrumentiste français, créateur du Festival d’Uzeste, imaginé comme un espace de réflexion avec un fort ancrage anticapitaliste.
  2. Depuis janvier 2021, il y a eu environ 1.200 évènements culturels en Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles sous l’impulsion de Still Standing for culture.
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