Improvisation in Multivocal Poetic Discourse
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 18 Jul 2016
Basque Lauburu and Bertsolaritza as Catalysts of Global Significance
Prepared for the 2nd International Meeting Europa Bat-batean on World Improvised Verse Singing (Donostia/San Sebastián, July 2016) organized by the Mintzola Fundazioa — with the Association of Friends of Bertsolaritza (Bertsozale Elkartea) and the University of the Basque Country. [Versions: PDF of this document; PPT of presentation imagery; PDF of presentation imagery (links to animations may be inoperative in these variants)]. Video summary.
There are extensive references to improvisation, especially with respect to music and poetry. The focus is primarily on a single performer. Improvisation involving multiple instruments has however long been evident in jazz groups. Use of multiple voices in multipart singing is a notable feature of some folk cultures, although typically these feature traditional songs.
The concern here is with the possibility of multivocal improvisation, whether in poetry, music or song — especially given the challenge of its creative self-organization in the absence (or redefinition) of “composer” or “conductor”, or of any catalytic theme or mode (as might be provided from an audience). In practice this frames the challenge of recognition of optional patterns, amongst which improvisers may choose, or towards which they may converge — and the communication of such patterns, rather than their imposition.
The particular interest of such possibilities is the manner in which they may prefigure new approaches to current challenges of governance in society. This relates to some references to the social and philosophical implications of improvisation in an open society — and the significance for the individual, as succinctly implied by the title of the classic work on improvisation by Vinko Globokar (Individuum — Collectivum, 1986). It relates especially to the challenges of discourse between multiple voices in society — typically exhibiting complex patterns of conflict and cooperation.
It is in this more general sense that the exploration here is concerned with patterns, pattern language, and the communication of patterns. In wider society this is especially challenging when both individual and group performers have a need to attract attention and recognition, and to impose patterns on others (or ensure their use of them). This is typically associated with problematic claims to exclusive ownership of those patterns framed as intellectual property, with consequent constraints on their use by others.
A particular merit of poetry, music and song for this exploration is that their aesthetic characteristics are especially important to the attraction and holding of attention. They are typically more memorable than articulations in the prose and text forms favoured in the multivocal discourse through which society is governed. These points have been argued separately (Poetry-making and Policy-making: Arranging a Marriage between Beauty and the Beast, 1993; A Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006). Especially important is the manner whereby the aesthetic characteristics render memorable the vital systemic associations which are otherwise readily forgotten — potentially those which are a key to sustainability (whatever that may be understood to mean aesthetically).
The possibility merits exploration with respect to reframing current challenges of institutional reform (Reframing the EU Reform Process — through Song responding to the Irish challenge to the Lisbon Treaty, 2008). However, of potentially greater significance is the relevance to the tragic challenges of current conflict (Poetic Engagement with Afghanistan, Caucasus and Iran an unexplored strategic opportunity? 2009; Strategic Jousting through Poetic Wrestling: aesthetic reframing of the clash of civilizations, 2009; Strategic Dialogue through Poetic Improvisation: web resources and bibliography, 2009).
It is in this sense that the verse singing skills cultivated by the Basque people through the bertsolaritza merit great appreciation and attention, as noted by Joxerra Garzia, Jon Sarasua and Andoni Ergaña (The Art of Bertsolaritza: improvised basque verse singing, 2001). By contrast, especially relevant is their recognition of the “dead-end analysis of oral art in terms of written poetics” in its deprecation of such improvisation. Such misunderstanding is effectively symptomatic of the aridity and impotence of many conventional methodologies in practice, however insightful they may be claimed to be. The plethora of commentary with respect to global crisis can be succinctly deprecated in terms of the famous statement by Jack Nicholson:
Look, you, I’m very intelligent. If you’re gonna give me hope, you gotta do better than you’re doing. I mean, if you can’t be at least mildly interesting, then shut the hell up. I mean, I’m drowning here, and you’re describing the water! (As Good As It Gets, 1997).
The exploration here is a development of that previously articulated (Multivocal Poetic Discourse Emphasizing Improvisation, 2012). Suitably adapted with respect to the aspirations to multivocal improvisation, is there learning in the title of the book by James Hillman and Michael Ventura (We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy — And the World’s Getting Worse, 1992)? Or perhaps as indicated by the conclusion of Nicholas Rescher:
For centuries, most philosophers who have reflected on the matter have been intimidated by the strife of systems. But the time has come to put this behind us — not the strife, that is, which is ineliminable, but the felt need to somehow end it rather than simply accept it and take it in stride. (The Strife of Systems: an essay on the grounds and implications of philosophical diversity, 1985).
Where has all the poetry gone — as might be implied by the widely known modern folk-song Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (in the ubi sunt tradition). Why is “flowery language” deprecated in preface to the focus on “bullet points” — with all their unfortunate connotations (Enhancing Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military Metaphors, 1998).
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