Improvising Music from/with Nothing: myths, realities, and the washtub bass

Schaumbad, Graz


Experimental improvising musicians often celebrate the idea that music can come from (next to) nothing. This coin has two sides. One, a “positive freedom”: by renouncing scores, plans, idioms, conventional technique, and so on, we can clear a space for spontaneous discovery, new sound worlds, and inclusive aesthetics. Two, a “negative freedom”: musicians with minimal resources “making a way out of no way”. This refers both to music as a creative response to the constraints of repressive socioeconomic situations, and to our experimental practice’s supposedly loose stylistic and cultural restrictions.

In this presentation, I will explore some of the myths and realities concerning both these perspectives and look at how positive and negative freedoms overlap in improvised music. My partner in crime will be the washtub bass (alias “Saugeige”), an instrument invented by North American slaves whose sonic richness belies its material and historical poverty.