Over the years I’ve worked with many bands, each having its own way of communication, musically as well as verbally.
It strikes me that the level of verbal communication seems to be inversely proportional to the depth reached in music.An example of this is our trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher. Don’t misunderstand me here, there is no personal problem between us and apart from the regular tour irritations (I could fill you in, but it’s really not worth mentioning) we get along absolutely fine, I would say above average. But we don’t visit each other birthdays, don’t do dinner appointments nor stay very long after gigs and do very little together in between concerts while on tour. Hanging out is simply not our thing. It has been like that since we started, half-a-life ago. This band is about playing, not talking. Most of what we want to share with each other we share musically. This makes Wilbert and Michael very dear friends I wouldn’t like to miss for the world; whatever we play to each other is pure and fair. Love it.
In bands which have more going on while not playing, with a lot of laughing around, stories, family business, gossip, drama, well you get the picture, there is simply less need for communication while performing music together. That is why many of those bands (not all, over the years I have been a member of bands that would prove me totally wrong if I would generalize this!) have less of the indispensable urge to communicate musically. Even if all members of such a band would be really skilled musicians, which so many musicians are nowadays, there could simply be nothing else to communicate about while playing when everything is said in words already.
It also gets interesting when trying to connect the two ways of interaction.
On tour in Canada with my orchestra Bik Bent Braam we decided to have a brainstorm-dinner in a Chinese restaurant in Ottawa, and, if that wasn’t enough, a few years later we did some brainstorm-lunches in Amsterdam. At the time we felt the meetings could help us interpreting written parts and improvising together and I even think for a few gigs it did. It is rather complicated to improvise with 13 musicians, to cook a delicious meal with all those chefs in the kitchen. All those tastes, opinions, all those really lovely people connecting 13 dots in their own way (see the short film by Jellie Dekker on how Bik Bent Braam worked). Well, it arose many questions in the band and the brainstorm seemed a logical recipe for change. But in the end it didn’t. It could very well be possible that, for instance, a management team of 13 members would try to improve as a group through talks, agreements and arrangements. But it’s simply not possible to make improvised music against your nature (pure, fair) and if you set goals together, with 13, a lot of what is discussed will be asking you to do things that you would not do if you could choose freely. And our music is, like all art, almost exclusively about freedom and telling what you want to tell undiluted. There is no other way; leave freedom out and you could as well leave. The best that could happen after a brainstorm is that you are even more aware of that and have an even more may-I-please-decide-that-myself-?-attitude. Thát helps!
So, let’s stop using precious time talking about our musical adventures, about what happened and what we think should happen in the future. Let’s use that precious time playing together, filling our knapsack with personal and collective material we can use telling our musical stories, training ourselves in listening to what others have to play and how to come up with fresh ways to react to that on-the-spot, working on our collective sense of rhythm.
I have been thinking this all might only be relevant for groups that exist for a long time (both mentioned bands for about 25 years) and that after a long time you reach your personal core concerning music and interaction in which process you have bid farewell to a talking overload in order to give intuition more room, or there is simply not very much to talk about in words after a long time. But that is not the case. In those bands it has been like that from the start and also in our relatively new band eBraam we grow by playing, not discussing; our grooves do not gain from chats but from hours and hours of musical interplay.
Currently I am transcribing and learning Antillean music and shortly we will be starting a new band to play the music with. I am convinced that we will get sort of a grip on the distinct and simultaneous use of binary and ternary rhythm in this delicious music not by talking, but by doing it over and over again.
Let’s not be distracted by talking and use the precious time to play, play and play!