Structural Analogies

2.4 Transfer of Practices: Improvisation

Improvisation, which in contrast to composition is not based on a fixed score but relies essentially on the spontaneous interaction of the musicians involved, gained significance in the twentieth century, also in the realm of visual arts, as a result of the liberation of artistic means from the object.

For Henri Matisse, improvisation in jazz corresponded to the technique of cutting up paper, which is why he named his famous album of colorful paper cutouts (papiers découpés) Jazz (1947). Despite their apparent simplicity, such paper cutouts can no more be copied than can a jazz musician’s completely new and original playing: the spirit of the cut or of the arrangement cannot be repeated.

Collaborative improvisation became common practice at the end of the 1950s also in a new genre, the light show. Groups with up to a dozen members accompanied concerts by creating improvised visual effects with a range of light instruments such as slide and film projectors, color wheels, liquid projections, and reflective objects. Similar equipment is employed in VJing and audiovisual live performance. Notable in this regard is the group 242.pilots, comprised of three video artists who have developed software that enables them to superimpose, contrast, blend, and otherwise transform images in real time, in improvised interaction that they see as comparable to free jazz.