8th June 2001 at 01:00
LIVING MUSIC. By Rod Paton. pound;10 (book and CD, incl pamp;p) from M Ryall-Bustin, Western Area Professional Centre, Stockbridge Road, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 2EF. Tel: 01243 532970

The concept of planned improvisation may seem paradoxical, but it's no stranger than the idea of learning to talk or swim. This book records the achievements of students from six secondary schools in West Sussex, working with teachers and professional musicians. It describes the context within which the music was made and gives a wealth of suggestions whereby others can feel confident of doing something similar - but vitally different.

The opening section is worth reading. It sets out the principles for group improvisation and moves from outlining general aesthetic axioms to a broader social philosophy of the value of music and of collaborative activity. The fact that in our culture music is more often consumed than made is ot seen as a cause for despair, but as a challenge to new and renewable kinds of learning.

This theoretical account is given flesh in a valuable anthology of practical activities. Some of these are extended games, which provide simple frameworks for improvisation. They include "paraphrasing" the sounds made by fellow-players, taking tunes for a walk, or investigating Frank Zappa's fruitful notion of "time holes" to be filled with musical content.

There are also some pre-determined compositional structures within which improvisations can be fitted. The stimuli range from texts and sounds to objects. The CD records how the shapes of several houseplants inspire musical shapes which are then redrafted into more finished pieces.

The parallels with many kinds of contemporary music are plain to see. This book will be helpful to teachers and musicians who want to work with others.

Tom Deveson

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