Derek Bailey on the edge part 1
Transmitted 2 February 1992. Written and presented by Derek Bailey. Produced and directed by Jeremy Marre. A Harcourt Films Production in association with RM Arts for Channel 4.
On the Edge was a four-part piece on improvisation in music written by improv guitarist Derek Bailey which aired in UK’s Channel Four. If you’re serious about music you may want to look for it to branch you out, or to point interesting ways to navigate the established thinking about music.
But more importantly for us here; if you’re a serious student of film and aspire to understand what it means to create, you will want to read between the notes and be enriched. The scope is fascinating, but even more so is how it attempts a worldview by channeling us through so many different fields. And how they all connect.
In this part; Mozart as the jazz pianist of his day, elaborating on the spot for his cheering crowd. Back in New York, John Zorn conducting Cobra in a freejazz-noise jamming session as psychodrama using the notions of Stockhausen.
This is all immensely valuable if we translate in terms of cinema. For example, the notion that classical music in the West has been so ossified in its system of codes and ceremony that is no longer alive as what it once was; instead of every performance being its own transient world, existing only now, it is merely a dutiful replica. What the Japanese had understood for centuries on the Noh stage, and why they have produced some of the most compelling cinema.
The most important notions of all though; improvisation, and so the wonderful asymmetry of spontaneous, living creation, as born from spiritual service. Only a time span is allocated, within that time the expression to god is left to the heart. So music where thinking is blocked and faith takes over. The church organ as the church itself, the hands as voices.
The other, even more insightful. Pundit Hanuman Misra teaching his sons the traditional improvisations of Indian singing, the essential transmitted knowledge from father to son being this: not the form, the notes, the melody, the water running through the river, this is left to each individual to interpret, from father to son back through a long genealogy and so the melody always reflects now, the voice singing now, but the way, the possible variations, the levels, the passage, carving in his pupils the bank of the river through which the water can flow. It makes for perfect Zen.