I'm into this practice which has been variously called "free improvisation", "non-idiomatic improvisation", or just "improvised music". In simple terms, this means improvising without any "rules": the people playing can use any sounds at any time. This is different from (for example) improvisation in traditional jazz music, where each member takes on a particular role in the improvisation, and where decisions made prior to the improvisation influence it (the key, the chords being used, tempo, etc.). As well as this, in improvised music every sound or facet of the performance situation can readily become part of the music, whereas in traditional jazz, failing an event on the level of the collapse of a stage or armed robbery of the performance venue, the incidental events are somehow separate to "the music".
At the moment free improvisation to me has a lot to do with "playing"—it is a musical activity that engages, playfully, with the supposedly expanded field of possibilities that come with modernity and our hyper-individual world. Importantly, it seeks commonality and communality within this world, as it does rich and fertile confluences between the diverse voices that contribute to it.
There's a lot of criticism around improvisation, particularly around the fact that despite its non-idiomatic origins, it is now a recognisable idiom, and arguably has "a sound". With free improvisation's long-term allegiance to certain political values and ideals, and its emphasis on looking for and practicing freedom from constraints, the reality that the music has developed a number of unwritten rules and codes is arguably damning. Joel Stern is probably thinking about this when he proposes that improvisation today might often just be "the dramatisation of already-arrived-at consensus" - a re-staging of the initial "freeing" events of the first people to practice this music in the 1960s. I think this probably does apply to a lot of genuine "free improvisation", where one plays with another for the first time and flattens out one's more extreme tendencies or vulnerabilities for the sake of politeness and teasing out the space of possibility together (without commandeering it or willing awkwardness). This might result in music with a predictable, searching pace for those familiar with the genre.
But as I guess we all know, sometimes an encounter with another is electrifying and re-writes the world for us, or at least deepens what we knew about it in a very specific way. Sometimes it happens on a first meeting, other times after the hundredth. This is the quality of improvisation (or play) that I still find extremely interesting: the possible opening of these doors, at the same time as the offering of a starting point for how to go through them. The long-term result of this is not generic "free improvisation", aligned entirely with the codes and expectations of the genre - in my experience it tends to be astoundingly specific music . Perhaps until we have a world that's fine with us making each other more vulnerable to each other, it seems we might have to deal with "dramatised consensus" as a means of getting to the fertile parts of the field on some occasions. For those willing to sit with it, this research, and the clumsiness and failing that are possible as part of the process, can easily become as interesting as the stuff that's clearly already amazing.
If there's a desire to pay more attention to relations and entanglements as places where knowledge and memory live , noting the many ways in which our contemporary world severs us from noticing them in favour of discreteness and individuality, improvisation might be a way of dealing with this. The feeling I describe in the paragraph above is one where the thing that you are doing suddenly seems bound to something that is happening between you and the other(s). It's like a revelation of a new, specific, powerful idea, entirely unforeseeable, only possible through the confluence of those perspectives and actions in that moment. When these experiences are shared, they bind you and the other(s) to the power (or truth) of the thing that they revealed. This might be a kind of "local event", in the ontology of Alain Badiou. Whatever it is, it compels me to keep doing this thing (which is also very fun).
 So many examples - try this, or this, or this.
 This idea comes from having read Tyson Yunkaporta's book Sand Talk.
thoughts on improvising outdoors
Spending time with the inimitable Jim Denley has inspired me to get into the activity of improvising outside. I also think of this as an acknowledgement of the history of sound art in Perth: a nod to figures such as Ross Bolleter and Alan Lamb. And of course, it also at least nods to the deep, long history of music-making in Australia in some small way.
One motivation for doing this comes from thinking of the buildings we tend to confine music to as performing a kind of severing function from the rich sonic, cultural and spiritual ecology of place, and that this has a particular violence to it in Australia, a nation with a too-little-acknowledged history of colonial dispossession. Getting outside might be one way of starting a process of noticing and belonging to an overflowing (albeit damaged) richness that we otherwise scarcely access . There are no notions of tabula rasa: one plays into a thick present and takes responsibility for the consequences.
I think I have a desire to be shaped by the world: to take site and locality as a fullness through which one can be led to a way of making music that is not just novel but also profoundly situated, and grounding. This is otherwise to the way that a lot of so-called "site specific artworks" simply use the world as a backdrop for art. I can't help but find it ridiculous when the Western Australian Opera drive up north to perform in the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park: when there's the opportunity to hear such an extraordinary and special place, the supplanting of scored, equal-tempered music onto that world seems, if not violent, then at least a bit insensitive or weird. I'm sure there's not much difference to trudging through there with a saxophone and playing my 'extended techniques' into it with my academy-trained phrasing, but I would hope the listening embedded in the latter activity opens a space for learning and invites for the transformative possibility of encounters, mistakes and transgressions, or epiphanies. That is to say, what I played has to interact with the site and its agency, which maybe means I'm learning through noticing, becoming shaped by the place a little. My criticism of opera in the Pinnacles would be that the opera is not changed by The Pinnacles - The Pinnacles merely serve as an embellishment, a decoration, or a backdrop to an activity which has come to pride itself on the conservation of a tradition at a particular cherrypicked moment in its glorified past.
But, of course, Jim Denley has spoken about this plenty more than I have, so you should listen to him. In this interview, he importantly reminds me that I'm still wont to assume "the world" is separate to "me". More work to do.
 Enclosed spaces, of course, are still part of the world/country/"nature", but there is something more perceptually dull about a white cube gallery or a studio than what one experiences in the midst of a Wandoo woodland in the Kambarang season, or in the Karri forests of the south-west of Noongar boodja. Or on a freeway or in a shopping mall.
Make It Up Club (2020) Video
Lenny Jacobs (percussion), Josten Myburgh (alto saxophone)
Bunker (2019) Listen & download
Nick Ashwood (guitar) Emilio Gordoa (snare drum), Michael McNab (percussion), Josten Myburgh (alto saxophone)
Moers Schlosspark (2019) Video
Emilio Gordoa (snare drum), Josten Myburgh (alto saxophone)
Berlin Split (2019) Listen & download
Emilio Gordoa (vibraphone), Josten Myburgh (electronics), Adam Pultz-Melbye (double bass)
Berlin Split (2019) Listen & download
Matthias Müller (trombone), Josten Myburgh (electronics)
Quintet at The Wild Beast (2019) Listen
Douglas Farrand (trumpet), Eugene Kim (piano), Josten Myburgh (alto saxophone), Sivan Silver-Swartz (guitar), Ben Rempel (percussion)
Rookwood (2019) Listen
Lenny Jacobs (percussion), Josten Myburgh (Bb clarinet)
I wanna be a tree (2019) Listen
Laura Altman (clarinet), Dharma (guitar), Andy Butler (mandolin), Eric Normand (electronics), Jameson Feakes (objects), Jim Denley (flute), Josten Myburgh (alto saxophone) Noemie Huttner-Koros (bass flute), Dan O'Connor (trumpet) and Lenny Jacobs (objects)
Sounding Together: Koorda (2018) Listen
Jim Denley and Josten Myburgh (alto saxophones), Stuart Orchard (aeolian installations), Jameson Feakes and Nick Ashwood (guitars), Be Gosper (mandolin) and Ev Snook (voice
Both and Net (2018) Listen & download
Jameson Feakes (guitar), Michael McNab (percussion), Josten Myburgh (electronics)
passive transport (2015) Listen & download, Review
Emilio Gordoa (vibraphone), Michael McNab (percussion) & Josten Myburgh (electronics)
One (2014) Listen
Michael McNab (percussion), Josten Myburgh (electronics)
Bread is a Towel (2014) Listen
Michael McNab (percussion), Josten Myburgh (electronics)
It's a great pleasure to have projects which one gets to work on and develop over a longer period of time. In this case whilst the method is improvisation, it often seems to grow into a composition of sorts, through slowly creating a language or a way of sensing together that is very specific.
Tchake is the electro-acoustic improvisation duo of Melbourne drummer Michael McNab and Perth-based electronic musician Josten Myburgh. They have performed at Supersense Festival of the Ecstatic (Melbourne), Cable#8 Festival (Nantes), the Totally Huge New Music Festival (Perth) and in numerous concerts across Australia and Europe. In 2015 they made a release in collaboration with Berlin-based vibraphonist Emilio Gordoa, released on Shame File Music. In 2017, they participated in Dan O'Connor's Residence series in Perth through the Tone List label, creating recordings and performances, from which they created their debut duo release Both and Net, also including a collaboration with Jameson Feakes. Their earlier works used extensive electro-acoustic processing and dense sound design; more recently they have worked with a harsher, reductionist aesthetic, making heavy use of found object percussion, feedback systems, silence and stasis.
with lenny jacobs
A project in which I play clarinet (and sometimes saxophone), and Lenny plays a floor tom and objects.
There is a video filmed by Eduardo Cossio on Minang/Bibbulmun Noongar boodja included in this re-stream for the Make It Up Club online concert series.
Here's a recording of us playing at the Rookwood series.
Mahagonny is an interdisciplinary project consisting of visual artist Lena Czerniawska and composer-performers Emilio Gordoa, Michael McNab & Josten Myburgh. Taking influence from a diversity of points of geographic & disciplinary origin, the project exists at the interstice between theatre, electro-acoustic composition, improvised music & installation, working with multi-screen projection, multi-channel sound, networking technology & instrumental performance across vibraphone, percussion & saxophone to draw out and extend the innate theatre of experimental music performance. The ensemble has performed and presented workshops throughout Australia, through Tura New Music, COMA, the Make It Up Club, Monash University, the Museum of Old and New Art, the Australian National University, SoundOut, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and more.