I'm into this practice which has been variously called "free improvisation", "non-idiomatic improvisation", or just "improvised music". At the moment this practice to me is just "playing"—it is a musical activity that engages playfully with the putatively "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 voices that contribute to it.
The criticism of improvisation I like to think about most is articulated well by Joel Stern when he proposes that improvisation might often just be "the dramatisation of already-arrived-at consensus." 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 bland or familiar music with a predictable, searching pace. 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 opening of these doors, and then the offering of a starting point for how to go through them. 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.
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). When these experiences are shared, they bind you and the other(s) to the power (or truth) of the 'something' 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).
 This idea comes from having read Tyson Yunkaporta's book Sand Talk.
One-off collaborations (or collaborations that haven't had a chance to re-appear yet):
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.
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 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 scarcely-acknowledged history of colonial dispossession. Getting outside is a 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, so to speak.
I think I have a desire to be shaped by the world: to take the local 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. I can't help but find it ridiculous when, for example, 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 clarinet 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 mistakes and transgressions or epiphanies. That is to say, what I played might have felt "wrong" or just didn't work, which maybe means I'm learning, 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/"nature", but there is something more perceptually dull about a white cube gallery than what one experiences in the midst of a Wandoo woodland in spring or in the Karri forests of the south-west of Noongar boodja. Or on a freeway or in a shopping mall.