Words: James Frostick

Born amidst our current socially distanced climate, a collective of musicians and visual and performance artists have collaborated on a new project – The Isolation Improvisation Collective. The concept reveals what’s possible within the realm of free jazz when participants can no longer react to one another in a shared space. Today we’re chuffed to present the visuals to ‘Grid Lake III’, where one can witness the group’s digital foray reveal itself in real time.

Much of what I’ve experienced of improvisational music in the past leads me to think it’s, in part, reactionary. Those that perform solo dictate direction of sound on a whim and build upon it in a purposefully non-calculated manner – thoughts are free to roam and one merely reacts to self-generated stimuli born from impulse. With other musicians in the mix you have the added benefit of being able to react to the energy emanating from the fellow musicians and the feel of the room, working together to fill empty space with flourishes conjured out of thin air. It’s interesting, then, to figure out how a collective-composed improvised piece could be crafted without the benefit of proximity and the immediacy of all players performing at once. The Isolation Improvisation Collective is seeking to bridge the divide between musicians using digital connectivity, something that is becoming more and more prevalent as the ongoing global pandemic morphs the conventional model of communication. The group is an assemblage of Melbourne-based improvisers, all dabbling in various artistic practices.  The collective, founded by Pat Telfer (Prefect, Mystery Guest, Peak Twins) seeks to explore improvised composition in the digital realm, using Zoom and audio-streaming software to craft a piece inspired by provided stimuli.

The group’s new composition ‘Grid Lake III’ is the result of one such collaborative exploration – a piece lush with detail and a surprising amount of coherence given the DIY nature of the project. Visual artist Briony Barr has provided a graphic score – the titular grid lake – which was segmented and portioned out to provide the artists with a starting point for their respective interpretations. The group agreed upon a rough length of five minutes and then let rip. The end result is something more resonant and calming than I had expected. Of the improvised-jazz performances I’ve experienced over the years, this might be one of the more restrained, though I’m hesitant to chalk this up to the different energies at play as a result of the virtual separation. Some ensembles rush to reach a peak or point where energies sync up or something ignites, but here the group seems happy to build things gradually. The collective manages to walk a line between full-on experimental-jazz asides and serene ambient-like wanderings. There is a roominess to the composition that I really enjoy – at no point does it feel cluttered, even when the disparate elements begin to collide and overlap at pace. There’s a gradual unravelling that the group encourages throughout the progression, as if the aural current starts to twist around unseen hazards, slowly building momentum before reaching a tranquil end point. The movement and visual artists react similarly, adding a dynamism to the piece (evident in the accompanying visuals) that create a multi-sensory experience. The track proves that the best cross-disciplinary improvisational music can be as energised and resonant even without the benefit of proximity. It alludes to a shared creative consciousness that spans great divides, bringing us closer at a time when perhaps we’ve never felt more apart. Watch the clip for ‘Grid Lake III’ below:

The Isolation Improvisation Collective is comprised of Lachlan Thompson (Tenor Saxophone/Effects), Flora Carbo (Alto Saxophone), Sophie Weston (Alto Flute/Flute/Piccolo),  Isha Ram Das (Electronics/Telematic Processing), Anthony Lyons (Buchla Music Easel/Modular Synthesiser), Theo Carbo (Guitar), Lucky Pereira (Drums/Percussion), Emma McMahon (Harp), Gordon Li (Percussion/Double Bass), Monica Lim (Electromagnetic Piano), Charlie Evans (Movement), Giovanna Yate Gonzalez (Movement), Briony Barr (Drawing), Patrick Telfer (Audio Network Engineering), Gwen Lin (Video Editing).