Insights: Improvisation

On behalf of the rest of the group, Anne talks about why improvisation is key to The Hermes Experiment’s musical identity, and sheds light on how it all works:

At The Hermes Experiment, we love new music, and live improvisation is probably the newest music you will ever hear – created in the moment, as fresh to our ears as it is to those of the audience. As an ensemble, we really enjoy the musical interaction of improvisation, but the question we asked and continue to challenge ourselves with is ‘how do we make this as enjoyable and interesting for the audience as it is for us as performers?’ One of the primary tenets we came up with was to create some sort of vaguely perceptible structures and qualities for the interaction. So as a starting point, we developed a game a bit like musical tennis doubles, where we play in two pairs, batting musical ideas back and forth; if both members of the same pair play together, there is a choreographed forfeit, and Oli can initiate moments of calm, while Héloïse can initiate phases of hysteria. As we became more practised at improvising together, we became freer to move away from these structures whilst bearing them in mind as a backbone.

Another key feature of our improvisation is that we like to use motifs from the works featured in the concert as root musical ideas. What you don’t see in this video is that we used an initial game of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ in front of the audience to determine which motif would be used. In this improvisation, it was Oli’s chosen motif from Messiaen’s ‘Abime des Oiseaux’ for solo clarinet.