Aural Skills and Improvisation

These videos are showing the outcome of the final project for the subject ‘Aural Skills and Improvisation’ of our Bachelor of Classical Music students (Year 3). The students have made a piece based on a self chosen inspiration, using various improvisation techniques for the realization. There is no score and no conductor. The students are judged on their listening skills, quality of playing, interaction and ideas.

“This is the kind of collaborative project where everything comes together: compositional thinking, active control over musical material, improvisational skills, compositional thinking and above all deep listening! I am proud of the the first batch of students that emarked on this journey”
Karst de Jong - Professor for Improvisation in Singapore and The Hague

What does it mean to make a project from scratch? How does it feel to be at the zero point? How is zero associated and expressed in a musical context? These are only some of the questions that we thought about when making this project. We all agreed that we felt like being at zero when we experienced the COVID-19 pandemic. It really felt like everything shut down. Like a turning point between the normal and the adapting situation that we are experiencing now. But that is what zero is. It stands right between the positive and the negative. It is the point of equilibrium. Nothing takes place, no action. How does zero sound? Can it be associated with pitch? We really felt the need to express that all this time we were muted. Although we really wanted to play and be together, we could not. Even now, that everyone tries to adapt to this new reality, and we are finally making music again. it is not the same. Passing through this extremum, this turning point changed who we are...

We are "The Atonal Service”. Our conceptual improvisation is called "Ode to Madness" and it is an abstract piece that came together by using compositional techniques to set boundaries within the improvisation. The first part consists of a tutti build up towards a climax then the second part continues with a brass chorale using a tonal restriction then contrasted by a piano and vibraphone duet. Finally, all instruments come together to end the piece like a ticking clock.

We are Ensemble Salis, which means “salt” in Latin. It refers to the theme of our improvised piece “Memorias Maris”, meaning “memories of the sea”. Each member of the ensemble was part of the creating and composing process of this piece. The goal was to create a power- and colorful piece customized/adapted to the specialties of each instrument to create an nostalgic and partly stormy atmosphere. It tells the story of a woman who visits the beach that she knows very well from earlier days. The atmosphere of the sea reminds her of these days, it triggers emotions she hadn't felt in a long time and takes her to a trip to the past after she finally comes back to the present. Then the memories fade away as the sea gets in the foreground once again...

Our piece is titled ‘reflections in colors'. Our initial inspiration was a painting by Leonid Afremov. About the process: we worked on different sections of the improvisation by:

- experimenting with the colors of our instruments, also expanding this with extended techniques.

- trying out different ways of making reflections: sometimes with only 2 of the group, leader and follower or equal roles, and sometimes with more of us.

- trying to find a motive for then 'person in the picture' and thinking about the role of this person. We discussed playing from the perspective of this person.

Finally we combined the different sections into a musical form. At first we found it difficult to build up and make a nice climax so we had to experiment with this quite a few times. Also, it gave more structure and clarity to choose a specific chord for some sections.

For this piece we got the inspiration from war scenes, and the importance of peace afterwards, which we thought that deserved to be approached, since is a very actual reality. For the war scenes, we got inspired by the initial talk that we had as a group, and also by our teacher, who was talking about war videogames, and how we could use the image of one player chasing the other, it gave us the idea of two roles inside the piece. After the chaos, we aimed for a clear sign, being Gonçalo, the leader for the connection between chaos and peace, so that the group would feel guided. It seemed to be a chaotic piece in general, but we established more or less clear sections, so we would have a better energy and connection along the piece.

We were quite consistent giving ideas, debating them with each other and deciding whether or not we would including them in the piece. In conclusion, it was a very positive experience for all of us, since we had to work in the same way as we would work on a classical piece. Also gave us some personal motivation, taking the current world situation into account.

We have created this 10 minute improvisational piece integrating many ideas and experiments which came from each of our members. This piece was originally created by the inspiration around the name of the ensemble “Aansteker” which means lighter. The piece opens up with a gradually expanding motif based on 3rds and 5ths intervals. After the first climax, the guitar starts playing with “aansteker”, creating a section with very soft and mysterious sounds, followed by others. This section transforms into a D minor sound field with solos by the piano, guitar, and cello, followed by another solo section on a very contrasting folksong-like improvisation by two violins. This then turns into a whispering section saying “do you have a lighter?” without any instrument. The instrumental sound gradually comes back in and the piano makes the finale with inside-playing techniques.

We have enjoyed preparing the piece together. Sometimes it was necessary to use a timer to understand the right proportions of the section, and we also tried some completely crazy ideas, but it was very challenging to see how it can fit in a context. It was very refreshing to play in a completely different context from what we usually play as classical musicians, and it was very beneficial for us to experience this way of playing together for the intense listening we had in this ensemble.

This piece is a creation of 3 musicians who mixed their own repertoire in order to get a challenging and positive result. The pieces we used as inspiration where Mozart clarinet concerto, The prelude of Bach's 4th Cello suite and Hindemith's viola concerto. We all took something from the original scores, like patterns, gestures, motives and sequences to have a direction, from there we had to come up with a structure. Obviously, it was a struggle even to get this idea started, that’s why Karst's involvement and observations made this performance happen. We had a few more ideas that unfortunately have not been developed as much as we wanted so we tried to reach as many as different rhythmics and dynamics as possible. There’s this unique thing about this piece which is the different styles you can find in only one performance. We hope you enjoy this improvisation as much as we did!