An Addition to Paper Bag Improvisational Theory

by G.S. , 3/16/00


(Note: this was given to the members of PB with the intent of using it for the recording session on 3/31/00. We tried it in rehearsal- what little rehearsal we had- and it worked very well. But we didn't actually use it for the recording. This was not a conscious decision- we were all just running full speed ahead and didn't get around to it. But it has been recognized by the other members and will hopefully see its way into common usage. Trouble is, we don't play all that often these days! So it may be a while before there is a recorded example.)


OK guys, as promised, here it is, the next step in Bag theory evolution. This hit me while I was taking walk a few years ago- didn't see any reason to pull it out until now. It's very simple but I believe it promises to take things to a whole new level. It's also something we did- only once, but never did again (during the "Music To Trash" sessions, on a piece we scrapped because it was too long.) And it's so simple you'll kick yourself. Or me for building it up so much. You ready?


Full or partial band rotation within each rotation. Small rotation as opposed to Big rotation. Meaning: say the line up is M, George, Greg and Dave. Greg starts and at a given point passes it off to George. George plays with it for a while then passes it onto M. , who passes it on to Dave. And so on.


There are a few ways this can be done.


Play 1: Full Circle. A full mini-rotation in which the piece gets handed all the way around and returns to the original conductor to finish.


Play 2: End Stop. As above except it does not return to the original conductor and is ended by the last player in the rotation.


Play 3: Open Rotation: all bets are off. One player begins and can pass the piece off to a player of his choosing, who then has the option of doing the same or hanging onto the piece to finish it. And there is no limit to how many times the piece can get passed around or rules about who it gets passed to. (Note: the objectives of the roller coaster still apply, so don't get carried away!) One possible strategic advantage of this is that if a piece is going nowhere and someone has an idea to lead, they can make a kind of "come over here" gesture with their head and signal that they'd like it to be turned over to them. (A head shake of no will suffice to refuse the offer!)


Play 4: Full Circle Open: as in 3, except that regardless of where it goes throughout the piece, the first conductor must finish it.


I pondered long and hard about what kind of signal we could use for this transfer of conductorship- I think I spent all of about 2 seconds on it. It's a variation on the "pointing the pinkie means solo" signal. Instead of just pointing the pinkie, you wave it! Of course we'll have to see if this works in practice. If it doesn't we'll have to come up with someone else.


As for signaling the different types of multiple rotation, that will probably have to be mentioned just before starting the piece, except in the case of #3, Open Rotation, where anything can happen.


This is not meant to do away with the traditional rotation system (Big rotation), where one person alone conducts. This is an option whereby we can almost effortlessly create complicated sounding multi-part pieces that will sound very, very composed. And of course during each rotation- big or small- the same objectives and techniques still apply. I would ultimately like to see this used during a set with a range of methods- never to exclude the more free, less structured aspects of improvisation. I think at least once a set, someone needs to take it upon themselves to start something and NOT conduct, except to end; so that we never get too removed from the main wellspring. It's a bit like knowing when not to play. And I think that's important.


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