Stephen Nachmanovitch is an artist -violinist, poet, writer, composer, computer graphic designer- and a teacher. In his Improvisation workshops, Stephen Nachmanovitch invites us to the empowerment of our creative potentials through a particular attitude towards life and art: freeplay. Do you play and improvise everyday? How do you train in that? Yes, I play and improvise everyday, and so does every human being on the planet, because we are talking, we are not reading down our conversations before we have them and almost everything that everybody does all day long is unscripted, so we are all practicing. And you practice or prepare by improvising.

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I strongly believe that improvisation benefits practice. To me, improvising is an essential musical skill, one possessed by musical greats Hussain, Bach, Shankar, Beethoven, Duke, Mozart, etc.

Remember when you drew letters over and over as a young child, taking great care or not with the shapes? Now imagine that despite all that practice time forming letters and sounding out words, that you never ever spoke extemporaneously.

Crazy, right? Crazy talk! Free Play is a great introduction to what improvisation is and how it can work. The book is chock-a-block with illustrations and anecdotes including a talking tennis ball , and draws from spiritual traditions including Christianity, Sufism, Shamanism, and Zen. Some of the questions explored are:. He covers archetypes like the Fool, the Trickster, the Child and the state of samadhi, when one is ultimately absorbed that the self dissolves into the infinite.

Heavy stuff, but handled in a deft and interesting way. This is the strongest section of the book, in my opinion and includes an eponymous chapter on practice. Also incredibly valuable is his exploration of the power of limits and mistakes. The chapter Playing Together is really about improvising together, and is also worthwhile. This section is about the ways in which the inherent creative impulse we have as children gets buried by living in the world, by criticism, by judgment, addictions and not just to ingested substances but to ways of thought as well.

This is balanced nicely with ways of overcoming some of these challenges, including surrender, patience, perseverance and other useful tactics. This shortest section of the book explores what it can be like to create with freedom and how this can benefit not only the individual, but everyone and everything. The book ends with a celebration of the difficulty of the process and the joy of knowing that through struggle with issues and with ourselves, we can achieve breakthroughs that take us to a higher level of understanding and humanity.

This is a book I highly recommend, especially for those curious about or fearful of improvisation. Two years ago, Northwestern University held a series of talks on musical improvisation and we heard from, and played with prominent thinkers in music improvisation including Pauline Oliveros , Ed Sarath , Victor Goines , and Stephen Nachmanovich. I invited Nachmanovich to come play with a free improvisation group I started—named Meh!

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Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art

The search for the muse within us continues. Since the time of Euripides in the 5th Century BC, poets, philosophers, scientists, writers and psychologists have been trying to explain creativity; where it is born; what forms it takes, and, most important, how it might be nourished. Also seeking to explain and plumb the creativity process in recent years have been gaggles of motivational gurus. They have tended to view innovation and invention as everything from a transcendental mystical experience to a sort of simplistic series of mental exercises. He values the mistakes we should learn from, the blockages we have to overcome, the patience we need to exercise and the defeats we must endure, among other obstacles in the creative process. Nachmanovitch does recognize the possibility that because of the lack of discipline inherent in the concept of improvisation, the resulting creations may be of lesser quality. The book has a surfeit of such one-liners, as well as select words italicized for emphasis.


Book Review: “Free Play,” by Stephen Nachmanovich

Free Play is directed toward people in any field who want to contact, honor, and strengthen their own cr. Free Play is directed toward people in any field who want to contact, honor, and strengthen their own creative powers. It integrates material from a wide variety of sources among the arts, sciences, and spiritual traditions of humanity. Filled with unusual quotes, amusing and illuminating anecdotes, and original metaphors, it reveals how inspiration arises within us, how that inspiration may be blocked, derailed or obscured by certain unavoidable facts of life, and how finally it can be liberated - how we can be liberated - to speak or sing, write or paint, dance or play, with our own authentic voice. The whole enterprise of improvisation in life and art, of recovering free play and awakening creativity, is about being true to ourselves and our visions. It brings us into direct, active contact with boundless creative energies that we may not even know we had.

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