Our Community Sounds: An exciting new improv project

Do you love the freedom and innovation of improvised music making? Our Community Sounds is an exciting and experimental project exploring ‘collective improvisation, the nature of community, and of how these might intersect’.  

The sessions are free and open to anyone, irrespective of their musical experience or ability, and there will be no leaders.

Organisers Paddy Gordon and Conor O’Hanlon are keen to emphasise that they are as much a part of the experiment as the other participants.

As long standing friends and musical collaborators, Paddy and Conor have taken different routes, to this point, which is interesting in itself and makes for a strong partnership. While Conor is a self taught musician who has improvised with folk and street musicians from around the world, Paddy had a more traditional grounding, having played the piano from a young age. Both are keen to experiment with boundaries, and each has a love for the connection and community forged through making music with others.

Organiser Paddy Gordon shares the jam at CMVic’s 2015 Treetops Music Camp

The vision for Our Community Sounds grew from a combination of shared ideas explored in other community music contexts and settings, such as CMVic’s StreetSounds project, and The Welcome Group’s Share the Music jams.

Returning to Uni to study Community Arts Practice got Paddy thinking about the constitution of Community and how we are each a member of several different communities. Which led to the question ‘what happens when people come together and willingly form a community that might only have structure in an improvisational setting, and what would this sound like?’

Our Community Sounds shaped up as an extension of this question; a social experiment exploring fluidity and connection. A place for people to unite and create a mix of soundscapes as unique and individual as they are, irrespective of their backgrounds or ability, and to experience a shared transience.

Improvisation informs music across all cultures, and unlike other musical elements knows no cultural boundaries. Available to all, we use it to open spaces of expression for people of diverse abilities and needs and from diverse backgrounds. In the resulting collective, we find unity whilst celebrating our diversity.”

There are no barriers to participation: “the only prerequisite is a commitment to experimentation, curiosity and open-mindedness”. So how do Paddy and Gordon intend to do this?

We guide each group through various exercises that open ears, bodies and minds, moving gradually into collective improvisation. In these experimental community events, we are all equal stakeholders. This approach also functions as a model for engaged and empowered communities.

What makes this project so exciting is that by its very nature, improvisation is totally inclusive. There are no rules, it’s impossible to make mistakes or to feel foolish, you can’t hit a bum note and anything goes. The sound, the environment, is fluid and it is transient. In this completely safe space, anything can happen. Barriers dissolve, words become secondary tools of communication and deep connections are established.

By transcending the constructs and confines of the communities from which we come and immersing ourselves in the moment, as we listen and play we are united through the process of creating something new and positive together.  This can profoundly influence our thinking and our practice beyond the musical realm. too. As Paddy says,

“In a group improv, there’s a real sense of profundity for everyone involved. You’re all sharing in the creation of something together and from that comes a realisation, an awareness that as the group, you’re creating something even bigger and that you’re all a part of that bigger thing that’s happening… “.

In this moment hierarchies are dismantled, and every participant is empowered as a leader. Inclusivity means that we are all equally responsible for the collective – improvisation enables exactly this.

It’s an experience which life doesn’t offer us the opportunity to indulge in everyday, and because of this, it has the capacity to be liberating, mentally stimulating and soothing in equal parts, and Paddy and Conor are optimistic that improvising in a group will challenge its participants in positive ways, such as wanting to play new instruments, and to explore and extend artistic practice and methods of expression and sociological connection.

As facilitators, we ground our process in deep listening – silence also knows no hierarchies, and really listening to each other is one of the most fundamental ways that we can understand and connect. Improvisation may not save the world, but it teaches us profound lessons about the many different ways there are of being in it..

Paddy is hopeful that people will feel empowered, full of agency, of communion, community and connectedness by their participation in Our Community Sounds. The uniqueness that each person brings to a group and how new concepts and ways of thinking might emerge following three months of shared improvisation, is exciting, and the sounds made by the group will reflect this.

Beginning at noon on February 13, the project will run over several sessions until late May, at Testing Grounds on the banks of the Yarra in Melbourne.

Paddy and Conor are grateful to Testing Grounds for giving them the physical space needed to carry out the project, and to Museum Victoria for the opportunity to incorporate the beautiful sound of the Federation Bells in Birrarung Marr.

Session dates for Our Community Sounds: Feb 13, March 20, April 17, April 30 and May 14. Starting at noon.

For more information, or if you’d like to be involved, please contact Paddy at ourcommunitysounds@gmail.com or call 0437 371 034

Article by Deb Carveth, Online Editor for Community Music Victoria, with Paddy Gordon


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