Remember, improv is not random and I'm not writing about the "cut out pieces of fabric, throw them at the design wall and see what sticks" school of socalled improv. Or even the "put one interesting shape up and then let it tell you what it needs" idea. My thrown fabric never seems to stick to the wall in very interesting ways at all...usually just sort of droops and sadly falls off with a sigh.....even if I do get something sewn together its thoughtless origins are far too evident!
And I've never had a piece of fabric "talk to me". Even though I've heard both painters and writers say "oh the characters/painting takes over and tells me what to do", I've never had orders from my quilts....even for a nice cuppa tea! Or a gin and tonic, come to that....be very interesting though if they did!! Might cheer them up a bit!
No, real improv is not like that at all. In fact it probably began seriously in classical music times. In the 17th and 18th centuries musicians were expected to be able to take a simple theme and then, off the top of their heads (and years of vast experience with harmony, counterpoint and so on) develop that theme in many different ways.
In a article in Clavier Companion (a magazine for music teachers), about improvisation in playing the blues, the music writer Bradley Sowash describes how first of all you take a simple melody and add in the "blue" notes (generally speaking a note that is unexpectedly flat, a minor instead of a major interval). You accompany, or back, that melodywith any one of several sequences of related chords (as in the "Blues Box - the numbers relate to specific chords in the key (or colors!) you are working in) for the accompaniment (or background).
First you play it straight....then you vary it.
So that we can see, that he's suggesting simple variations on both the foreground (melody) or subject of the piece: do it straight, do it backwards, turn it inside out...and at the same time the background can vary too.
Composers like Bach and Beethoven and Mozart of course would be very familiar with this - though probably without the unexpected "blue" notes!! They could take the same subject and create 20 or 30 variations on it: straight forward, then perhaps a different key (color), or a different pitch (size), then backwards, inside out, upside down, with ornaments, with different ornaments, spaced out with something in between etc etc .
Now with quilts, one can carry out such improvisations within one piece - like in this quilt I made many years ago:
Or you can create a series of quilts changing the "melody" (your subject) in many ways, but making sure the whole series hangs together.
(And, by the way, I've a new class starting Sept 2 at academyofquilting.com
entitled Working In Series that describes just why and how you can do this.)
To improvise with fabric: you set up your basic parameters, you decide on the background "chords" ( size of quilt, type of background piecing etc), you pick your subject and then consider all the possible ways you can change it. You are freewheeling in a sense, but within fairly strict limits.
Why strict limits? why not just hit the piano keys at random? or cut and place the patches of fabric at random? Firstly, the individual pieces would have no cohesiveness, no clear structure, no unity - it would be merely a collection of notes, or objects! I did once write a blog about the ugliest piano piece in the world - a computer generated "composition" that uses all 88 notes on the piano - just once! and it sounds bizarre, disconnected, awkward and is very hard to listen to! You don't what to make quilts like that!
Secondly, if it were several quilts, all unrelated, it would simply not be a series!
Well, after a nice cuppa tea, I'd best get back to my notes!
If you have been, thanks for reading...
Do email me (there's a link up on the side bar) if you have any questions...or write a comment! I love comments... Elizabeth