Embodiment and Flow

  • Posted by Mark Delepine on March 9, 2023 at 6:42 pm

    Listening to improvisational jazz piano soloist Keith Jarrett playing Solar and watching him moving as he plays you can almost feel the way the flow of his playing comes from his whole body, very far from a merely intellectual exercise. Everything Iain says about the need for advance preparation applies except that the form of the piece isn’t entirely settled in advance but emerges in part from feeling the music and reading the room during a live performance.


    Mark Delepine replied 1 year, 3 months ago 4 Members · 12 Replies
  • 12 Replies
  • Samuel Ford

    March 10, 2023 at 9:42 pm

    You’re a fan of Rick Beato I’m guessing? Loved his recent Keith Jarret interview, though it was heart-breaking seeing that he can no longer use his left hand after the stroke.

    I think grunting/strange vocalizations or involuntary movements must be part and parcel of improvisation and musical expression. I remember watching something about tourettes by the neurologist Oliver Sacks in which he said that many people with tourettes are drummers, and he thought that this might be because both drumming and tics require a kind of lack of inhibition/immediate action without thought.

    Here’s the jazz pianist Errol Garner being brilliant (and grunting throughout)


    And there is the famous example of Glenn Gould, who hummed along with everything he played –


    Another example: I play keys in a funk/soul band and often my legs will shake uncontrollably, our drummer lets out a constant stream of grunts while playing!

    • Mark Delepine

      March 12, 2023 at 7:33 pm

      I forgot to say you were dead right about this.

      “You’re a fan of Rick Beato I’m guessing? “

      Nice to find someone who can communicate more of what is going on in music for we musically undeveloped folks. Just as Iain has been a rich source of leads for writers Beato has also brought music I’d missed to my notice. You know what I’d really like to get from Iain next would be a top 10 or 20 list of favorite novels. Until I retired I almost never read fiction but seven years ago I started in hailing good novels and I find them very uplifting.

  • Mark Delepine

    March 10, 2023 at 11:10 pm

    Listening now. Errol Garner is new to me. Thank you for that! I’m envious of your musical talent. I used to say the only thing I play is my iPod and that is mostly true though I’ve had a few wonderful experiences making music with more accomplished people. Visual art was where I discovered what I believe about talent. My old arthritic hands make drawing less enjoyable but luckily my artistic interests have shifted entirely into my garden now. My wife is a textile artist and many of her artist friends seem to likewise have moved their real creative juices to their gardens too.

    I’ve always thought that talent and access to that talent are two different matters. There may or may not be a ‘there’ there but to find out you need to be able to get there, and getting out of your own way is the first step. Something like faith involved here too, our disposition to the world and how we conceive our place therein.

    I look forward reading more about flow and the sacred but I haven’t yet gotten that far in TMWT. If I get a paper version I’d be able to skip around more easily but I only got my Kindle to read this book and so don’t know how to navigate it very well. I’m debating getting the paperback version but I also need to replace my old car this year, so we’ll see.

  • Paul

    March 11, 2023 at 12:42 pm

    I think you are right Mark. Maybe what we’re seeing here is a skilled individual who has learned to suppress inhibition with that suppression ‘bleeding over’ into other activities. Playing music at any level places an enormous burden on the person doing it… and that burden doesn’t lighten with skill. If anything, the opposite occurs- for example, once you develop cross-lateral independence in your hands, you might focus your attention on touch, fluidity, timbre or any of the myriad variables of importance.

    And then, any of these will have an overarching, structural significance in a piece all of which need to be dynamically managed to achieve the aesthetic aims of the player. And there’s no more challenging example than an adept musician improvising fluently.

    The involvement the vocal cords in music has always fascinated me- these muscles are bilaterally controlled but in normal use are ‘in sync’ with each other. It would be interesting to know if these involuntary vocalisations represent independent control of the left and right vocal cords, entrained with the activity of the hands as they play the piano.

  • Mark Delepine

    March 12, 2023 at 7:25 pm

    “The involvement the vocal cords in music has always fascinated me- these muscles are bilaterally controlled but in normal use are ‘in sync’ with each other. It would be interesting to know if these involuntary vocalisations represent independent control of the left and right vocal cords, entrained with the activity of the hands as they play the piano.“

    It would indeed be interesting to know that too, Paul. I’m not a musician but it sounds like you have some insight into that. I had a gf in the late 70’s who played piano and I got hooked on Jarrett the first time she played a recording of the Koln concert. Of all the possible choices we don’t make in life, not being more involved in music is up there for me

  • Paul

    March 13, 2023 at 12:25 pm

    (Future Me: Apologies in advance for the long post. I hope this is ok).

    Playing music really is part of the backbone of my life Mark. It is an amazing thing but (in the West particularly) cultures are very poor at encouraging people (of any age) to engage in making music (I think) because there is a Left-H (hemisphere) emphasis on ‘rightness’ ‘quality’ ‘precision’ and ‘attainment’.

    In cultures where things are less formally organised in music, where the transmission of music is essentially oral, where the aims are social and expressive- almost everybody plays music, almost everybody dances, almost everybody sings. I was lucky enough to be inoculated with such a culture in my twenties after playing guitar and singing a lot in my teens. It transformed my perspective and life totally.

    Music is now the domain of my life where a cooperative unity of the two minds I carry with me is expressed most harmoniously. And having that experience informs where I might aim for other domains, like thinking and wondering or communicating with others.

    There’s another thing I have noticed that might be useful to mention- in any creative endeavour it is appreciation that matters most. I think his is really about attention (and there’s a recent video I have yet to watch on this from Iain). What I mean here is that you could be the most fluent and sophisticated executor of an operation (a piece of music, a cake recipe) but unless you appreciate what is created and how it feels, you will remain uninspired, it will not transport you, you will not notice what is special about it, and in it’s execution (critically in music for example) you will not express this or develop the piece.

    I have known a number of wonderful, classically-trained musicians who feel like this about music: for them the achievement has really been about left-hemisphere criteria such as precision, fluency, mastery- so, deviation from these aims is seen as risky or even dangerous. Indeed, it probably is all of these things where the expression is part of an orchestral presentation. But it is a feeling many of them find hard to shake when they play elsewhere.

    Anyway, for me that capture by the oral and mostly African tradition of music taught me the foundations of an appreciation of Rhythm. And the cornerstone of this was something called a ‘clavé’, a two bar, typically 2/4, looping rhythm. Learning how to perform one of these rhythms is totally within anyone’s capacity. They are actually very simple- but do not seem to be. That’s the beauty of them.

    The magic happens when you split the rhythm across your two hands with the right playing the regular, 1-2-1-2 pulse and the left playing the asymmetric part. Suddenly, the rhythm is transformed in your mind into a gestalt; something which has an actual personality or character. With maybe an hour’s practice pretty much anyone can learn to do this just tapping their hands on their thighs. Then you can spend another hour swapping the hands around so the left carries the pulse and the right the asymmetric. Then you can alternate left to right on the pulse/ asymmetric parts… but I digress.

    Why do this? Well, you already own the instrument so it only costs you time. More importantly you get this wonderful experience, that you don’t really hear the rhythm (in other words know the rhythm and it’s personality) until you split it across your hands. If there is a better or more accessible demonstration of the power of asymmetric, hemispheric processing, I don’t know what that could be.

    Suddenly the rhythm comes to life and you realise that it almost seems to exist in a Platonic Realm (or something like whatever that is); that the rhythm seems conscious, playful, alive. It is a most joyful and humbling experience. So, once you have this appreciation, the experience is transformed (and transforms you).

    There are many videos out there teaching how to have the experience I am talking about above but here’s one that shows where it can go. Notice how the the whole piece seems ridiculously complex, seeming to shift beautifully and smoothly like a musical kaleidoscope. Actually what is happening is conceptually simple (from the left-H): the right hand and left foot play a two separate but repeating rhythms. Notice, the right-H appreciates and wants to experience the beauty but cannot access doing it without the help of the left-H. Amzingly, the only thing changing here is the left hand, smoothly switching between counting in fours, counting in fours but starting the first bar one beat later and so on.

    Now I can appreciate what’s happening here but I know the only way I could really experience it would be to do it, and to do it enough that my hearing engagement could draw back and appreciate the whole. It would probably take me a couple of weeks of regular study (and a drum kit) to try this for myself- if I lived as a hermit without concern for other things this would be much less intimidating. An adept could probably gather this within an hour.

    What I’m trying to say in this rambling and wordy way is that an appreciation of the whole drives an understanding of the parts of the whole that is then wonderfully recombined as a new whole when it is reassembled in the direct experience of doing and re-appreciating.

    Now notice how this experience is only really accessed when the rhythm is split bilaterally, across the hands forcing cross-lateral disinhibition to create a gestalt experience. I believe this is one of the reasons music, dancing and other coordinated, fundamentally bilateral actions are so engaging and beautiful to us.

    I hope this makes sense and I hope it illustrated what I’m trying to say about the fluid and constructive interplay between the hemispheres I believe is uniquely accessible through music via Appreciation as the foundation.


    • Samuel Ford

      March 13, 2023 at 3:25 pm

      “I have known a number of wonderful, classically-trained musicians who feel like this about music: for them the achievement has really been about left-hemisphere criteria such as precision, fluency, mastery- so, deviation from these aims is seen as risky or even dangerous. Indeed, it probably is all of these things where the expression is part of an orchestral presentation. But it is a feeling many of them find hard to shake when they play elsewhere.”

      Yes I agree, and for this reason many people who have had some classical training are hopeless at writing music and at improvisation (excluding the true masters and composers). They have often been trained just to complete what’s on a page, not necessarily to understand the patterns of music at an intuitive level. There are many people who can play a fugue, but how many can compose or improvise a fugue? That might seem like a big ask, but such skills were expected of working musicians in the baroque period when fugues were actually being written (this tradition is now slowly coming back with the re-discovery of ‘partimento’ teaching techniques).

      Great Jazz players such as Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Thelonius Monk, Chick Corea, Bill Evans could sit at a piano and create new music in real-time, much more impressive in my opinion than being able to sight read somebody else’s work – the jazz pianist Erroll Garner (the fella in the video I posted in this thread) was once asked criticised because he couldn’t read sheet music, he simply responded “No-one comes to watch me read”.

      • Paul

        March 13, 2023 at 3:35 pm

        Yes, you are making an excellent point here Samuel. If I may be so bold, what we think of as “Classical Music” is probably quite a different thing to what is was originally. It was just music and played to varying degrees freely. I don’t think this is much of a mystery really because culture (particularly textual, language based and hierarchical culture) tends to close down variation over time.

        I do think that where this culture produces really remarkable musicians and performances, there is probably a large degree of free expression of which the listener is only tangentially or implicitly aware, something that runs probably counter to the general point I was making.

        But then I also think this isn’t typical for most musicians.

      • Don Salmon

        April 4, 2023 at 4:16 pm

        Hi folks – great discussion here.

        I started composing music when I was 11 (playing the accordion!!ARGHH) and continued enjoying it as a kind of free form improvisation for the next 6 years. I learned harmony by listening to and improvising on all of the Beatles’ songs, and most of my friends in rock groups learned to create music by ear.

        When I was 17, I took a year off from high school to study formal composition and it drove me crazy at first. I had somehow managed to improvise a somewhat sophisticated piece that was a kind of cross between Bartok and Profokiev. Well, my composition teacher showed me all kinds of (very left hemisphere) tricks to play around with the main theme, the harmony, etc.

        I got nowhere for months, as I would improvise something that sounded good but had no logical structure, or I’d compose a few bars that were logically clear but sounded terrible.

        Then one day something happened and took over my hand and I simply sat with the music paper and “composed” logically clear AND nice sounding music – about 1 1/2 pages of it. This was astonishing to me and initiated a life-long interest in the integration of intuition and analysis (RH/LH).

        I saw it expressed in countless ways when I did research as a psychologist or wrote psychological evaluations and even in doing therapy. I see it in amazing ways in the contemplative and yogic worlds, East and West, where SO many these days have a left hemisphere fascination with “techniques” – yet if you go back a few centuries, you don’t find spiritual practice (even among many if not most “yogis”) so obsessed with breathing and postures and mantras – well, mantras, but often more as a devotional means of bringing attention to an infinite “reality” – but that’s another topic)

        I spend a little time each day going to my keyboard (music, not computer) and just opening to whatever inspiration strikes. It’s amusing – having been a near fanatic Jarrett fan decades ago, I still find motifs and even passages of his flowing into my improvisations.

        • Samuel Ford

          April 14, 2023 at 12:31 pm

          Interesting video RE: jazz musicians and the right hemisphere – two musicians speaking about the great jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and the three principles he used to create beautiful inspiring music in so many different groups and styles.

          1. Trust

          2. Exploration

          3. Imagination

          All 3 are values of the right hemisphere!


          • Don Salmon

            April 14, 2023 at 2:36 pm

            Great video. Thanks a lot Samuel.

            I would be quite cautious, though, about overly dividing up qualities of LH and RH. Take “exploration” for example – you need a sense of direction (literal or metaphorical!) to provide structure for the RH openness.

            Although Iain is a clinician, to the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t said much – if anything apart from “try mindfulness” – about how to apply these things to our lives.

            Les Fehmi was a physiological psychologist who taught people varying forms of attention (which, I suppose if you combine them, would yield dozens if not hundreds of different ways to mix LH and RH attention) that successfully reduced or cured depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain, relationship problems, and more.

            I’ve noticed, particularly when I do “free improv,” that there’s an ever-changing (moment to moment, seemingly instant to instant) process of shifting attention as I need to let go of anticipation and then need to add a bit more structure – and even the way I’m putting it, it may seem like “let go of anticipation” is “RH” and “more structure is “LH.” But I don’t think it works that way, and I don’t think Iain would either – IF he would talk more about practical applications.

            I know he always assumes that to talk about practical applications is a LH preoccupation.

            But I think that holding tightly to that idea may be LH imbalance!

            in any case, we can try it for ourselves. How am I attending this very moment? Is it loose, tight, constricted, relaxed, immersed in experience, detached and controlling, or some complex combination? It’s a fascinating experiment which can be done every moment of one’s life.

  • Mark Delepine

    April 15, 2023 at 1:33 am

    Thank you for the video and your insight, Samuel Ford. I’m a total outsider where music is concerned but those certainly sound like important values to me. Regardless the contribution of each hemisphere, what really matters is how the whole individual embraces and embodies them. It sure sounds like Herbie Hancock managed that quite well.

    Not sure why I lost track of this conversation but I’m happy to have found my way back.

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