Phil Hopkins
Amplified Gesture: An Introduction to Free Improvisation: Practitioners and their Philosophy (2008/2009)
Director: Phil Hopkins
Year: 2009
Time: 56 mins

Music: Eddie Prévost, Evan Parker, Fennesz, John Tilbury, Keith Rowe, Michael Moser, David Sylvian, Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M, Toshimaru Nakamura, Werner Dafeldecker.

The subtitle for this suspenseful documentary, An Introduction to Free Improvistation: Practicioners and their Philosophy, could perhaps be criticised for being misleading or, at least, for failing to deliver its promise. But it would probably be unfair to blame director Phil Hopkins for all its shortcomings: Amplified Gesture was commissioned as a visual companion to David Syvian's Manafon and, as such, the director was forced to interview all the musicians participating in the project. Strangely enough, improv is not an area in which "practitioners" have developed an acute sense of theoretical and critical creativity: except for Tim Hodgkinson, whose theoretical polemics sometimes draw close to absurdity and fundamentalism, and a few others thinkers, the "scene" seems not to have an articulate spokesmen to explore its mysteries, dilemmas and "philosophy". Nevertheless, there is a clear generational divide in the cast for Amplified Gesture: on the one hand, old-school British giants such as Evan Parker, Eddie Prévost and Keith Rowe; on the other, younger Japanese luminaries and miscigenators like Sachiko M, Otomo Yoshihide and Toshimaru Nakamura. It is perhaps sad to note that the old folks win by a landslide, discussing pertinent issues on the politics and practice of improv, while the kids usually have nothing to say but such platitudes as "I wanted to do my own thing" or "I started playing because I wanted to get a girlfriend". John Butcher rightfully comments on the progressive standardisation and narrowing down of improv musical practices, but also notes that this is concomitant with a more detailed analysis of materials. Prévost discusses the political implications of technique and composition, and briefly alludes to the art of listening in playing as well as to the creative role of audiences and their input on performance. Evan Parker, perhaps the most solid thinker in the cast, explores the dynamic "bio-feedback" relation between musician and instrument, the wills and destinies of the instrument when in charge of the musician, and the need for "estimation" abilities in the context of the ideals of control over the improvised event; he also touches on the humanist dimensions of music communication, and tries to place improv in the context of a continuing resistance to commodification that also extends to other fields of expression. Overall, as an essay on the art of memory and forgetting as condensed in the always expanding field of "free improv", Amplified Gesture falls short of the expectations it creates. Nevertheless, it is a enticing work for anyone interested in improv or the musicians involved.