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Questionnaire: Robin Hayward (2007)

1. Have you got any formal musical training, and what do you draw from it now?

Yes, I studied classical music, which it’s well known can be a hindrance to improvising. When I first started improvising I think it was a hindrance, but this was nearly 20 years ago. Now I use the training occasionally to play a normal note in the midst of mainly noise-based improvising, and the aural training I received helps me judge the interval I’ll play if I play a pitch when someone else is playing one too.
Outside of improvising I use the training quite a bit, as I also play and write contemporary composed music and am involved in exploring tuning systems, which mean being able to play normal tones on the instrument.

2. What kind of equipment/instrument do you use, and what is you relationship towards it? What do you think lies behind your choice of the equipment/instrument?

I play tuba, without any electronics though the way I play it often sounds very electronic. A love-hate relationship, as I actually have considerable problems with it when it’s played normally. Maybe this was the reason I ended up playing it the way I do. At 10 years old I was too young to know better when I took it up – I wanted to play trumpet and they put me on tuba.
I like the physicality of acoustic instruments. Maybe this is the reason I’ve mainly avoided electronics so far.

3. What is it that attracts you towards musical experimentation?

This is very hard to answer, as I’m not sure it’s really rational. Perhaps it’s just that I enjoy exploring and discovering – curiosity, not knowing what’s round the corner. But why this should be in music rather than anything else I really have no idea.

4. Why are you involved in improvisation, and how do you perceive it?

I like the fact that it questions and breaks down the classical hierarchy of composer-performer-listener. It’s a very social way of making music. And I like the direct contact with the sound, and the immediacy of inventing music while I’m playing it. Plus the challenge of trying to make it work with other people.

5. How do you perceive the relation between planning and spontaneity in improvisation?

I certainly find it necessary to reflect on the music, which I suppose is a kind of planning. Occasionally if I’m finding the music too routined I deliberately do something that doesn’t obviously fit in in order to throw the music into a different direction, or even deliberately lose technical control and then work with whatever the instrument throws up. But mostly it’s a question of listening both to what’s going on and playing when I hear something I want to contribute. Which implies knowing the instrument, controlling the sounds etc – things that would come under the category of planning.

6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?
When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?

I don’t practise for a particular improvisation. I do rehearse with other musicians, but this has to do with developing and clarifying what we’re doing, rather than preparing for a specific improvisation. Sometimes we practise exercises for improvisation, usually arising from having observed that something’s happening by default rather than because we want it to. The exercises are intended to make us more aware of whatever it is and learn strategies of how to avoid it. Yes, I do mostly use sounds that I have control over, which implies having tried them out and practised them. But I try to avoid simply playing repertoire – the challenge is to use the sounds so they make musical sense, though it’s not always easy to say why a sound seems to make sense in one context and not in another – it’s necessary to work very empirically. There are definitely rules, though it’s often hard to say what they are. It’s mainly just a question of remaining sensitive to the present moment and intuiting what it seems to imply.

7. How do you evaluate an improvisation? What is it, according to you, that makes one improvisation better than another?

I suppose I have a set of criteria, some quite conventional: did the form work, were things too predictable etc. One sign of a successful improvisation is often that the music seemed to play itself, without any effort. But it’s often quite hard to say why one improvisation worked and another one didn’t.

8. When you are recording for a release, does the awareness of being recorded influence your playing, and in what way?

It can help focus things. Actually I haven’t recorded that much improvised music though.