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Questionnaire: Michel Doneda (2007)

November 2, 2010

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

No I haven’t, I am a self-taught musician. I have been working with the saxophone in my own way from the beginning until now.

2. What kind of equipment/instrument do you use, and what is you relationship towards it?

I have a normal soprano sax. I work within  its “limits”. But the limits are not in the instrument. So I will have to work all my life, I’m afraid. 🙂

What do you think lies behind your choice of the equipment/instrument?

The breathing, and the sounds that open my body and my mind. I am more interested in this actual experience, and the ways of sharing it, than in musical forms.

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

I prefer experience to experimentation. I think this is what is specific about the improvisational process. I am talking about non-idiomatic improvisation. Improvisation means that the connection between you and your instrument is unmediated, and also, that the connection between players, between you and the audience, with the room where you are playing, is mediated by the music. It also means that you have the responsibility, here and now, for what you are playing/doing.

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

Maybe because sounds are more important for me than music. I remember the first sound I played. I am always at this level. Improvisation is movement, and because of that I’ve met so many artists, and been to so many countries. Also, this is an individual process in a collective approach. No hierarchy! I trust individual relationships more than objects and music is an object to me. And then there are reasons for this involvement that I will never know, maybe they just have to do with luck?

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

I think that the process of improvising is somewhere in between planning and spontaneity. I feel alive in this movement between the two opposite qualities. The balance between these two positions is unstable, fragile, and we can never be sure of who and where we exactly are during an improvisation, so we have to try again and again. But it seems that there is always a one-time, unique thing happening. Former experience is both helpful and meaningless at the same time because of that.

6. Do you “practise” for an improvisation, and what are your general thoughts on the idea of “practising” for improvisation?

Never and all the time. I am living with this process in me. And when you play a brass instrument there are also some technical aspects you have to practice. When I start an improvisation I have nothing in my head. I try to be there and concentrate as much as I can.

When you improvise, do you use sounds that you’ve already “tried out”, and how much room is there for actual sound experimentation?

Yes, my memory is always in function, but it is not because I decide so, I would prefer to be able to be like a “blank page” but this absolute and abstract idea is impossible. Also there are mechanisms employed in the playing which are deeply anchored in my body. But I try to have a fresh listening-place. And I follow the sounds in the space. I always feel refreshed by the activity of listening. Sometimes of course I discover a sound which I can never get back at.

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

I don’t really care about good or bad. I think that each improvisation is a unique, one-off thing and in this way it cannot be something else. Of course I experience different feelings but I try to accept them as they are. Maybe my concept is too close to real life.

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

No and yes. Because every situation happens for the first and the last time. So I know this session is recorded and I forget about it. Also, most of the time I don’t decide to make a record before the actual recording so it is impossible for me to say: I play for the record. I should have to talk about every record of improvisation I’ve made. Of course it is a small part compared to all the music which disappears in the air.


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