Our desire to reconcile our interest in free improvisation, physical performance and sonic exploration has led to the formulation of the performance practice known as rummaging.
A common musical aim we both believe passionately in is the removal of non-essentials. When attempting to convey a musical idea, obstructions to the singular expression of that intent must be removed.
When playing improvised music, as both us have for several years, we realised that the moments that really satisfied us were the little, unpredictable moments of complexity that arose. The micro-gestures that would appear and disappear, flittering moments where chance rhythms presented themselves and spoke to each other in ways outside of our conscious intention. Chaos, in the true sense of the word.
The practice of rummaging establishes an environment that enables the performer to create a sound-world built on these micro-gestures and chaotic interactions, in a manner free from impurities and obfuscations. The physical practice is deceptive simple; objects are placed in a container and manipulated with the hands. Through the collision of these objects, a percussive music is produced that reflects the aims stated above.
The rummaging vessel is a microcosm of the dialogue created through improvisation. Tension and release, dynamic interplay, rhythmic synchronicity and chaotic unpredictability. Gestures rise and fall, objects collide and separate. Rhythms and pitches cascade.
The restraint imposed by rummaging is intended to free the mind from the conscious decisions involved in the creation of improvised music. The complexity that arises from the chance collisions of objects exceeds anything that could be created by the human hand. By removing the element of control, the player is free to focus on the resulting mesh of sounds. Allowing the mind to become saturated with the complexity of the sonic information provided by rummaging can facilitate achieving a clarity of thought similar to the practice of Mandala meditation. This mirrors one of the principal aesthetic aims of rummaging; the attainment of purity through chaos.
Based on our original aims and objectives, we produced a mission statement:
"play a vibration on the rhythm of the universe"
- Stockhausen, Aus den sieben Tagen (1968)
- The purpose of Rummaging is the creation of noise
- The approach is straightforward: Objects placed in a container are played with the hands. The act of rummaging creates sounds through the collision of objects both with each other and their container.
- Safety equipment may prove useful.
- The disassociation of rhythmic intuition is paramount.
- The focus is on a constant, consistent noise.
- The aspiration should always be the creation of the purist sound possible.
- Any attempt to shape the sound in any way is to be avoided at all costs, with perhaps the exception of dynamics to shape a group performance.
- When performing with others, listen but do not allow another's performance to influence your own. Interplay should be purely coincidental.
- Allow the sounds to improvise with other of their own accord — when given the opportunity, they will do so. Listen for and enjoy these moments as you enable them to exist.
- Rummaging favours duration.
- Rummaging is freedom from improvisation.
- Rummaging is the rhythm of the universe.
Henry Collins and Robin Foster, 2014
In the two years since this statement was first written down, and as the practice has been developed through performances, it's safe to say that artistic license has been used regarding many of these points. Performances have used an entire room as the rummaging vessel, and objects manipulated with entire bodies instead of hands. Performances have been so physically intense that durations of more than a few minutes have been impossible. We have conducted orchestras of many performers, and deliberately used different timbres and volumes to create textures and compose performances. In a broader sense, we have used rummaging as in "instrument" in its own right, alongside other performers and instruments. In much the same way that the violin, for example, has its own conventions ("rules") regarding playing, which must be ignored by the avant garde player who wishes to seek out new ways to express herself, it may be required that the established conventions for rummaging are freely ignored in the process of musical experimentation. We feel strongly however that in order to ignore these conventions, one must first recognise and understand their original purpose.