Free improvisation is improvised music without any rules beyond the logic or inclination of the musician(s) involved. The term can refer to both a technique (employed by any musician in any genre) and as a recognizable genre in its own right.
Free improvisation, as a genre of music, developed in the U.S. and Europe in the mid to late 1960s. The musical advancements made through improvisation through Free Jazz served as inspiration to European musicians, who then created "Free Improvisation" as a differentiation. Exponents of free improvised music include saxophonists Evan Parker, Anthony Braxton, Peter Brötzmann and John Zorn, drummer Christian Lillinger, trombonist George Lewis, guitarists Derek Bailey, Henry Kaiser and Fred Frith and the improvising groups Spontaneous Music Ensemble, The Art Ensemble of Chicago and AMM.
In an atonal context, free improvisation refers to where the focus shifts from harmony to other dimensions of music: timbre, melodic intervals, rhythm and the spontaneous interaction between musicians. Although performers may choose to play in a certain style or key, or at a certain tempo, conventional songs are highly uncommon in free improvisation; more emphasis is generally placed on mood, texture or more simply, on performative gesture than on preset forms of melody, harmony or rhythm. These elements are improvised at will, as the music progresses.
At the same time, Free Improvisation is a problematic term. It is neither free nor improvised as in their strict definitions. Musicians who play free improvisation develop highly individualized musical vocabulary which are then played without the restriction of a score. In this sense, the freedom implied by the term Free Improvisation is more of an aesthetic of playing towards notions of freedom than freedom in the pure sense.
As it has influenced and been influenced by other areas of exploration, aspects of modern classical music (extended techniques), noise rock (aggressive confrontation and dissonance), IDM (computer manipulation and digital synthesis), minimalism and electroacoustic music can now be heard in free improvisation.
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