slip stream – between poetics and politics – improvisation in Cologne



2015 (5.) slip stream - between poetics and politics – improvisation in Cologne, Tanya Ury’s article in English published online in “Performance Matters”, a new journal in performance studies, edited by Prof. Dr. Peter Dickinson, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver (CA)


Cologne has a well-established jazz scene that has developed over the last thirty years around the University of Music and Dance, the largest institution of its kind in Europe, and also because of the WDR (West German Radio) concert sessions at the Stadtgarten venue and WDR radio in general.

But a free improvisation music scene, where rules that apply to sets are likewise cast overboard while musicians harmonize together, has evolved parallel to the schooled jazz improvisation milieu. This alternative scene also throws free jazz styles together with funk, rock, and New Music, but is less bound to academic dictates.

My involvement with the alternative scene of Düsseldorf and Cologne, in the North Rhine-Westphalia area of Germany, started in 2011 when Stefan Nordbeck, a musician at a performance evening I attended at the WP8 Kunstverein (Art Centre) in Düsseldorf invited me to take part in a future session with improvised poetry when I told him that I wrote poetry.

The resultant unorthodox poems, which continued flowing during cancer treatment in the years following, when mind and body could not concentrate proficiently or for long periods of time, were a compilation of words, thoughts that routinely run through the mind, usually discarded or forgotten, a stream of the unconscious, notated; or the sounds of words, onomatopoeia re-interpreted, the meaning deconstructed; words read or heard moreover, misread, misheard, slips of the mind, wordplay, poems that write themselves and these all put together in series, so that a different sense might be intuited through the juxtaposition of lines that may nevertheless have been written on different occasions. In its style and intention the poetry is automatique — it is a collection of jumbled, abstract but sometimes cogent ideas that reflect day-to-day life, changing moods and preoccupations. With this practice, it is possible to approach everyday social dilemmas from a poetic perspective.

I describe the process of oral improvisation, similar to the automatic writing of poetry.