"The Improvisation of Human Existence"
Dr. Laser and the Nocturnal Emissions
were playing at a nice little joint that had
a central stage with a bar on one side and
a restaurant on the other when a storm
rolled in and the power went out.
The staff went around and distributed
extra candles for lighting in addition
to the ones already on the table.
Jolt managed to keep the electronic instruments
going for the remainder of the current set, but
by the end of that he was tired and they
still had one more set to go.
"What are we going to do now?"
Soundwave asked. "I'm the only one
playing an acoustic instrument at all,
and even part of my drum rig is electric."
"We can improvise," said Nightshade.
"I've done it before. When I was hanging out
with supervillains, we couldn't always count on
having equipment or electricity. It's been a while,
but I can show everyone how it works."
She led them into the kitchen, where they
found spoons and bottles and rubber bands.
There were bamboo slats for clap sticks,
buckets and tubs to be turned into drums.
Salt shakers were filled with dried beans
or rice to make impromptu rattles.
Happily, it turned out that Jolt
already knew how to play spoons
and of course Nightshade had
played clap sticks before.
Soundwave had no trouble
adapting to the bucket drums.
Heartthrob quickly learned how
to keep a beat with the shakers.
Dr. Laser experimented with
the rubber bands and found that
stretching them over an open tub
created enough resonance
for the sound to carry.
Misty ran water into her bottles
until she had a simple pentatonic scale
that could be played by blowing
over the open necks.
They experimented with Soundwave
setting the beat on different bucket drums
and Heartthrob doing it with shakers.
Nightshade understood how to riff
around them already, and she showed
Dr. Laser some of the basics for
jamming this way while Jolt
followed along on spoons.
Then Dr. Laser and Misty
started singing, and once they
got the hang of it, began the final set.
Part of the audience had given up
and gone home after the power went out,
but those who stayed got what they paid for.
The room was quiet without
any of the usual electronic sounds
in the background, and the crowd
was quiet too, so that they could
hear without any amplifiers.
The sound was funky and whimsical,
so they chose mostly folk songs
and a little jazz. They even
tried scat singing for a while.
Some of their own tunes adapted well
to the impromptu instruments, others less so.
Dr. Laser could tell that Misty was thinking
about them, and he suspected that she
would be writing something to suit.
After the final the set concluded,
the crowd gave them a standing ovation,
which was probably as much for ingenuity
as for skill, since most of them were
playing unfamiliar instruments.
The tip jar came back full, the manager
declared himself satisfied, and the band
packed up to head back to their hotel.
But on the way there, everyone's fingers
drummed against the inside of their van.
* * *
"There's nothing that makes you so aware of the improvisation of human existence as a song unfinished. Or an old address book."
-- Carson McCullers
Musical improvisation is the art of playing without a score. Here are some tips and exercises for it.
Improvised and homemade instruments can be fun, and they figure into folk music and several other genres. Watch a video.
Clapsticks include round and flat versions. Learn how to make and play clapsticks.
Spoons are easy to find and play.
Bottles may be blown similar to flutes.
Rubber bands make an interesting guitar.
Shakers can be played in several ways.
You can make a drum set out of buckets. There is even sheet music for playing bucket drums.