Fully/Partially Improvised Works

I’m wondering how best to represent work level credits for work that’s fully improvised or partially improvised.

For example, Made to Break, a jazz group, has compositions by Ken Vandermark, but the entire group is also credited as ‘music improvised by’. My guess is that these compositions are fairly loose, potentially grooves, or various ideas that can be interpreted on the spot to create the piece.

This is slightly different than pieces that are entirely improvised. see, for example, pieces featured on this release: https://musicbrainz.org/release/a8ce6de3-0ae8-4229-8e02-1aa45df8c4c0 In this case the pieces are fully improvised, so I gave each member of the group a composer credit, as it seems like they were composing on the spot. But this seems a strange solution.

In the case of Made to Break (which I’m in the process of cataloging), some of Vandermark’s compositions are played on other live releases, so it would make sense to link them. One solution would be to create a new work that represents Vandermark’s score, and have the various improvisations of it as spontaneous arrangements, but, again that relationship seems misapplied.


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I think one of the essential qualities of a Work is that it can be performed again. There is a grey area with partial improvisation.
But “fully improvised”, even with a common theme/focus/name, would say to me that the performances would not be the same Work.

Well, no, I wouldn’t think fully improvised works would have much potential to be performed again (though they could, like the various arrangements of Metal Machine Music). But I still think it’s important to reflect the creative role the various improvisers have. I’m just not sure if we have anything better than ‘composer’ though.

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“Performer” in improvisation at least, and if I read Glenn Gould correctly all the way across the performance of scored works, trounces “Composer” thoroughly (IMO).

I’m probably going too far but GG seems to view the composition as something that the performer is using as an aid to their creativity - an voluntary limitation to spark higher performer creativity.

I see something similar in composer = [traditional] - variations by the performer are expected and usually non-remarkable (as in usually not claimed as Arrangements).

These are very much my views and I have no idea what wider MB community views are on this. I’d be interested to hear more views.

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That’s a good point about Gould, but I think free improvisation usually comes with the expectation that there’s a greater level of contribution to the work, or at least a different level of contribution.

At any rate, would something that’s fully improvised just not have a ‘work’ entity?

I would generally not create a work at all for a full improvisation.

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If the so called work is only recorded once, in particular. → no works.

If the work is recorded a second time, then it’s no longer a full improvisation (except if it only shares the title but there are no common musics inside), it can have a MB work, I guess.

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Maybe an improvisation attribute to subtypes of the Artist-Recording relationship type Performance would allow to credit improvisers, just like there is a solo attribute for the Performer to credit soloists.

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Maybe, though one could argue that that would be implied for any jazz work, or even as @mmirG pointed out, any performance.

Personally, I would rather have that attribute attached to ‘composer’ at the work level. This seems a controversial opinion, but I don’t think the definition of a work should hinge on its ability to be recreated. I realize that that seems like the most sensible definition from a database perspective (why have works that necessarily only correspond to one performance), but it doesn’t make sense to me from an ontological perspective.

It’s also problematic, in some cases, from a publishing perspective. For example, the box set listed above (https://musicbrainz.org/release/a8ce6de3-0ae8-4229-8e02-1aa45df8c4c0), all of the pieces are published and copyrighted by the improvisers. I didn’t reflect this in the records for the works, because I got a bit lazy, but despite the fact that it’s unlikely that the works will be reproduced at any other time, they are still viewed as a creative work subject to copyright.