Online improvisation with Alistair Zaldua: Three Questions

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Using the online software Jamulus, internationally renowned composer, Alistair Zaldua worked with mentor, Alwynne Pritchard to develop the experimental piece performed almost 2 years later at Goldsmith campus.

Alistair performing

In March 2022, the Contemporary Music Research Unit welcomed internationally renowned composers Alwynne Pritchard and Alistair Zaldua to showcase their long-distance collaboration at Deptford Town Hall. The duet worked via online improvisation rehearsal for 8 months, developing their practice and hosting key discussions remotely from Canterbury, Manchester and Norway between 2021- 2022. 


What are you here to talk about?

In summary, we’re discussing the fundamentals of this online practice, addressing both its benefits and limitations. The performance at Goldsmiths formed part of a mini tour of shows across the UK, presenting the work developed remotely Alwynne and other collaborators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although, working and developing an improvisational practice online was more demanding than initially expected, the different experiences of practicing were something I came to reflect upon after the project developed and we moved towards in-person rehearsals. Although a concert presentation doesn’t allow me to summarize all my research findings, it did allow me to share the result of an iterative approach to practice research with others who may be considering or working already in online collaboration. 

Why is it important for us to be talking about this type of practice?

This is an important topic in the industry to discuss, especially with the latest developments in technology (and most recently a global pandemic) where addressing both the benefits and limitations of online collaboration can help students, staff and performers bridge the gap in practice when faced with distance, busy schedules or travel restrictions. One of the main problems we face with online music was the individual experience of sound and environment, how it influences practice and the way we create music. This is because the tendency with free improvisation is for musicians either to respond and react to each other or play in parallel.

Although this has a decisive impact on how you play, it is also a key characteristic of how our musical activity unfolded and worked, even in the limitations of an online setting. With other kinds of music-making activities, specifically where a score is involved and rhythmic coordination is key, the limitations of rehearsing online may more apparent.

Why is online improvisation important to the Goldsmiths community?

Many meetings, tutorials and lectures take place remotely today, either via Teams or with other similar interfaces. Utilizing online platforms for musical collaboration is a creative tool and resource that can help aspiring and current artists, in both practice without the restrictions of distance, and in the management their performance energies – learning to control to withhold their total efforts until the showcasing event.

I found that practice over Jamulus helped me to ‘hold back’ until our performance at Goldsmiths, seeing practice sessions as the buildup to unleashing all my musical energy for that had been saved for the most important occasion. It is therefore my hope that this project might present an example for researchers, at any level, at Goldsmiths the opportunity that can be explored in online music making.