Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Perfection vs. Improvisation?

Lately I've been reading of concerns that Lost is being plotted one episode at a time rather than with a long-range story planned. Yet this off-the-cuff creation is celebrated in jazz improvisation. I have noticed a trend in the arts towards perfection over spontaneity. Recordings and computer-generated music have made listeners used to note-perfect performances, so that even one misplayed pitch can ruin their enjoyment. This makes performers timid, afraid of taking chances that could increase the risk of mistakes. I think this has also bled over into improvisation, both in music and in drama. Attempts to have improvised TV shows have been middling at best, and held only to comedies (The Bonnie Hunt Show, Sons and Daughters, What's My Line?). Likewise, musical improv seems to be only acceptable in jazz and blues. Dramatic shows, such as Lost, cannot be improvised or plotted 1-2 shows ahead of shooting, because audiences are also afraid. Performers are afraid of making technical mistakes, audiences are afraid of making emotional mistakes. Invest in a world that hasn't been fully formed, and run the risk of being disappointed at the end. Perhaps we all need to take more chances. Risk ruining a performance for the opportunity to create sublime art. Risk wasting fifty hours of your life on an off-the-cuff TV show that could end in a way that you and the creators never imagined.


Jennifer Grucza said...

The thing is, too, when you're worried about playing a note in tune, or hitting all the notes in a run, it makes it even harder to accomplish.

Michelle said...

I'm curious - where are you reading these concerns about Lost? Because everything I've heard about Lost (including the podcast the writers put out) indicates that they have the basic plot points of the show essentially mapped out for 5 to 6 years! Aside from that, point well-taken. Sort of like the show 24, where a couple of seasons ago it really seemed haphazard and not well-planned - some of the twists (like Jack Bauer's daughter getting stalked by a COUGAR for heaven's sake) rang a bit hollow. They've improved that situation this season and I'm much more willing to go along for the ride now.

In anything, I think there needs to be a balance between freedom and control. Most improvised music still has some sort of harmonic, motivic, or rhythmic underpinning to guide the perfomer - but those boundaries give the player a foundation for exploration.

Scott Spiegelberg said...

This post mentions the possibility: "I'd be amazed if Lost's researchers weren't reading those exact words. Some have speculated that the show is only being produced a few episodes in advance, as the screenwriters are wrangling the numerous ideas generated in fans' forums into the script ..."