Stephen Nachmanovitch

“There are no dots. What is there is the connection” – Interview with Improvisation Violinist, Educator and Author Stephen Nachmanovitch

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On a sunny friday afternoon I find myself in a lively street in the center part of Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. The Dutch musician Rik Spann and today’s interview partner Stephen Nachmanovitch are at my side. Stephen came here to give one of his popular improvisation workshops. Rik and I are two of the participants. None of us know that area of Berlin so we decide to go to an Italian restaurant just a few steps away; artists need to eat as well.

Between pots and pans, and his workshop, Stephen navigates the path into the arts, explaining, “Noticing that you can say things, that you can do things, that you can play, has an effect on the world. The more you discover and surrender to the fact that the world is interconnected and the senses are all interconnected and that creativity is not just a matter of having an idea where some material object went into your brain and then squeezing it through a pen or a computer but realizing that we are in a state of continuous interaction with the world, that is the pathway into the arts. The arts are the trace. Visible art or the recording of music is the trace of some of the sensory evidence of this awareness that we all have.”

Lucky Lemon – Impression from Stephen Nachmanovitch’s Berlin Workshop

Stephen Nachmanovitch is the living proof of the importance of connections. He is a musician, author, computer artist, and educator who began his career as a psychologist. Therefore, one could suggest that he is a master in connecting all these different dots. For Stephen this thought would be the wrong conclusion, “connecting the dots” is a misguided metaphor because that implies that there are separate dots, that the dots exist. But, there are no dots, what there is, is connection”, he says. And for this reason, there is no final product for him. “There is no output, there is no outcome. I mean yes, there is a book that you can hold which is a material object, but it’s all a process.”

So what is the purpose of the process, if it’s not about the result? Is it maybe to create a balance? He points to the busy waiter who just brought us a Pizza and responds, “Equilibrium is constantly moving. If you think equilibrium is a point then you can say: “Here is the zero point where inflows match outflows.” But he is moving, he is a human body who is in constant motion and if he stopped at any of those points the plates would fall.”

Loose Ends – Impression from the Berlin Workshop

During our talk he pursues this idea: “Every technical field has experiential learning about titrating opposites. You operate a camera and you have light and shadow, a range of apertures and speeds and so on. And all those tradeoffs are built into the physical world and they are built into the mathematics so we need to learn those tradeoffs. Now even a field like accounting is a manifestation of those trade-offs in the physical world. (…) You cannot eliminate these tensions and contradictions, rather we have to participate in them as gracefully as we can. That is where the artistic approach meets the world of business.”

The secret of improvisation is, for Stephen Nachmanovitch, to deal with any information that hits us in a certain moment, at a certain place, and by inclusion in of all our senses. “Improvisation is playing music that is less than five minutes old”, he told us. “I’m improvising a piece of music and I have no template, or pattern, or plan. My body, my mind, the environment, and the people that I’m with are the template, the pattern and the plan. The parts of the pattern have been integrated from all time.”

Musician Frédérique Trunk at the Berlin Workshop

But how do you deal with inevitable contradictions then? “Let’s stipulate that you cannot eliminate tensions and contradictions, rather we have to participate in them as gracefully as we can.”, Stephen says. “People have to know something about the experience of another person. If there is a purpose to art it’s to enable people to understand that you are not going to have 99.9% of the human experience but you can be included in other people’s experience through stories, through films, and through art.”

Coming to the world of business we would like to know what he recommends in order to enable improvisation on a corporate level. He leaves us with three pieces of advice, which probably sound simpler to implement than they actually are, “The first thing is: take a very deep breath and allow yourself some time. And the second thing is to allow people into a physical space that is free where they can talk to each other. And third thing is to allow them space in general so that when they go home. They go home and have their independent lives.“

Read the complete interview here.

Interview: Dirk Dobiéy, Transcription: Benjamin Stromberg, Blog: Dirk Dobiéy, Benjamin Stromberg, Stephanie Barnes
Picture Source: Dirk Dobiéy
Stephen Nachmanovitch’s workshop was organized by Yoga Rebellion Berlin. Thank you!



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