Never Ending Books, located at 810 State St., looks like any second-hand bookstore. The walls are covered in chipping white paint, plastered over with posters advertising workers’ strikes. The bookcases are arranged so that navigating the store becomes a labyrinthine exercise, and there are more books than there is shelf space, resulting in teetering cases and strewn-about piles. Rugs try to hide the dirty brown carpet below, and a thin layer of dust has settled on the entire store.
But tonight all lights are off in the main bookstore. It is the barely lit space to the right that’s getting all the action this evening. On this Monday, as with the last Monday of every month, the New Haven Improvisers Collective has invaded Never Ending Books, creating their own sonic storm to rival the dusty avalanche in the main room.
Bob Gorry, the acting moderator of the group, created NHIC to bring together local musicians interesting in improvising alone and with a group. On occasion, the Collective will perform at such local venues as Firehouse 12. For Gorry, who has a radio show on WNHU 88.7 FM, the University of New Haven’s radio station, the NHIC has become an open space for New Haven residents to play and develop their skills.
“Playing music was not a part of my routine,” the Teva-clad Gorry said, “so I created the NHIC to make music a consistent part of my life.”
A workshop typically consists of Gorry and all others present suggesting different improvisation exercises, which can last anywhere from 17 seconds to several minutes. At Monday’s meeting, the three guitarists, two saxophonists (one soprano, one alto), violist and single computer-based musician incorporate everything from jazz to experimental to modified rock n’ roll. The exercises can focus on a certain acoustic element — mode dynamics, tone or timing — or even use images for inspiration.
Paul McGuire, the evening’s soprano saxophonist, requests the collective play a game he calls “Gravity” and waits for Gorry’s nod of approval before reaching for a stack of what look like futurist Rorschach tests. McGuire quickly clarifies: They are photographs of gravitational reactions and are to inspire the next several minutes of play. What results sounds more like an orchestra tuning up than a solid piece of music. Hidden within the intricate web of sound are flickers of elegance, but they are hard to decipher among the sudden onslaught of individual symphonies.
McGuire got involved with the Collective through a performance the NHIC did two years ago with Butch Morris, a jazz musician known for his conduction theory of free improvisation. He played in the show, was won over and has remained a member ever since.
McGuire, who works for the Yale Economics Department, believes the NHIC is a great way to bring music back to the city of New Haven.
“Folk’s happening all over,” he said, “though jazz not so much. There was a vibrant jazz scene in the ’70s, but not much of it has lingered.”
According to Gorry, the group has not seen many structural changes over its three-year-long existence, though the sound greatly changes each month depending on who turns up and with what instrument in tow. All NHIC workshops are open to the public, and Gorry encourages all to come, regardless of experience.
For Eddie Fishman ’11, a guitar player, the NHIC sounds like an appealing option for improvisation, though the workshop’s location and his own schedule constraints are deterrents.
“People who play music are typically interested in messing around and improvising but rarely have a venue or means to organize that,” Fishman said. “It’s great that the workshops provide that.”
On Saturday, Oct. 27, the NHIC will perform a set entitled “Quantum Decoherence and other New Works” at Firehouse 12.