Franz Kamin Memories

On Franz Kamin: Improvisation and Empowerment

By John Beaulieu April 16, 2010

Franz was my friend, colleague, and mentor. We came from Indiana to New York together to fulfill a vision. That our paths crossed in this lifetime is a blessing. That he has left this world is sad and I miss him as I sit within a void of silence. With who else can I discuss the manifolds of topological space and the number of holes in the human cranium related to the sounds of a special Indian flute creating love songs? Maybe by talking it through the void of his passing can transform into the enfolded integrity of a hole through which we can touch his spirit across the time space continuum. Maybe this is the beginning of a new concert of holes. Or maybe Franz just married Ann Margret and we are witnessing a “strange ceremony”.

Franz taught improvisation within rigorous parameters. Improvisation was a discipline one developed within compositional constraints. He believed that without compositional rules a performance would always revert back to repetition and clichés, i.e.: musicians playing the same rhythms and chords over and over with slight variations. In other words if one were to put a group of musicians into room without rules they would at some point fall into, as Franz would say, “the uninteresting”.

Franz used mathematics to create improvisational parameters. The musician was allowed to pick parameters of the sound based on instructions which were given in different forms. These included number repetitive patterns based on mathematical formulas, various timing systems ranging from timing cue cards to spinning tops, graphic / visual sound representations, mazes, and network diagrams. One purpose of these “sound systems” was to interrupt, stop, short circuit, and ultimately move beyond the tendency towards sound clichés.

Simultaneously his compositional methods were based on a musical vision which integrated complex mathematical structures, science, and mysticism with improvisation. Through his compositions both the performer and listener could enter complex topological spaces filled with “improvisational holes”. The performer, following the system rules, was free to improvise and “perform” their part of the composition. The sum total of musicians improvising within the defined parameters was always larger than the sounds of the individual musicians. This larger aspect could be understood as Franz’s compositional vision manifesting within the field of improvisation coordinated by an underlying mathematical system.

Franz went to great lengths to write out his compositional systems. Although the mathematics giving rise to the systems were always in the background, the specific improvisational requirements to meet the mathematical rigor were written with exacting detail. The performer could experience “freedom” and “excitement” to be part of a Kamin performance once they learned his improvisational system. However, make no mistake, the discipline required for performance freedom and excitement was both visionary and exacting.

Franz’s integrative improvisational sound systems were not limited to musicians. Franz used dancers, readers, painters, and most any modality he thought could be coordinated within the parameters of the compositional system. Often times one did not have to be a trained in the arts to be part of a Kamin performance. This is what made Franz available to people he might have never come into contact with in the traditional art / music world.

Franz’s ability to relate to all people with an interest in the arts and include them in his works was in many ways his crowing “human” achievement. Franz was in this since truly inspiring. He inspired the creative artistic spirits of those that took part in his vision. He gave many people the opportunity to participate without having to have years of formal training. He empowered his performers to bring their innate artistic talents forward and to creatively express themselves. In this sense the preparation for his performances were transmissions which empowered the performers far beyond the discipline of his compositions.

I am sure Franz’s musical compositions will find their own life in the musical world. However those of us who had the privilege and honor of working with him will always have his artistic spirit with us. We have been touched by something rare and special. We have all been given a gift.