Jaka Berger > Improvisation is a practice in art and life that makes us better

Jaka Berger > Improvisation is a practice in art and life that makes us better

Slovenian drummer, composer, improviser and educator Jaka Berger is one of the most active protagonists of the independent music scene in his country in the last 15 years. On the free jazz scene, he also collaborated with Vojvodina musicians such as violist Szilard Mezei and pianist Marina Džukljev, and he also dealt with sound in a broader sense through sound installations, experimental music and multidisciplinary projects. At the upcoming Festival-in-Opposition, which will be held from June 8 to 11 at KC Lab in Novi Sad, he will hold a workshop "Improvisation as a life skill" over the course of several days, which he says is suitable for both musicians and those who do not deal with this sphere of art.


Name of your workshop on Festival-in-opposition is Improvisation as a life skill. How do you see the relation between art/music/sound and life itself? What is “improvisation as a life skill” for you?

I see art and especially music as a unique form of communication. Music has a potential to speak to us in a way that no other art form can. It is ethereal in a way that it does not have a physical form and can touch our emotions directly. While this explains the relation between the performer and the listener there is another aspect of music that happens in the process of creating and it is related to a group of people creating together. In this process the people involved are searching for a common language of expression and therefore need to be the listeners, the observers of relations within the group, knowing when to speak and when to listen and at the end especially be aware of what is needed in certain situation and what actions will help bring the best outcome that will satisfy all actors involved in the process. This kind of situations are the ones that are present in our daily life in all aspects of the society and to maneuver successfully within that realm you need to be creative. For me improvisation is the practice in art and life that makes us better in every aspect of what we do.


You’ve been involved in different art forms and medias, but primarily as a musician in many musical genres. How did you first got involved in improvised music and how did you find your way of expression, freedom to let go of unusual musical forms and playing styles?

I guess it is a natural process of learning the known, in this case genre music and understanding the sound parameters and technical skills needed to get the wanted result. Simply put, you learn the craft by practice. Lots of artist are happy with that and play music that is established and communicates certain emotions depending on a musical genre. There is of course nothing wrong with that and I love how different genres have the power to speak to people and make them laugh, cry, contemplate depression or find their happy place. I still love to play genre music but I am also a very curious person and sooner or later comes a point where you start to experiment and for me the discovering of new sound and means of expression is something very exciting. Digging into unknown has a special vibe to it and the discovery of new ways to touch people emotions is very satisfactory. The one thing I love the most in this process of experimenting and improvising is that the state of mind and being is pure and has nothing to do with you as a person. It is a process where you have to put yourself aside and be the observer and let thing happen. The important this is to let go and this is something that is hard for a lot of people but it brings out the subconscious that can surprise you in the most beautiful ways.


How do you see the importance of silence in improvisation and relation to “sound” as a key topic on a Festival-in-opposition?

As musicians we create sound but before that, there is silence to be filled with it, so it is the one inevitable starting point that sparks your creativity. If you are able to listen to silence you will notice the environment, being urban or natural, is never truly silent (with certain exceptions of course). There are always some small events that are there and trigger your imagination. I believe that if you are able to dive into the silence you gain the skill of being the observer and in that state it is very hard to make a mistake. Improvisation is a process that requires observation of your surroundings and actions at every moment and that is how you make decisions to act or not to act. I believe there are two steps of creating, first you add sound to the silence and the second is when you start to clear and take away the unnecessary sounds so that the one emotion you wish to communicate get its space to shine.


On the other hand, how do you see the importance of sound “in life”, or “non-musical” sound, in relation with musical/performative art and improvisation? How do you relate to it in your work, and also in your workshop/s?

The sound is all around us all the time, being in urban or natural environment. What I love and believe it is of big importance is the natural flow of sound events around us. It has a Zen quality to it. It is not forced, it is just there as it is. It is composed without a composer, all the beings are part of this composition and there is no wrong note. This effortless flow of events is very inspiring to me. To reach this kind of level in musicianship, in creating, is something I strive towards in most of my projects, being solo or in group formations. This is also something I try to communicate on my workshops with a series of exercises that brings awareness to this natural effortless process of creating as a group.


In description of your workshop, there is a mention of “sharing the space”, “making friends with silence”, “listening to each other”, etc - one can say that there is almost an ethical view on workshop concept, not just creating the “art product”. Do you think about the ethical/social, or philosophical aspects of your art and working with other people?

I believe the product at the end reflects the relations between people involved. Sharing space and listening to each other is important social skill in every aspect of life and as such influences the positive or negative dynamics in a group. Understanding the one’s role within the group is very important especially in art, since artistic ego is sometimes a big thing. Therefore picking the right person to help you realize you artistic vision is important as much as it is important for that person to understand that it is there to help you bring your idea to life. While you on the other hand need to know when to put aside your ego and help someone else’s idea come to life. This dynamics are a constant in the world of music collaborations while in a band situation all of the involved artists share common vision. This relationships are very fragile and have a lot of similarities with our relations in everyday life, from work relations, friendships to family life. Making friends with silence grounds us, balances the ego and creates a potential momentum for successful collaboration. For me it is also very important that at the end, the result addresses the people in different ways, that being entertainment, deeper awareness of human emotions and relations or new points of view in personal development.


How do you see the importance of Festival-in-opposition in particular, and this kind of festival which relates to sound in a wider sense, and also emphasizes space for invention and collaboration without time-and-money pressure?

I find gatherings of this type very important for development and collaborating within the art scene. This kind of open space creates opportunities for discussion, interaction and networking in a much more relax environment. I also encourage the audience to be present even if there is no program or lineup because it includes them in a more personal way. Art in general has the power to open minds and bring new awareness to the society. In the space without business pressure new ideas and concepts can be born. I witnessed gatherings of this type like Improcon, Multiversal and many othes and they all created numerous connections that you could see manifest new projects and collaborations that enriched the scene on a long term.


Photo: Jaka Berger @Maid Hadžihasanović

Jaka Berger (Ljubljana)

is one of the most active, creative and versatile drummers, composers and improvisers on the Slovenian music scene in the last fifteen years. In 2006 he released his debut album with Samo Šalamon and Achille Succi (Splasch records). Since 2014 till today he is regularly publishing music for prepared drums that he is constructing by himself. His albums are regularly reviewed by international media on improvisation and electroacoustic music. He is part of experimental sound installation project Partija/The game, member of bands Ludovik Material and Darla Smoking. He performed in independent theatre shows Gremo Vsi!, Novo mesto Readymade and Nein. Toured with EBM legends Borghesia. In 2015 he released an album of graphic composition Treatise by Cornelius Cardew. In 2016 he performed his most complex piece Audible life stream tentet for ten musicians. In 2017 he finished a Japan tour and released a second album with international VOB trio. Currently he is performing free jazz with Mezei Šalamon Berger trio, Džuklje Berger duo and Šalamon Džukljev Berger – Fresh Dust trio (FMR records UK), Bootleg Unit (FMR records UK). In 2021 he released a book of poetry remixes and sound translations called Poetrix, that includes poems of the best Slovenian independent writers. In recent years he was a mentor on drumming and musical improvisation workshops and is regularly teaching drums as private lessons.