Mike Kearney’s Suggesture 101 – Episode 4: Rhythm Section and Review


I think as your rapport with a particular group or band develops, the less signals you need. On a gig, mid-jam, I’ve found that a lot of cues can be given with a look, or a raised eye-brow. This illustrates the importance of eye-contact, for any kind of conductor. With Suggesture, if the musical idea isn’t quite tight or unanimous enough, its because there’s confusion in the signal and, ultimately, its therefore the Suggestor’s fault. You can help the players create some amazing, magical moments, but you can also hinder a perfectly good groove and cause a total train wreck. More recently, with The Katet, I’ve been getting out of the way of the players completely. I walk to the back of the stage and let them go. I only come back in with a signal once they’ve hit their mark and are ready to move onto the next thing. Its important to remember at all times what the group is trying to do.

On the flip side, the more gestures you have have the bigger the scope for creating the music you’re after. These gestures are devised to be used in combination with each other. The more extensive the vocabulary, the more you can say, and the better you can say it.
rythm section 1

Let’s turn our attention to the backline. Most systems of improvisation involving drums and guitars i.e a rhythm section, are groove-based. This means that the players ‘hold down’ a repeating idea, be it a simple chord structure or an ostinato. The rest of the ensemble provides the variation or development on top of this stable idea. The ‘Groove’ is one of the most important musical ideas for the working musicians that I know. It not only involves the notes one plays but, crucially, how they are played, and very fine aspects of swing and feel. Therefore, improvising with the groove is a delicate affair. The relationship between the rhythm section and the Suggestor must be solid. One could debate ad infinitum about what groove actually is, so let’s move on before that happens.

One of the things I found during the Tinderbox Suggesture workshop was that, because we’d never worked with an orchestra before, there ended up being a lot of realtime adaptation. Certain hand signals appeared out of necessity. Others were altered to fit the size of the ensemble. For eg. – The question of how to address multiple sections independently of each other without getting too confusing. As you’ll see in this episode’s video, a simple solution is usually just around the corner.

This leads us to the idea of different ‘dialects’. Certainly the more Suggesture is used with groups of different sizes, genres, abilities etc. it becomes apparent that the same set of gestures will not categorically work with them all. Already the gap between Katet Suggesture and Tinderbox Suggesture has grown wide. With the Katet we continue to use more advanced theoretical concepts that work in a funk/soul setting, with heavy emphasis on a three-piece brass section. With Tinderbox, a lot of the signals are much more intuitive. Brand new suggestions have been created which are textural and orchestral-based and would not work in a Katet situation. This leads me to believe that the system will continue to grow and evolve through variation. The more bands it’s used with, the more the vocabulary will adapt and change. Hence, the different dialects.