The image of a painter taking a couple of steps back to see the painting in perspective is familiar. The bigger the work is, the easier it is to lose the capacity to perceive it as a whole. It’s easy to become absorbed in the working process and not to stop until it’s finished. However, pauses are part of the work. They allow us to go away and get in touch with what we’ve done with a bit more distance, from a different angle. Taking a step back in order to carry on going forward.
Real-time composition is the process of improvising composition, that is, composing in real-time in front of an audience. The essence of improvisation is being present in the moment and in the development of events one by one. On the other hand, the essence of composition is viewing the whole that is created by combining elements. The two seem to contradict each other. Ruth Zaporah, creator of the Action Theater methodology offers a way to bring the two together by improvising as if you’re walking backwards, “You can see where you’ve been, but you can’t see where you’re going. But what you see does affect where you’re going” (The Improvisation of Presence, Ruth Zaporah). Interestingly enough, this matches the way in which the Aymara people of the Andes and the Tuva People of Siberia conceptualize time: the past is in front of us, where we can see it, and the future is behind us, where we can’t see it. Any intention of composing our lives can only be put into practice in real time, because we’ll never get the chance to make adjustments once we see the finished whole. Perhaps we can start making our way through life backwards like the Aymara and the Tuvans.