Responding is not the same as reacting. Reacting is a reflex action, which addresses the general nature of the situation. Responding implies choice and specificity. This is a relevant difference for real-time composition. Spontaneity is often understood as following the first impulse, something that is generally valued in improvisation. However, if there is the intention of composing something, following the first impulse reduces the possibilities. Allowing the space to really receive the stimulus generates the conditions for a response rather than a reaction. This might at first take noticeably longer, but the more we practice being porous to receiving, the faster we get and the nimbler we become at responding and exercising choice.
Improvisation has always been used in live arts, either to generate material that is then set or as an approach to performance. No situation is exactly the same as a previous one and the most appropriate response needs to consider the specific internal and external circumstances at hand, rather than what happened in a previous similar event. That is improvisation. It’s not about acting randomly but about being honest with what is here and now. Considering the brain’s strategy of saving behaviour that has worked in an attempt to be energetically efficient and repeat the success, how much can we actually bypass our patterns and improvise? Conditioning is building up every day. Being true to the moment implies letting go of this buildup ongoingly.
We are used to the idea that theatre, dance and music pieces are written and set, so that every interpretation is a reproduction of the original within a certain margin for variation. Notation can never capture every detail of action. The map can never be as rich as the territory. Already in the Baroque period, composers wrote scores that provided a backbone for musicians to improvise to. Wanting to perform a set script for our life is bound to bring frustration, because there is so much out of our control. However, we all have needs and preferences in life that we want to address. How about using a score to compose in real time in order to keep the essential orientation while remaining open and flexible regarding the way in which progress?