Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I trek across campus to Fir Acres Theatre, where the strains of cello greet me as I enter the Black Box. Dylan Rieck, a freelance musician in Portland, graces our Contact Improvisation class, taught by Visiting Instructor of Dance Eric Nordstrom, twice a week with his beautiful live music.
Contact Improvisation is a style of movement that focuses on the fundamentals of weight sharing, touch and awareness of the body through movement and contact with others. Partially improvised and partially composed, Rieck’s effortless playing offers the perfect background music during our hour and a half of movement.
Rieck came to Lewis & Clark in September when a friend recommended Rieck to the college for the recently vacated position.
“It feels like my main responsibility is to help create an atmosphere conducive to what the teacher is trying to convey,” Rieck said. “Sometimes, the classes I’ve been doing are pretty early, so (I try) to stimulate a little bit of mobility and movement and add a little bit of energy, or sometimes to create a sense of calm.”
Rieck composes much of his music. His process begins with a tiny kernel of improv, something that inspires and excites him which he builds upon to create a fully realized piece.
“Oftentimes, I’ll just sit down and be like, ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ then I’ll record it and revisit it,” Rieck said.
Usually, the most difficult part of composing is coming up with the “nucleus” of the song, or something to build the music around.
“Pulling the first idea out of the air is tough. This class is a … structured opportunity to do some improv and flex those muscles,” Rieck said.
Rieck began playing live music for undergraduate movement classes when he was in high school in the 1990s, accompanying modern dance classes at Western Washington University.
“At the time I was younger than these undergrads and now here I am, yet again,” Rieck said.
Just as we dancers are inspired by Rieck’s cello, he in turn takes inspiration from our movements to inform his music. He tries to soak in what the instructor wants for the class period; whether it be for the students to try to move fluidly or slowly or quickly and sharply, Rieck is very in tune with the energy of the class.
“I think I’ve always thought of music as a little bit representational. Not directly like ‘I want to copy the sound of water,’ but like, ‘Water is kind of amorphous and moving. What would that be like as music?’” Rieck said.
During classes, Rieck plays solo, but in his everyday life, he greatly enjoys playing with other musicians. Though there is often less opportunity for free improvisation, playing with a group of other musicians is a special experience.
“I love playing with others because it’s communicative, it’s like a conversation. If you’re playing with others, I wouldn’t say you’re exactly constrained, but you’re having to synchronize generally. I would honestly love to do some partner stuff here (at LC),” Rieck said. “But if I’m playing solo, I’m really free to change the feel whenever I want. I’m not tied to a meter that has to be consistent.”
Rieck’s inspiration for his musicality does not come from a particular source. When he hears something he wants to emulate or copy, he will absorb it and rework it.
“I think the way our brains work is you synthesize all of the things we take in and I’d like to think that includes the ideas put forward in these classes,” Rieck said. “Even in the fundamentals of movement class, there are a lot of anatomical things. I don’t know how, but I’d like to think that even these structural body things work their way into the music.”
There will always be someone who can play a famous piece better than he can, Rieck said, but improvising and writing his own music allows him to create something new and different.
“A lot of my work is just playing classical or more structured things. It was only once I started writing my own music that I felt I found the missing piece. It was an important facet that, for me, was incomplete otherwise,” Rieck said.
Music is a vital part of movement classes. Having a live musician share his art with us as we explore our bodies through space and in relation to others is a very special part of my mornings.