An uninspired, gray march morning in Bloomington, Indiana, 2011. After the usual rounds of the Gmail/Facebook/BBC morning splurges I made my semi-weekly excursion to the YouTube channel of my teacher at the time, Emile Naoumoff. Most musicians in this day and age use YouTube in some regard or another, but for EN, the popular video-sharing site was more than just a self-promotional tool, it was an actual museum of his past and present musical self. Everything from childhood lessons with Nadia Boulanger, debut appearances in Tokyo and London, and current performances of his works could be found on one of his two channels.
What I found uploaded just a few minutes earlier on this particular morning was an "Improvisation". (An improvisation is a work that is not written down, but rather made up on the spot as one goes along.) The melancholic, introspective music of this piece with overtones of Satie and Poulenc were hallmarks of Naoumoff's compositional style, although this was the first time when an improvisation (which, in classical music, is generally done (if ever) only in solitude for recreation or for others after considerable inebriation) had been recorded in real time and publicly made available; where there was nothing else for the pianist to depend upon except for the inspiration of the moment; where the music that was to occur just three or four bars ahead was equally a mystery to listener as performer. (To be fair, I had heard the famous improvisations of Gabriela Montero, although those tend to be more variations on know themes given to her by audience members as encores).
A single improvisation uploaded to YouTube on a wintry day two years ago, however much it might have temporarily drawn me out of the dreary midwestern lull I was in, is not something to write home about. What IS, however, is what has come to follow in the time since - equally as impressive in quality as in quantity: At the steady average of 3 or 4 per day, - every day - the improvisations have kept coming, without ceasing. At this writing, Naoumoff has just finished improvisation number 2,435 - uploaded 3 hours ago. By the time you are reading this, that number will surely be higher. They are uploaded every few hours on his YouTube channel, labeled all by number in Roman Numerals.
The music itself never seems to follow any particular style or form.
Many are musical caricatures, evoking or poking fun at stylistic trends. Some sardonic, some melancholic, some humorously lighthearted. Some are exploitations of a single chords. Some are passionately rhapsodic, long, interspersed with sections of great dramatic sorrow , some are soliloquies of incredible melodic beauty , Some are as visually intriguing as they are musically. The creative juices flow even when Naoumoff is away from his Bloomington studio, with photographs of wherever he is pasted in the background, as this moody ballade in the foreground of a rainy London slideshow demonstrates: Thousands of other examples exist.
Whatever the motive(s) behind these never-ceasing improvisations, they don't matter much to me. While they seem to have garnered a steady, loyal following amongst a small group, they still remain relatively unknown to the public at large. There has been, so far, one article about them in a Canadian publication.
Some friends I have talked with think that he is trying to set a Guinness world record of most videos ever uploaded to YouTube, (which, at the rate of over 1,000 per year and no sign of stopping, is not an unrealistic prediction). Another suggested that he is little by little creating material that will one day be combined into a grand, Magnum Opus. Or, since Naoumoff once said that for him composition is a need "equal to eating, or perhaps, greater than eating", these could be daily, artistic meals where he can gorge on a few creative impulses in the midst of a dry, inartistic, academic setting. In any case, there is - at least for me - an exhilarating intoxication to be found in daily offering of something so original and wondrously strange.