Reviews from the Staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House


Improvising Freely: The ABC's of an Experience
Title: Improvising Freely: The ABC's of an Experience
Author: Lê Quan Ninh
Publisher: PS Guelph
Publication Date: 2014
Review Date: November 6, 2014
Reviewer: David Keffer
Link to Review: link


The book by improvising percussionist, Lê Quan Ninh, Improviser Librement: Abécédaire d'une Expérience, published in 2010 by Editions Mômeludies, Collection Entre-Deux has been translated from French to English as Improvising Freely: The ABC's of an Experience, published in 2014 by PS Guelph. This book contains observations and musings regarding improvisation in music and life from the non-idiomatic percussionist, Lê Quan Ninh. Each entry is arranged in alphabetical order to form an eccentric encyclopedia of a host of elements contributing to the overall nature of his improvisational process. The English version contains not only the content of the original French edition but also new entries.

Improvising Freely: The ABC's of an Experience is a lovely little book with short passages, ideal for those who travel by bus or subway and find small parcels of time in which they can read because the entries are distinct and self-contained and require time for pausing and reflecting over the multiple interpretations of the content of each passage. The entries possess both statements of simple profundity and complex depth, both of which reward repeated readings. The non-linear format of the book invites a non-linear reading technique, in which the book is opened and reopened at different times and different places, finding new passages or old passages given new meaning based on the current locale or the events of the day that immediately preceded the reading. It is, in short, a delightful compendium of improvisational insights.

The writing clearly and intrinsically reflects the personal predilections and philosophy of Lê Quan Ninh. For example, in the entry for Education, he writes, "If there must be an education [in improvisation], may it be self-taught, and may it teach a preference for solitude. We might be numerous as apprentices but we are always alone when we are unlearning. A strange pedagogy that leads to its own forgetting..."

The English translation of the book by Karen Houle leaves nothing to be desired. The writing possesses both a simplicity that makes it a pleasure to read and the necessary nuance to capture subtle distinctions in the subject.

Improvising Freely: The ABC's of an Experience is a charmingly unique little book capable of communicating immense ideas to an open-minded reader. The book can be purchased in paperback and electronic formats at