One of the freshest things I’ve seen on Instagram lately is Maria Finkelmeier‘s @improvaday. In 15 seconds, the Boston-based percussionist creates compelling miniatures that make the whole social network worth it. We had to talk to her about this project.
How did you come up with the idea?
There were two things that inspired the improvaday project: first was my need to stay artistically challenged with limited time, and the second, my observations of the photography industry.
So many of us are balancing a million things – writing music, sending emails, drafting contracts, submitting grants, holding down a day job, performing shows – and I was finding myself treading water a bit when it came to having a consistent artistic outlet. I wanted to find a way to challenge myself to create something new on a daily basis, but that wouldn’t add a lot of pressure to the day to day chaos.
I also remember having a conversation about Instagram with my partner, who happens to be a photographer. His network uses Instagram a lot – sharing behind the scenes images from shoots, previews of magazine spreads, etc… The feeds he follows are beautiful and well planned, and I wanted to find a way to use social media in this effective manner.
The two thoughts merged when I realized Instagram offers a video feature – limited to 15 seconds. I figured that I could commit a few minutes everyday to creating a short musical experiment. I love to improvise and discover new sounds, so I challenged myself to make a video every day for a month – and the project has stuck!
Your videos are such powerful invitations to find music everywhere, every day, in everything. What has the feedback been so far?
Thank you for saying that! The feedback has been really encouraging. It’s been exciting to be able to reach people that I don’t know using hashtags on Instagram, especially of a younger population. I only get a handful of likes per post, but many of them are people I don’t know! As well, my network has enjoyed getting involved in the action. I love having guest posts and using the project as a catalyst to bring people together. My favorite story to date was at intermission of a new music show. We set up some beer bottles and iPhones to feature my friends of The Fourth Wall Ensemble. We started recording, and someone came over and said “hey – is there an improvaday happening?!” I was so thrilled that the project was recognized without a prompt!
Your improvs are not only musical gems, they’re also very well composed in terms of photography. In your experience, what works and what doesn’t? Did you have to buy some gear to rig your phone?
Great question! When I launched the project I wanted to make sure that each video was as visually stimulating as musically interesting. I imagined the overhead viewpoint, to focus on the instruments/materials and hands, not the person playing. My rig is extremely simple – I duct taped an iPhone mount (one that you would use in your car) on a mic stand. Nothing fancy! If I’m out and about, I usually ask someone else to hold the phone, balance it on a tall music stand or table, or on rare occasion, play one-handed! I always film the improvs in the regular camera app before transferring to Instagram. In the Instagram app, you have to hold down the record button while you play, which definitely does not work! Through trial and error I find the right angle and framing, which took about 8 takes in the beginning. Now, I’m down to just 1 or 2 per post.
How does your project fit in your life and your routine as a musician?
It definitely adds excitement to my routine, but has now become as natural as brushing my teeth. When I’m rehearsing or practicing, I try to document the moment. This has inadvertently helped break down the wall between final product and the process behind it, giving me more confidence as a performer. Then, there’s the more random posts when I’m out and about. Hanging out with a baby? They make noise – time for an improvaday.
Where do you see this project going?
My goal is to keep posting at least 3 days a week (so…improvmostdays) as documentation of musical growth, community interaction, and fun! I also aim to include the project in some youth workshops that I will be leading this summer, to encourage self expression and confidence. A lot can be said in 15 seconds.
More than anything, I just want to keep having fun and continue to build community around the project – I’m just thrilled that folks seem to enjoy the experiment!
Follow Maria Finkelmeier on Instagram and share your favorite improv in the comments below!