The phrase 'Playing with Nature', not 'Playing in Nature', exemplifies a relationship with nature, as opposed to objectifying nature. I play Shakuhachi, Anasazi and NAF flutes. I currently study Shakuhachi and work very hard at trying to gain the subtle control to play the Honkyoku standards with perfect pitch and nuance. I still have a great deal to learn and advocate formal study with a teacher, no matter the instrument. There are many great world traditions and no end to learning. I also play (improvise) with nature and have even more to learn in this relationship. Both require the art of listening. Listening to natural sound can yield endless lessons.
Listening to the river, there were many variations in sound: the continually changing gurgling (like the notes as I improvise) and the sporadic white noise whooshing outbursts when the water has a moment of turbulence (like the punctuating notes and phrases). So, as I listened to all the changes in the river sound and improvised, I realized that the river has a completely steady tempo. Even though the notes of the gurgling and whooshes were not periodic, yet there was an extreme steadiness in the flow. I seek in my playing to flow like a river, a continuity that is seamless amid the changes and balanced throughout the rising and falling of the piece.
Nature does not play scores, it improvises. It is never exactly the same and yet there is always a great deal of consistency and form. Like the Indian Raga system, the musical form of the chorus of the birds changes at different times of day and during different seasons. Improvisation is not random playing, it is very coherent, yet has a freedom and continual evolution, morphing over the course of the playing session. Improvisation has a primary essence which envelopes the many motifs and binds them with a mood, feeling, or expression which is consistent amid its ever changing flow.
Listening to the birds, especially when they are joyous around sunrise and sunsets, or daytimes on beautiful weather days, I learn a great deal. The chorus of birds collectively relates to even flow and tempo as they join in one song. They respond to some techniques more than others (such as modulating notes, breath like leaves fluttering). If I use my thinking mind and pull off some complicated riffs, I lose them. They are not impressed with technical playing and sophisticated riffs. If I am working at my playing, they can feel that it is not joyous playing. If I play from my heart based on a majority of my energy being dedicated to listening, they relate. They are tuned to the gentle and flowing: whether fast or slow, many motes or few, it must embrace a natural evenness and seamless flow. It is very subtle and I have a great deal to learn.
I learn a lot playing with nature and there are endless lessons there. Try playing with rain, thunder, or the wind as other examples of teachers. I can recognize natural qualities in the playing of masterful human musicians. It is a quality that gives the piece an ease and smooth continuity of movement, even amid intensity or any mood which it is conveying. Masterful performance does not have a feel of trying hard or of working at it. It flows naturally like a river, smooth and yet extremely powerful. Listening to nature and to masterful musicians is a key to learning. I have come to the belief that the art of listening is primary and the art of playing is secondary. If you can't hear it, how could you play it?