Contingent Encounters is an interdisciplinary book project that examines the relationship between improvisation in music and in everyday life.

From food blogs to business consultancies, from sportswear marketing to the behavior of our President, we consistently reach for the language of improvisation in order to describe something of our everyday experiences. But across all of these examples, what improvisation is, how it functions, and how we understand it continues to vary wildly.

Contingent Encounters approaches improvisation from the perspective of “contingency,” suggesting that there is necessarily improvisation anywhere we are in contingent circumstances. No matter the qualifiers we might use to characterize one or the other example as “good” or “bad,” “liberating” or “oppressive,” “breathtaking” or “banal,” it is undeniable that improvisation is there, in the encounter between ourselves and our circumstances. What is also true is that some of these kinds of situations get studied and written about more than others. 

It is well established in improvisation studies that musical practices have a critical social valence; but how does our understanding of that valence shift if we take seriously the idea that improvisation is terrible just as often as it is wonderful? By attending to the radically neutral nature of improvisation as a practice which deeply depends, we bring awareness to the contingency of our contexts in particular bodies, socio-political environments, and relations. This move helps to guard against fetishizing or reifying improvisation, instead directing attention to the people and circumstances that make any improvisation what it is.

Contingent Encounters is under contract with the University of Michigan Press.

Keywords: Improvisation, Music, Everyday Life, Contingency, Improvised Music