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

In and beyond the burgeoning field of critical improvisation studies, many scholars from myriad backgrounds have attested to a strong link between musical improvisation and “everyday life.” However, this connection is most often acknowledged in passing, and has not been rigorously studied. Contingent Encounters directly investigates the social significance of improvisation by comparing its musical and quotidian iterations, and by calling into question how we understand improvisation itself. Drawing on work in musicology, cultural studies, and critical improvisation studies, as well as my own performing experience, I argue that improvisation is not a creative capacity proper to the acting subject, but is rather coextensive with a contingent encounter between subjects, objects, and multiple environments. Further, I argue that this shift has implications for future studies. Against conventional readings of improvisation as a domain of relative freedom, flexibility, adaptation, or empathy, I argue that thinking improvisation through a rigorous notion of contingency shifts our perspective, showing that it is particular social investments that cause improvisation to be read as an exercise in freedom. 

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