In the past 15 years, the field of critical improvisation studies has brought renewed attention to improvisation not only as an artistic process, but also as a mode of behavior that can be found in all human activities. As an improvising musician, I am excited by and interested in the many different kinds of music that we label as “improvised.” But as a scholar, I am also interested in the way that improvisation factors into what we might call “everyday life.” The examples here are plentiful: business consultants train people in how to become better improvisers; Nike’s new “philosophy” and marketing campaign ISPA stands for “Improvise, Scavenge, Protect, Adapt”; food blogs advise “6 Ways to Become a Fearless Improviser in the Kitchen”; and on it goes–over and over again, we take recourse to the language of improvisation to explain certain factors of daily living, which are understood to be somehow special, beyond the ‘normal’ way of doing things.

My fundamental research question is: what is the relationship between what I do when I play music, and what I do in daily life? Can we learn more about improvisation itself if we compare how it functions in two different areas?


Contingent Encounters is divided into two parts, which trace contingency through musical and quotidian situations. The main argument is that understanding how musical and social improvisation relate requires asking, What remains consistent of improvisation across different spheres of activity? That is, what can we say remains true of improvisation no matter the differences in situation, context, or appearance, no matter how virtuosic or mundane? What distinguishes my use of this term from similar studies is that contingency is not a cognate for “spontaneous,” “open” or “flexible”; rather, contingency in my project is a multivalent analytic perspective that broadens the scope of analysis, a perspective I develop in the introduction. Rather than emphasize only the open or spontaneous aspects of a given performance, contingency insists on both the open and the closed at once, not only what is indeterminate but also the particular, fixed, and constitutive presence of each factor on which a performance depends, including the material, historical, emotional, cultural, and the otherwise non-musical. 

The pages below offer more detail on the structure of this project, as well as its case studies. Please click below for more info.


Introduction: Improvisation as contingency

In the introduction, I discuss the history of improvisation in scholarship, and I develop contingency into a method that I subsequently use in parts one and two.


After comparing music to music, I then compare music to everyday life by examining contingency in quotidian activities such as walking, baking, inhabiting, and eventually, perceiving itself.


In part one, I compare instances of “transatlantic improvised music”: Eric Dolphy, John Cage, Norwegian free improvisers, Mr. K, and the Kris Davis/Ingrid Laubrock duo.


Here I will post updates, extra material, resources, links, and anything else related to improvisation.