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?
STRUCTURE AND ARGUMENT
Each link below provides more detail on the three sections of Contingent Encounters. Throughout the project, my research framework is centered on the notion of contingency. 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? In this project, I investigate the possibility that contingency is the one and only consistency that links improvisation across all of its contexts, and thus that contingency should be considered the organizing, fundamental principle of all improvised activity. While contingency is often discussed as a feature of improvisation, shifting from one feature to the feature has consequences for analysis: if it is true that improvisation is defined by contingency, then improvisation cannot be understood primarily through the progressive terms with which it is often associated, including freedom, collecitivity, and spontaneity. Those terms, like everything else, simply depend.
The pages below offer more detail on the structure of this project, as well as its case studies. Please click below for more info.
In the first part of the project, I introduce current debates in improvisation studies, and explain how my understanding of contingency differs from other contemporary accounts.
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.