CONTINGENT MUSIC

In part two, I apply my developed notion of contingency to three musical examples. All three represent a different approach to improvisation, but one that is unified by a broader, Western avant-garde context.

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CASE STUDIES

In chapter 3 I listen to contingency in the music of Mr. K (“Waves, Linens, and White Light”), tracing the subjects, objects, and environments on which this music depends. Doing so leads me into an exploration of the historiography of European jazz, and a detour into the pedagogical differences between dominant U.S. approaches to teaching improvisation (on the one hand) and the approaches practiced in Trondheim (on the other). All of the performers on this record studied and/or teach at the Conservatory at Trondheim, in a radically different context than we find in U.S. institutions. Here I emphasize how no one simply learns how to improvise; rather, they do so according to particular traditions, practices, and understandings.

Chapter 4 examines the title track from Eric Dolphy’s 1964 masterpiece, Out to Lunch!. Where in the previous chapter, thinking contingency led me to the larger historical and pedagogical environments that inform the sound on record, here I focus on the genre conventions that Dolphy simultaneously utilized and undermined in his music. In contrast to most literature on Dolphy—which focuses on his idiosyncratic soloistic voice—I situate his soloing in a broader network of entangled social and musical relations, arguing that we don’t have Dolphy’s music without his social life.

The final case study examines a 2003 recording of John Cage’s 1958 composition, Music Walk. It is therefore a bit polemical to label the track an “improvisation”, a characterization to which Cage surely would have objected. What does it mean to claim that pianist Mario Formenti is improvising when he plays the music of John Cage, and what does that help to uncover about the composer’s legacy? Unpacking these questions requires tracing not only Cage’s views on improvisation and performance, but also the afterlives of Cage’s compositions as they circulate into new generic spaces.