INTRODUCTION

IMPROVISATION AS CONTINGENCY

The introductory chapter (1) details: the impetus behind this project; how improvisation appears in both popular culture and contemporary scholarship; how contingency has been approached in various disciplines; and the book’s methodological framework. It also lays out the factors informing my decision to offer a working definition for improvisation as a “contingent encounter” among subjects, objects, and multiple environments.

PART ONE

CONTINGENT MUSIC

The first part of the book compares three case studies in the Western avant-garde tradition in order to draw out their singularity, over and above any similarities rooted in genre. In listening closely to Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” (chapter 2), Mr. K’s “Waves, Linens, and White Light” (chapter 3), and the two improvisations from Ingrid Laubrock/Kris Davis’ Blood Moon (chapter 4), I consistently draw attention to the social factoes that make each musical improvisation possible. Rather than viewing improvisation as something that is more or less present, more or less open on a sliding scale, contingency invites us to consider every improvisation as non-trivially different—a constellation of openings and closures both, in a singular arrangement.


PART TWO

CONTINGENT LIFE

In part two, I listen to improvisation as it appears across everyday activities. Chapter 5 I take up “walking” as an archetypal everyday practice, bringing Michel de Certeau into conversation with feminist and Black studies scholarship. In chapter 6 I expand further, taking up contingency in baking, listening, and working. Finally, chapter 7 expands into the realm of perception, using Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Sara Ahmed to elucidate the foundational indeterminacies at the heart of human experience. Locating improvisation in diverse, contingent circumstances, I elucidate the ways in which improvisation and contingency are thoroughly coextensive. Ultimately, I argue that improvisation is not so much identical between music and everyday life as it is constitutive of both, a claim that forces us to re-evaluate what we think of as improvisatory, what actions we consider to be ‘open’, and why. 

CONCLUSION

ON AESTHETICS AND POLITICS

In the final chapter (8), I take up potential shifts in our understanding of the aesthetics and politics of improvisation. Following this book’s arguments, I ask, What are the political stakes raised by choosing to define or not define improvisation? What could it mean to take seriously the possibility that improvisation is the same thing as living? How does understanding improvisation as contingency potentially change our thinking about music and its socio-political implications? Although this project at times threatens to reduce improvisation into oblivion, I suggest that it also invites us to attend to our own improvising in new ways.