Improvisation

Improvisation is an inextricable part of making music. In jazz, ‘non Western’, and a great share of ‘classical’ music, performers often improvise, if only because the score is, according to practice, a mere schematic representation of a composition which needs to be completed. But, what is improvisation? Are improvisers creating music ‘out of the blue’, or are most (good) improvisations carefully planned and rehearsed? Are performers of classical music and even composers also improvisers? Can we achieve a better understanding of the concept of improvisation by paying attention to other concepts, such as communication, interaction, listening and freedom? Posing these kinds of questions means a departure from a strict music theoretical domain; they are primarily philosophical in nature.

 

In this class, a unique combination is aimed for: a combination of reflection on improvisation by means of a ‘close-reading’ of (music)philosophical and musicological texts in addition to the performing of actual improvisations within various musical idioms (blues, graphic scores, game pieces, rock, chamber music, etc.). The purpose, on the one hand, is that, through the texts, one gains an insight into certain aspects of improvisation (for example the importance of communication, creativity and listening in addition to the feature of freedom) while, on the other hand, the actual improvisations inform the texts by bringing in an experiential component. In others words, this course brings together the more reflective ‘knowing that’ alongside the so-called non-discursive knowledge, the ‘knowing how’ (Donald Schön) or ‘tacit knowledge’ (Michael Polanyi).

 

Authors whose texts are discussed: Bruce Ellis Benson, Kevin Whitehead, Roland Barthes, Jacques Attali, Derek Bailey, Ingrid Monson, Bruno Nettl, and others.