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"Cognition and Segmentation In Collective Free Improvisation: An Exploratory Study"

Cognition and Segmentation In Collective Free Improvisation: An Exploratory Study
Clément Canonne,*1 Nicolas B. Garnier#2
*Centre Georges Chevrier, UMR 5605, Université de Bourgogne, France
#Laboratoire de Physique de l’ENS de Lyon, CNRS UMR 5672, Université de Lyon, France,
Collective Free Improvisation (CFI) is a very challenging form of
improvisation. In CFI, improvisers do not use any pre-existing
structure (like the standard in straight-ahead jazz), but try anyway to
produce together coherent music. This can be seen as a coordination
problem: musicians' production must converge to collective
sequences, defined as time frames during which each improviser
achieves relative stability in his musical output while judging the
overall result satisfying. In this paper, we report on an exploratory
study made with free improvisers in December 2011 in order to
understand the cognition of musicians placed in a CFI context, in
particular the role played by their representations of the
improvisation under different type of sequences into the explanation
of both their behaviors and the coordination success or failure.
We propose here a study of musical cognition in the context
of Collective Free Improvisation (CFI). CFI is a musical
phenomenon produced by at least two persons, improvising
simultaneously and freely, i.e., trying to leave undecided
every compositional aspects until the very moment of the
performance. Pressing (1984) defined CFI as a referent-free
improvisation. A referent is an underlying formal scheme or
guiding image specific to a given piece, used by the
improviser to facilitate the generation and editing of
improvised behavior on an intermediate time scale. In CFI, as
opposed to referent-based improvisation (like straightforward
jazz), there is no founding act (like the common choice of a
standard) that confers a given set of musical (or sometimes
even extra-musical) data the status of common knowledge in a
group. Moreover, CFI is often seen by its practitioners as a
type of experimental music, in which musicians are trying to
avoid clichés or too-predictable formulas, rhythms or
harmonic progressions : musicians playing CFI often seek for
uncharted musical territory.
Free improvisers thus try to satisfy two constraints:
To achieve and maintain coherence throughout the
performance despite the lack of a priori collectively
agreed-upon structures or abstract schemes.
To satisfy individual aesthetic preferences, e.g. by
avoiding “low-complexity regions” (Borgo 2005).
As put by Borgo, musicians in CFI are continuously
“surfing the edge of chaos” by “ensuring continual
development and excitement” (Borgo 2005) while finding a
way to plainly “play together” in the absence of pre-existing
common rules, predetermined structures or arrangement, and
internal or external conducting. CFI can thus be seen as a
typical coordination problem: musicians try to achieve relative
stability in their musical outputs, while evaluating the overall
result satisfying. When this is collectively achieved during a
long enough time frame, it defines a collective sequence.
Collective sequences can be seen as attractors or fixed points
in the musical stream. Improvisers try to converge to such a
fixed point which is then developed, played with or even
negated, until it is finally discarded, which ends the sequence.
This “sectional” organization is probably an endogenous
feature of CFI (Nunn 1998). Of course, the coordination
problem is at its highest difficulty at these very moments of
articulation between sequences, when improvisers must pass
seamlessly and collectively from one attractor to another,
which also often means finding a new organization of the
interactions “on the fly”.
In an earlier paper (Canonne & Garnier 2011), we
presented a model for CFI, using non-linear dynamics to
describe the signal produced by improvisers and the evolution
of cognitive parameters labelled intention and objective. One
of the main results of this model was to predict the existence
of two types of collective behavior in CFI:
A stable behavior, where each improviser’s signal
remains relatively constant: this corresponds to a fixed
point in the phase space of the system and can be seen as
a collective sequence.
An oscillating behavior, which corresponds to a limit
cycle in our system. It can be seen as a phase of dis-
coordination or, minimally, as a phase without fixed
More generally, it showed that a self-organization of the
collective signal was possible, in spite of the absence of a
priori structures: a given CFI can manifest, sometimes quite
prominently, an emergent structure.
This paper’s goal is to present some findings on this
organization process by examining real-life CFI, paying
attention to the following questions:
How improvisers temporally segment a given CFI?
Do they agree on the segmentation?
Do they make a distinction between different types of
How is made the articulation between successive
What are the strategies used by musicians to ensure
What is the role of shared representations in the
emergence of collective sequences?
The experimental setting we used was similar to the one
proposed in Sansom (1997). We asked groups of 2 to 4
musicians to improvise freely together for 10 minutes. They
were then immediately isolated in separated cabins where they
could listen to the improvisation’s recording. They were given
two tasks:
To comment on the improvisation from their own
point of view, focusing on their own signal, their
interaction with the other musicians, their individual
decisions, and their overall feeling during that
improvisation. They could stop and rewind the recording
at any time if they needed to. A few guidelines were
provided for the commentary, e.g.: can you point out the
moments where you have tried to introduce a new
musical idea? Did you have a specific reason for
introducing this very musical idea? What did you think
of your partners’ propositions? Can you point out the
moments you liked/disliked?
To propose a segmentation of the improvisation piece
in successive sequences, if possible, and to justify their
choice (i.e., which feature(s) they used to determine the
transition from one part to another).
Recordings were done in Paris in December 2011. 7 groups
were recorded: 1 duo, 1 trio and 5 quartets, with a total of 20
different musicians. Musicians were aged from 22 to 35 years
and were all thorough practitioners of free improvisation. Half
were graduate students, and half were professional musicians
and/or teachers.
The first part of the study is a qualitative one: we wish to
describe as precisely as possible the musicians’ thoughts
during the performance. In this purpose, musicians were asked
to avoid a posteriori analytic considerations and on the
contrary to try to remember what they were thinking while
they were improvising. Moreover, subjects were asked to be
totally honest in the way they restitute whatever feelings and
appreciations they might have had while improvising. Asking
the musicians to listen to and comment the improvisation's
recording was just a way for us to gain access to a
“photograph”, unfortunately reconstructed and biased, of the
improviser’s mind during the performance.
The second part of the study is more analytic. Our goal was
to confront these data to the predictions of our model. In
particular, it appeared clearly in our model that the
coordination task was the most difficult when players start to
change their objectives (i.e., when they introduce a new idea,
or change the way they interact with the rest of the group),
which often results in a change of the collective behavior. Our
hypothesis was that the articulations between the different
time segments defined by the musicians would be points of
special interest for the study of musicians' cognition in CFI (in
terms of strategies, intentions, goals, preferences,
representations, etc). Moreover, we thought that the behavior
of the musicians would depend on how they evaluate and
describe the ongoing situation (i.e., if they feel that they were
in a phase of coordination or a phase of dis-coordination); and
that coordination itself probably depends on the existence of a
shared representation of the ongoing situation.
We not only compared together segmentations proposed by
musicians from the same group, but compared also the
segmentation proposed by a musician with his first-person
commentaries. This led us to four observations detailed below.
A: the segmentation appears to be intersubjective. B: a
typical sequence length can be extracted. C: there are 4
different kinds of sequences. D: three different cues are used
to decipher the transition between consecutive sequences.
A. Intersubjectivity in the segmentation
First, we compare the segmentations of an improvisation
proposed by the musicians who performed it. In Figure 1 is
represented such a segmentation for a quartet. Although
musicians proposed different segmentations, we observed that
they agree on the roughest one. For example, the euphonium
proposed a rough segmentation in 6 sequences, whereas the
clarinet proposed a finer segmentation in 12 sequences;
nevertheless, within a margin of about 5 to 12s (see the
vertical lines in Fig.1), all segmentations match the rougher
one. The thick vertical line at time 650s is described in
paragraph D.
Figure 1. Example of segmentation (arbitrary colors). Thin
vertical lines indicates intersubjective transitions, of respective
width 11s, 12s, 10s, 5s (from left to right). The thick vertical line
of width 44s corresponds to an erratic (unstable and unpleasant)
sequence qualitatively undistinguishable from a transition (see
text). The improvisation can be heard as Sound Example 7.
B. Sequence length
As seen in the previous paragraph, sequence lengths vary
from one musician to another. And so they do from one
improvisation to the other. Surprisingly, we observed that all
sessions were segmented by musicians in sequences of
comparable lengths. Results are reported in table 1. The duo
session and the trio sessions are perfectly comparable to all
quartets sessions.
Table 1. Average sequence duration <T> in seconds and
corresponding standard deviation σ in different groups : duo
N=2, trio N=3, and quartets N=4.
In Fig. 2 is plotted the histogram of sequence lengths,
aggregating data from all sessions and musicians. The typical
sequence duration (the one with the maximum probability) is
60 seconds, although the average duration is slightly larger
(75 seconds), while the standard deviation is about 30
N 2 3 4
<T> 71 78 75
σ 18 39 31
It is interesting to note that although musicians were
providing possibly very different segmentations of the pieces,
including long sequences as seen by the large upper tail of the
distribution, a typical sequence length emerges and can be
measured. This typical length might be explained by both the
fragility of the coordination in CFI and by a lassitude factor
(the musicians' tendency to change their proposition after a
certain time).
Figure 2. Histogram of sequence durations, for all
improvisations, and all musicians.
C. Describing the sequences : partition in 4 species
Commentaries of improvisers on their collective output
clearly revealed that they were defining sequences according
to two orthogonal criteria : stability (presence of permanent
acoustical, musical, gestural or interactional features over a
certain laps of time) and desirability (presence of a sustained
aesthetic interest over a certain laps of time).
Hence, a musician can perfectly judge a stable sequence
uninteresting while an unstable one can be interesting.
Coordination is thus non-reducible to the common goal of
achieving stability, for example by sharing some
acoustical/musical/gestural parameters or by establishing a
clear enough interaction pattern. Conversely, unstable or
transitory sequences, if maintained long enough (achieving a
duration comparable to the one of a stable sequence) can be
highly valued by improvisers, probably because it is in these
very moments of interpolation, confrontation or suspension
that some of the most typical formal features of CFI come in
the forefront. Indeed, it is in these very sequences that the
complexity of CFI is best manifested.
We thus isolated four types of sequences:
1) Erratic sequence (unstable and uninteresting). This is
what we call a “phase of dis-coordination”. It can result
from multiple reasons (some of which we are discussed
below) and it is symptomatic of the following cases: high
density of changes in the musical material; conflict between
at least two different ideas over a long lap of time; lack of
proposition (no musician is willing nor capable of
proposing a stable and interesting-enough idea; this is often
a result of a certain form of politeness well identified by
Siron 2007). We can also note that it is when a musician
identified a sequence as “erratic” that we observed a peak in
the commentaries’ density: unsurprisingly, when the
musicians detect a discrepancy or a significant problem,
they try to understand why it has arisen and thus spend
more time commenting it.
2) Unstable but interesting (or non-disturbing) sequence.
While not the most common (instability being often
associated with dis-coordination by the musicians), some
sequences were nevertheless clearly described as both
unstable and interesting by the improvisers. We distinguish
three different cases:
the sequence is a long transition, with a sense of
progressively getting somewhere (in a way, there is a
stability or a cohesiveness in this kind of sequence, i.e.,
a stability in the process at work);
the “indeterminate” nature of the sequence is valued
because it generates aesthetic qualities like suspension
or fragility: this is however a very delicate balance,
which necessitates a full agreement on the evaluations
made by the improvisers (otherwise, it can quickly fall
into an “erratic” sequence).
“accepted instability”: improvisers find perfectly
normal to encounter instability at certain moments in the
improvisation, and thus do not try to prevent voluntarily
this instability; rather, they prefer to let things “happen
by themselves”. A typical case of such a sequence is the
beginning of the improvisation: it seems to be well-
accepted that things need a little time to “fall in place”.
3) Stable but uninteresting sequence. It happens when the
improvisers fall in a “low-complexity region”. There is an
attractor, but it is too conventional and makes the musicians
unsatisfied. For example, in one of the improvisation (a trio
with saxophone, euphonium and percussions, see Sound
Example 1), the musicians find themselves playing a quasi-
jazz, groove-oriented sequence (with the percussion landing
the pulse, the euphonium doing a sort of ostinato, and the
saxophone acting as the soloist). There is thus a clear
attractor for the musicians (with a sense of pulsation and
shared motives), who all maintain a relative stability in their
own signal for at least two minutes. Nevertheless, all the
musicians agree that this sequence is both too connoted and
not enough inspired to acquire an interest of its own. This
explains why an improviser can sometimes want to create
instability, by problematizing a texture he finds too simple;
as put by Sawyer (2003), improvisation is sometimes more
a “problem-finding” situation than a “problem-solving”
4) Stable and interesting sequence. This is what we have
labelled “collective sequence” and it is the paradigmatic
case of coordination in CFI. In such a sequence,
improvisers find an point of convergence that allow each
musician to develop with confidence his signal while
maintaining a certain level of excitement in the
performance. Two factors can end such a sequence: the
lassitude of one or more of the improvisers, who find the
need for change and introduce an unilateral interruption; or
the chaotic aspect of CFI, by which the accumulation of
small variations (resulting from the improvisers’
development of their own signal) finally produce a
significant collective deviation, even if nobody wanted to
quit the current sequence (i.e., the collective organization is
quite often emergent over the individual decisions).
0 30 60 90 120 150 180
durations (s)
Figure 3. More detailed segmentation of the same improvisation
as in Fig. 2, but extracted from the spoken commentaries of
clarinet player.
As an example, we give in Figure 3 the segmentation of an
improvisation (the one of Figure 2) into the different types of
sequences proposed above, as given by one of the musicians
in his commentaries. We notice that the number of sequences
is larger, so the segmentation is more detailed. It is interesting
to note that the musician defined as erratic the sequence of
length 44s represented in Figure 1 as a wide transition
(hatched vertical line at time 650s), thus supporting the inter-
objectivity of the segmentation.
D. Articulation between sequences
Nunn (1998) has presented an extensive typology of the
different types of transitions between two parts of an
improvisation. While finding this typology very informative,
Canonne (2010) has argued that a transition often becomes a
sequence of its own in CFI, which is supported by our study:
musicians described some transitions as autonomous parts.
Therefore, he proposed to focus instead on the notion of
“articulation”, either between two sequences or between a
sequence and a transition.
Answers provided by the subjects suggest that three major
kinds of cue are used to detect a change of sequence, both
from an “insider” and an “outsider” perspective (i.e., both in
the first and in the second part of our study).
1) Monitoring the signal's energy profile: cadential
movements and silences. The simplest articulation one can
consider is the juxtaposition of two sequences. Although it
is common and easy to perform in solo improvisation, it is
much more difficult to do in CFI. In all our experimental
recordings, juxtaposition happens only in particular
situations, when all musicians have identified without any
ambiguity that the ongoing sequence has come to its
“natural” ending. To gain this knowledge, musicians
monitor the variations of the energy level of the
performance: a large deceleration and/or a diminuendo, a
sustained period of low-density signals and, of course,
collective silence. Such situations happened at least once in
every recording. We can interpret this by saying that it is
extremely likely that, over a ten minutes-period of CFI,
improvisers are not able to prevent a severe decrease in the
energy profile; i.e., the collective energy seems to entirely
dissipate over a certain amount of time, which characterizes
the fragility of CFI's situations. We also noted that in the
segmentation task, these moments were always used to
define an articulation between two sequences. One must
also note that in these situations, although the musicians
know that an articulation must be made (if not, the
improvisation will end), it may not be easy to do. In fact,
once the musical stream has been interrupted, it is often
difficult to continue in a way that does not sound artificial
(see Sound Example 2, where, after a silence, improvisers
seem to struggle to find a new stable idea). Hence, silences
are not only clear clues helping in the identification of
possible articulation for the musicians, but also sources of
problems in the formal task inherent to CFI.
2) Detection of Salient Events. Examining the game-
theoretical literature on pure coordination situations,
Canonne (in press) has shown the general importance of
saliency in CFI and the ability of expert free improvisers to
single out salient musical events in order to face CFI’s
coordination problem. In a general context where
unpredictability is at its foremost (due to the absence of
common referent and to the non-idiomatic way of
improvising), it is extremely important for improvisers to
be able to create (or to discover) points of convergent
expectations in order to create some stability in the flux of
musical events. A salient event, by its very saliency, is
transparent: it can procure something like common
knowledge in the group (everyone has noticed a peculiar
event and everyone supposes that everyone else has noticed
it). This is probably the reason why such events play a very
important role in the articulation of sequences, i.e., in
operating a significant change in the collective behavior.
Some events will thus “hook” all the players together and
produce either abrupt or gradual changes. We observed four
different types of such events: a contrasting event inside a
given context (e.g. : a new timbre, a clear pitch in an
otherwise noisy environment); an “accident”, either at the
individual level (a sound with an attack which was ill-
mastered) or at the collective level (a sudden unison or an
unexpected simultaneous attack); an event with an
“immediate” saliency (a loud and/or high-pitched sound: as
Juslin (2009) puts it, “Brainstem reflex refers to a process
whereby an emotion is induced by music because one or
more fundamental characteristics of the music are taken by
the brainstem to signal a potentially important and urgent
event. All other things being equal, sounds that are sudden,
loud, dissonant, or feature fast temporal patterns induce
arousal in the listener”, p. 136); the entrance of a previously
silent player in the improvisation, or conversely, the
disappearance of a player. The following examples taken
from our recordings were all noticed and reported without
ambiguities by the musicians in their commentaries: a sul
ponticello cello’s harmonic that provokes a progressive
stabilization on sustained textures (Sound Example 3); an
entrance of saxophone that precipitates the end of the
improvisation (Sound Example 4); an encounter between
contrabass and clarinet on a common E, that brings a new
sequence in crescendo (Sound Example 5); or a sudden
nail-glissando on a low piano string, that stops the group
for just a quick respiration, before a new sequence actually
begins (Sound Example 6).
3) Detection of Transitory zones. Improvisers sometimes
identify a time interval --- a “zone” --- where the music is
changing and a new sequence finally emerges, but they
can’t precisely locate it in time. Moreover, this zone is often
too short or too heteroclite to be identified by the musicians
as an autonomous sequence. In such a situation, we usually
observed that the musicians placed the mark between these
two parts at various places on a given laps of time. The
reason is that there is a chain of causes and effects taking
place at that moment, and the musicians choose whatever
event seems relevant for themselves to propose a sharp
date. This accumulation of variations is symptomatic of CFI
and defines one of its features: the musicians display a very
high sensitivity to the others signal’s variation. In a
situation where there is no common referent, musicians
tend to give each other proof that they are interacting
together: and for an improviser, the better way to
acknowledge that a change in a co-improviser’s signal has
been perceived is to introduce a variation in his own signal.
Figure 1 gives an example of such a case (the entire
improvisation can be heard on Sound Example 7): in this
improvisation, the guitarist and the clarinetist are playing
alone together from 7'40''; the tubist and the saxophonist
remained silent during this duo, because they thought the
improvisation would finish at the beginning of the
guitar/clarinet duo, and they could not figure out a way to
“come back” into the music. At 9’10’’, the guitarist
proposes a variation in his electronic texture, in order to
“make something happens” (as noted by the guitarist
himself). At 9’20’’, the saxophonist makes windy quasi-
flute sounds, which fit nicely with the guitar texture (this
articulation is noted by the saxophonist): but it does not
change the music dramatically. So at 9’40’’, he comes back
with loud and repeated pitches (this articulation is noted by
the tubist). Finally, at 10’’, the tubist introduces a sustained
low-tone pedal that increases the collective tension (noted
by the clarinetist). This example also clearly establishes the
distinction between a transitory zone and an “erratic”
sequence: the erratic (i.e., incoherent and unpleasant)
sequence depends on the absence of a common clear
direction or the absence of something that “glues together”
musicians’ outputs, while the transitory sequence depends
on the variation frequency observed on a given laps of time.
In the example above, the musicians feel that an “erratic”
sequence has begun at 10’30’’ (i.e., after the last variation
has been observed) when after a silence, the tubist come
back with the same low-tone as before : all other musicians
clearly do not know what to do with it (to play the same
thing as before or to do something else).
We therefore isolated three main categories of articulation
in CFI: cadential articulation (drop in the collective energy),
interruptive articulation (use of a salient event) and
interpolative articulation (emergence of a transitory zone).
When musicians improvise, they tend to distinguish two
aspects of a given signal: its acoustic, musical and/or gestural
content on the one hand; and its “intentional” content, i.e.,
what the signal means, what it let appear from its producer’s
intentions and objectives, on the other hand. As such, a great
deal of the improvisers’ cognitive resources is devoted to an
encoding/decoding activity as identified by Pelz-Sherman
(1998): the competency of musical agents in an improvised
interaction depends on their ability to “convey the semantic
intent of their own musical ideas to other performers in real
time” and to “make accurate judgements in real time about the
semantic intent of each performer” (p. 127). This “semantic”
content can stand for different things which all refer to
intentional states, transmitted in or deduced from the signal:
the formal content (through a given gesture a musician can
communicate to his co-improvisers his objective about the
current situation’s evolution); the interactional content
(through a given gesture, a musician can communicate to one
of his co-improviser’s his intention to enter in a certain form
of interaction with him); the evaluative content (through a
given gesture, a musician can communicate to his co-
improvisers his evaluation or representation of the prevailing
situation); and probably others.
It is this very distinction between musical and intentional
contents that makes strategic reasoning crucial in CFI:
improvisers make musical decisions because they expect or
anticipate some kind of response or reaction from the other
improvisers, based on the implied semantic content of their
CFI is what Pelz-Sherman calls heteroriginal music, i.e., a
form of music where “decisions are made during the
performance as the product of the relationships of multiple
agents” (p. 9). In this kind of music, the separateness of the
agents makes discrepancies in the situation representations
and evaluations, or in the preferences about a given situation’s
evolution quite likely: one can thus partly relate the success of
the musicians coordination to their ability in constructing a
shared representation of the improvisation.
We can draw, in this regard, two significant results from
our study:
Musicians use different strategies based on the way
they construct their representation of the current
situation (i.e., as one of the four types of sequences
described above).
The most patent case of dis-coordination emerges
when the musicians have contradictory or quite different
representations of a given situation. As such, dis-
coordination may be seen as miscommunication between
A. Decisions and Strategies
Not every decision is based on a strategic intention. Most
common decisions of a musician are made based on the
musical logic (as seen by the musician) of both his individual
discourse and the collective result. In this case, the primary
focus of the musician is on the musical aspects of his signal,
and the way these musical aspects satisfy the requirements of
both internal consistency with what has been previously
played, and external consistency with what is played
Other decisions are based on more cognitive factors,
especially the cognitive load (sometimes, an improviser
decides to “stop paying attention” to one of the other
improvisers because he “can not follow him anymore”) and
the lassitude (sometimes, an improviser just get bored with his
own idea or “does not believe in it anymore” and then decides
to do something else).
Nevertheless, it appeared clearly in the commentaries that
strategic decisions (decisions made with a specific goal and/or
a collective response in mind) were quite frequent. Of course,
improvisers use a very large array of strategies in CFI; but the
most interesting ones are the “meta-pragmatic strategies”;
they result not only in decisions taken for an intended purpose
but also in decisions of which the primary motivation is
precisely to convey the improviser’s intention or
representation of the situation. In such situations, the signal is
produced primarily for its intentional aspects, and sometimes
musical aspects are not even relevant. The purpose of these
strategies is essentially to modify the improvisation's
interaction pattern or formal contours, either radically or
Here are two examples, taken from our recordings: in one
improvisation, the saxophonist noticed that the flutist was not
playing for a while; he thus decided to abandon the high-
pitched creaking sounds he was producing to play a distinct
pitch (a low F), hoping to give the flutist a “passageway” into
the interaction. And indeed, the flutist took advantage of the
opportunity, and came back into the improvisation, with a
whistle-tone that merged beautifully with this low note. But as
soon as his goal was accomplished, the saxophonist returned
to his high-pitched creaking sounds (Sound example 8),
making clear that this distinct pitch was not the beginning of a
new idea.
The other example is much more radical: because he was
evaluating an ongoing sequence and finding it too long and
static, the tuba player suddenly interrupted the improvisation
with a loud and strident motif (much like a scream), with the
hope for “producing something new”. But the three other
musicians did not react to this strong interruption even if, as it
appeared clearly in the commentaries, they had all understood
his intention. The tubist tried again a few seconds later with
the same motif: the other musicians were then ready and used
his motif as a signal to increase the music’s intensity (Sound
Example 9). This is also a nice example of the kind of implicit
negotiations that can be seen in CFI. Since the original
strategy has failed, its meaning has been modified between the
first and the second occurrences: the absence of reaction the
first time (partly because some musicians did not want to
modify their proposition) caused the tuba motif to shift from a
clear interruptive signal to a mere stimulation signal. This
change of status was obvious in the way the tubist was playing
his motif: three short outbursts the first time; a longer and
continuous stream the second time, as if it was more a way to
enrich the polyphony, by adding a new, contrasting layer, than
a way to radically modify the collective organization.
Aside from these meta-pragmatic strategies, we have
observed four significant types of strategy used by the
musicians in CFI:
Stabilization strategy. It is certainly the most recurrent
type of strategy used by the musicians. This indicates
clearly that the stabilization of the improvisation (i.e.,
finding a way to make all musicians' signals “work
together” for a while) is one of the musicians' important
goals in CFI. However, this is not surprising if we
remember that CFI is “referent-free”: achieving formal
stability in the absence of a given pre-existing structure is
precisely one of CFI's great challenges. In the
commentaries, we observed that when a musician describes
the sequence as “erratic”, chaotic” or “unstable” he also
gives an explicit description of his own reaction and actions
in terms of a “stabilization strategy”. Two sub-types can be
distinguished: the musician simply repeats a pattern, strictly
or with little variations (creating an ostinato or a loop), or
holds a sound/texture/pitch for a certain time, proposing de
facto an attractor for the others to join in; or he tries to
operate as a mediator between two too heterogeneous ideas
presented by other improvisers, thus proposing a possible
synthesis and future attractor.
“Wait and see” Strategy. This can be seen as a variant of
the stabilization strategy. It is mainly used by the musicians
when they describe the situation as transitory. The musician
deliberately stops playing or maintains a very low-
information signal, in order to, quoting one commentary,
“see where things are going”: he is waiting for a new idea to
emerge. When musicians are trying to find a new attractor,
this strategy can be very helpful to clarify the situation.
“Playing along” strategy. It appeared clearly in the
commentaries that the musicians are fully aware of the
fragility of CFI, and the fact that it can “fall apart” so easily.
Hence, the cooperative aspect of the interaction always
seems to be stronger than its agonistic aspect: it is more
important to find a way to play together than to impose a
personal and preferred idea. When musicians feel that an
idea is not very interesting but can nevertheless work as an
attractor, or when they feel that the group is going towards
an inevitable direction, musicians generally “play along”,
i.e., they do their part in the interaction, play what they are
implicitly expected to play. There is of course a place for
implicit negotiations and confrontations between different
propositions, but typically at the beginning of a new
sequence. Once the music starts to flow, the negotiation
margin quickly decreases. The “playing along” strategy is a
way to acknowledge this state of affairs. In such a situation,
the musician decides to play his part, but in a minimal way,
just enough for the music to continue, but not enough to
remain the same for very long.
Densification strategy. This kind of strategy is typically
used by a musician when he described the improvisation as
boring, predictable, uninteresting... In such a situation, the
musician deliberately creates complexity by adding a new
layer in the improvisation. He hopes to provoke a transition,
or a crystallization, by the dialectical confrontation of two
contrasting elements, of a new, more exciting attractor. A
typical example is given by a saxophonist commenting
about the beginning of one of the improvisations: “It is my
first sound in this improvisation and I think to myself: I'm
going to break this situation, which is either too stable or
too boring, but for sure without any clear direction. As a
consequence, some diversified, non-congruous events start
to appear and are added to this continuous texture
maintained by the euphonium. In that sense, my
intervention was rather successful”.
B. Coordination and shared representations
The fact that improvisers maintain similar representations
of a given situation plays a great role in the success of the
coordination task. If all improvisers frame a situation as
erratic, for example, it will not be long before an attractor
appears and a new collective direction emerge. Conversely, an
erratic sequence emerge typically when improvisers have very
contrasting representations of the situation. Similarly, a
difficult articulation between two sequences often results from
different appreciations on the improvisation's formal conduct.
It follows from the commentaries' analysis that three
different kind of representations should be distinguished:
The musicians' representations of a given situation:
this includes the aesthetic interest of the situation (is
the music good?), its stability/instability (is there a
clear attractor?), its directionality/absence of
direction (do we know where the music is going? Is it
a transition?), its place in the improvisation as a
whole (e.g.: can it be seen as a recapitulation of a
previous sequence?), its place in the actual sequence
(is the sequence already long enough or should it be
developed little more?), the way the interaction are
structured in it (e.g.: has the saxophonist taken a
soloist spot?)...
The musicians' representations of an other musician
intentions and objectives.
The musicians' representations of team preferences,
i.e., of what is best for this particular band he's playing
in, given the instruments, the musicians, their various
cultural backgrounds, etc.
Of course, there are often differences in the first kind of
representations, because these representations are build on
very individual-specific backgrounds of preferences, past
experiences, musical knowledge, etc. As for the differences in
the second kind of representations, they often result from the
inability of the musician to unambiguously convey the
intentional content of his signal. Representations of the third
kind were less often formulated, but seemed to play a great
role in the regulation of improvisers' decisions: indeed, the
musicians will shape the coordination problem of CFI
according to these representations of team preferences by
sharply distinguishing between situations that fit the group
well and situations that risk to jeopardize the group. As an
example, we can quote a clarinetist at the beginning of his
commentaries: “I quickly said to myself that the best thing to
do, given that we don't know each other, and given the
instrumentation, would be to work on lengthy things, with
slowly evolving textures, trying to converge at least on the
We give below a few examples of the impact of shared
representations on the smoothness of the improvisation's
collective flow.
1) Misperceived intention (Sound Example 10). In this
example, the flutist says that her energetic intervention is
designed to produce a quick articulation, and to avoid a
collective sagging: the goal is to attract immediately the
other musicians with this new proposition. But the other
musicians do not perceive that intention: on the contrary,
they all consider her intervention as a clear signal for the
beginning of a solo. This leads to a literal dead end,
manifested by an awkward silence and a few hesitations,
before something else is proposed by the percussionist.
2) Transparent intention (Sound Example 11). The
percussionist says that his intervention was designed as a
cut, to create a sense of synergy. This was clearly perceived
as such by the other musicians. One of the musicians
evoked the “breaking nature” of the percussion, capable of
provoking such vivid articulations: for him, the intention of
the percussion intervention was obvious. And indeed, the
resulting collective articulation was efficient and very
3) Shared formal representations (Sound Example 12).
Here, all the musicians said that they knew, when this
sequence began, that it would probably be the last part of
the improvisation. Here are two comments made by
different musicians, which are remarkably similar: “It's
always very difficult to abandon this kind of proposition.
Sometimes, the best way is just to stop!” (Double-bass
player); “We know that we are probably coming to an end,
because if we continue to push things further, we know that
we will arrive to a breaking point, a difficult point: the
moment when you need to get out of this thing. And, aside
from just stopping the improvisation, it's difficult to do such
a thing” (Clarinetist). The musicians are thus all waiting for
an “exit point”, something that will help them with stoping
the improvisation; it is the sudden appearance of higher
harmonics in the cello (produced accidentally, according to
the cellist) that gives the signal for everyone.
4) Contrasting evaluations of a given situation (Sound
Example 13). Here, the evaluation of the situation strongly
depends on the musician: “There is a collective rarefaction
that I found very interesting. I thought it was a nice
moment” (Clarinetist); “It becomes suddenly more
pointillistic. There! That's when things are starting to fall
apart” (Tubist). The tubist clearly fears the apparition of an
erratic sequence, while the others are rather satisfied with
the fragile quality of the music. Unsurprisingly, the tubist
adopts a stabilization strategy, by introducing a simple
ostinato. But this signal is not well-accepted by the other
musicians, who would have enjoyed maintaining the same
atmosphere and are puzzled by the ostinato. As a result of
this seminal difference of appreciation, the sequence is
perceived as rather unpleasant by the musicians, as it is
composed of parallel ideas that never really converge. It
then takes almost 60 seconds before this initial dissonance
is resolved.
It appears on these examples that the emergence of shared
representations plays a crucial role in the success of CFI's
coordination task. It would certainly be of great interest to
use paradigms and results from the field of team cognition and
apply them to the case of CFI.
This study highlights some essential features of musical
cognition in CFI. A significant part of the improvisers'
cognitive resources seems to be devoted to the formal problem
of CFI: what to play next and what to play together? This
double-question is not trivial, and it does not receive easy
answers, as testified by the number of erratic or unpleasant
sequences identified by the musicians in the analysis of their
actual improvisation. Two difficulties come in the forefront:
the first one is about establishing and/or identifying an
attractor (convergence problem), while the second one is
about the transition from one attractor to another (articulation
problem). We identified three relevant paths followed by the
improvising musicians to cope with these difficulties: the
presence of salient events; the use of strategic reasoning; and
the emergence of shared representations. This last aspect
opens a promising direction to explore: it should lead to new
works in the field of team cognition research.
This work has beneficed from the support of the IXXI
(Project “Improvisation and Non-linear Systems”) and the
ANR (Project “IMPROTECH ANR-09-SSOC-068”).
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... In order for musicians to engage in these converging and diverging dynamics, they must first attain an inter-subjective understanding of the ongoing situation. When co-improvising musicians reach such an understanding-in colloquial terms, a feeling of being "on the same page"-they have a shared representation of the interaction (Murray-Rust & Smaill, 2011; Canonne & Garnier, 2012). During the course of jamming, a musician will listen to musical output either as something expected according to the shared representation, or something which is unexpected or novel (Murray-Rust & Smaill, 2011). ...
... Interestingly, the model shows a spontaneous alteration of musicians taking the lead on the intention scale, indicative of a natural dynamic of initiative turn taking. A subsequent paper (Canonne & Garnier, 2012) reported on a study made with free improvisers. The participating musicians self-reported segments deemed as collective sequences (stable and interesting), and were asked to pay particular attention to strategies they employed in the articulation (transitions) between the segments. ...
... Interviews with musicians revealed two main approaches to exploration when interacting with musical instruments or tools: Divergent approaches are associated with "novelty generation" and characterize an outward problem finding search, whereas convergent approaches constitute a narrowing in on optimal "solutions", or problem solving. This bears resemblance to Canonne and Garnier's (2012) dichotomy of convergence (focusing on an attractor) and articulation (transitioning between attractors). Undoubtedly, the divergence approach is also related to Borgo's notion of "surfing the edge of chaos" in search for new attractors to emerge in the phase space. ...
Full-text available
A mixed-initiative user interface is one where both human and computer contribute proactively to a process. A mixed-initiative creative interface is the same principle applied in the domain of computational creativity support, such as in digital production of music or visual arts. The title “Mixed-Initiative Music Making” therefore implies a kind of music making that puts human and computer in a tight interactive loop, and where each contributes to modifying the output of the other. Improvisational collective music making is often referred to as jamming. This thesis focuses on jamming-oriented approaches to music making, which takes advantage of the emergent novelty created by group dynamics. The research question is: How can a mixed-initiative interactive music system aid human musicians in the initial ideation stage of music making? Starting from a vantage point of dynamical systems theory, I have addressed this question by adopting a Research through Design approach within a methodological framework of triangulation between theory, observation, and design. I have maintained a focus on the activity of collective music making through four studies over a period of two years, where the gradual development of a mixed-initiative interactive music system has been informed by findings from these studies. The first study was a focus group with musicians experienced in collective music making, where the goal was to establish commonalities in musical interaction and idea development with a focus on viable conceptual frameworks for subsequent studies. The second study was a case study of two improvising musicians engaged in an improvised session. They were separated in two rooms, and could only communicate instrumentally or through preset commands on a computer screen. The session was analyzed in terms of how the musicians dynamically converged and diverged, and thus created musical progression. In the third study, several musicians were invited to jam with a prototype of an interactive music system. Unbeknownst to them, they had been recruited to a Wizard of Oz study—behind the scenes was a human keyboard player pretending to be a computational agent. The purpose of this arrangement was to obtain empirical data about how musicians experience co-creativity with a perceived computational agent before the implementation of the computational agent had begun in earnest. In the final study, two different implementations of a mixed-initiative interactive music system were developed for a comparative user study, where the tradeoff between user control and system autonomy was a central premise. Combined, the studies show that a mixed-initiative interactive music system offers musicians freedom from judgement and freedom to explore their own creativity in relation to an unknown agency. Social factors make these kinds of freedom difficult to attain with vi other musicians. Hence, playing with interactive music systems can lead to different kinds of musical interaction than can be achieved between people. An acceptance of machine aesthetics may lead to surprising creative results. Repeated exposure to mixed-initiative interactive music systems could help cultivate attitudes that are valuable for collective music making in general, such as maintaining a process-oriented approach and accepting the loss of idea ownership.
... Answers provided by the subjects suggest that three major kinds of cue are used to detect a change of sequence, both from an "insider" and an "outsider" perspective (i.e. , both in the first and in the second part of our study 61 ). (Canonne et Garnier, 2012, p. 200) Il nous semble important de donner un résumé de différents types de transitions proposées par Canonne et Garnier (2012), car elles pourront s'avérer utiles pour la suite de notre travail. ...
... » Densification « […] le musicien crée délibérément de la complexité en ajoutant une nouvelle couche dans l'improvisation. » Tableau n°9 -Les stratégies de Canonne et Garnier (2012, p. 206) Dias Fernandes propose également l'analyse de « Electrologues -Reload » qui s'organise autour des mêmes items que précédemment avec, cette fois, le retrait des classifications de Canonne et Garnier (2012). Dias Fernandes justifie ce retrait par le fait que « […] les interactions existantes sont presque toujours des réponses de l'instrument numérique aux motifs proposés par la basse électronique » (Dias Fernandes, 2019, p. 422). ...
... Dans un second temps, la mise en application du protocole expérimental de Canonne et Garnier (2012) a permis de démontrer qu'il existe bien une forme d'auto-organisation du signal par les membres du collectif en situation de jeu improvisé, ce qui permet la manifestation de structures émergentes, parfois très lisibles autant pour l'analyste en situation d'observation que pour les participants à l'acte improvisé. Enfin, Canonne et Garnier (2012) sont parvenus à isoler quatre types de séquences qui articulent le jeu improvisé, ainsi que trois types d'indices permettant aux membres du collectif de converger vers des transitions claires, grâce à la mise en oeuvre de cinq stratégies spécifiques, elles aussi décrites précisément. ...
L’analyse des musiques improvisées collectives non-idiomatiques est au cœur de notre recherche. De plus en en plus de musicologues, de chercheurs et de pédagogues tentent d’analyser le processus de création de la pratique improvisée et les liens manifestes qu’elle entretient avec une forme d’écriture proche de la composition (Savouret, 2010 ; Canonne, 2010 ; Bhagwati, 2013), mettant également en avant une forme de dialogisme discursif au sein même de la pratique (Stévance, 2012a) et l’usage de processus d’incorporation et d’automatisation des comportements pour les improvisateurs en situation de jeu (Canonne, 2016). Nous avons souhaité prendre part à l’émergence de ces avancées analytiques à propos des musiques improvisées collectives non-idiomatiques en proposant, à notre tour, un protocole d’analyse de cette pratique. Après avoir réalisé un travail de collecte de données auprès de trois groupes d’improvisateurs et constitué ainsi notre corpus d’étude, nous avons imaginé un protocole d’analyse « hybride » respectant les spécificités propres aux groupes d’improvisateurs qui l’expérimentent et reposant sur trois axes de recherches fondamentaux : (1) écoute de la matière sonore in situ (Schaeffer, 1966 ; Roy, 2003), (2) dénomination et métaphorisation des différents événements sonores significatifs du discours improvisé en situation d’énonciation (Spampinato, 2008, 2011) et (3) représentation graphique de la forme improvisée (Couprie, 2020 ; Lalitte, 2014a, 2014b ; Gonin, 2019). La mise en application de ce protocole permettra de provoquer un dialogue interdisciplinaire entre Analyse musicale, Sciences du langage musical et Acoustique.
... Even though there are no explicit idiomatic rules or conventions that prescribe how CFI performances can be formally organized, such performances are typically characterized by a "segmental form" (Nunn, 1998, p. 43), i.e., consisting in a succession of sequences, each having a stable musical identity of its own, separated by unstable transitions. This feature of CFI has been described by several analysts independently (Bertolani, 2019;Burrows & Reed, 2016;Borgo, 2005;Canonne & Garnier, 2012Pelz-Sherman, 1998), and is perhaps the most obvious sort of emergent structure observable in CFI. For example, Canonne and Garnier (2015) showed that expert third-party listeners' segmentation of a series of trio improvisations were largely similar, meaning that the performances' sequential structure had a relatively high degree of transparency. ...
... This conjecture receives some degree of support from recent work in empirical musicology. Canonne and Garnier (2012) asked groups of between two and four musicians to improvise freely for ten minutes and then to comment on a recording of their improvisations focusing especially on their thoughts and intentions while improvising. In their comments, the musicians typically described sequences of their performances in terms of opposites: stable vs. unstable; satisfactory vs. unsatisfactory. ...
... In other words, if there is some degree of sonic communication in CFI, it necessarily relies on the pragmatic use of contextual cues and can only aim at conveying highly unspecific content. According to this perspective, Canonne and Garnier (2012) found that the improvisers who took part in their study sometimes deliberately created salient events (interrupting or contrasting sounds) not so much for their acoustical, musical and/or gestural content than for their intentional content, whereby they attempted to communicate to the other performers their wish to modify the interactional structure or musical direction of the improvisation, even if their signals were not deliberately intended to have "a deterministic implication" (Denzler and Guionnet, 2020, p. 26). ...
Full-text available
Understanding how musicians can coordinate their musical actions when they improvise together remains an important theoretical and empirical challenge. In this paper, we suggest a broad theoretical framework, compatible with up-to-date research on joint action, which can account for coordination in collective improvisation, especially in the hard case of so-called collective free improvisation. This framework addresses the limits of an account of coordination in collective improvisation that relies only on low-level, emergent coordination mechanisms, and shows how these mechanisms can be combined with planned coordination mechanisms to explain how improvisers deal with some of the main coordination problems that typically arise in collectively improvised performances. As such, our framework allows for the formulation of new hypotheses that pave the way for further empirical investigations on collective improvisation and sheds light on collectively improvised behavior at large.
... Second, the video of the performance is played back to the musicians twice in order to collect individual reports concerning their musical intentions and their phenomenology, respectively. The data about musical intentions are collected by means of a slider indicating in real-time the extent to which the musician intends to change or support the current direction of the music, in line with prior ethnographic studies emphasizing this opposition as central to decision-making in CFI (Canonne, 2018;Canonne & Garnier, 2012). The phenomenological data is provided by scaled answers to a series of questions targeting specific aspects of improvisers' experience during the performance. ...
... This report was produced as part of a previous study, conducted in Paris in 2011(Canonne & Garnier, 2012). The musician quoted is in fact a member of both the ONCEIM and the Umlaut quartet in the present study.Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. ...
Full-text available
Joint actions typically involve a sense of togetherness that has a distinctive phenomenological component. While it has been hypothesized that group size, hierarchical structure, division of labour, and expertise impact agents’ phenomenology during joint actions, the studies conducted so far have mostly involved dyads performing simple actions. We explore in this study the complex case of collectively improvised musical performances, focusing particularly on the way group size and interactional patterns modulate the phenomenology of joint action. We recorded two expert improvisation ensembles of contrasting sizes (16 vs 4 musicians) and collected data about their musical behaviour, as well as reports about five aspects of their phenomenology (sense of agency, agentive identity, integration, dependence, reflexivity) and about their musical intentions. Our overall data enabled us to assess how those five phenomenological dimensions related to one another during jointly improvised performances. They also show how such phenomenology varied with the way improvisers dynamically related to one another throughout the performance. Finally, we observe that group size strongly altered the phenomenology of improvisers who otherwise shared many characteristics (high expertise, similar aesthetic preferences, etc.). Our study thus sheds light on the interactional and structural parameters that shape and modulate our felt experience when acting together, and thereby highlights the importance of pluralism for studying the phenomenology of joint action.
... The second conception of creative strategies is related to those utilized by the improvisers when interacting with others in CFI, being internal elements that contribute to the practice. Those were demonstrated by Canonne and Garnier (2012), in an experiment where, after CFI sessions, the improvisers were asked to describe what were their perceptions in different sections of the improvisation; some examples of the strategies were detailed by the authors (c.f. Canonne & Garnier, 2012, p. 7). ...
... Beyls [12] presents a model for humanmachine interaction where the system's behavior follows from the competition between the opposing forces of expression (output generated irrespective of or contrasting to current context) and integration (output that is complementary to the prevailing context and contributes to its further existence). Canonne and Garnier [13] invoke a model for collective free improvisation where strategies range from stabilization (attempts to converge to a "collective sequence") to densification (deliberately creating complexity to provoke a transition). In this apparent terminological jungle, we propose that these concepts in essence are musical strategies that may be grouped along a musical similarity axis ranging from converging to diverging, as depicted in Figure 1. ...
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Conference Paper
We present Spire Muse, a co-creative musical agent that engages in different kinds of interactive behaviors. The software utilizes corpora of solo instrumental performances encoded as self-organized maps and outputs slices of the corpora as concatenated, remodeled audio sequences. Transitions between behaviors can be automated, and the interface enables the negotiation of these transitions through feedback buttons that signal approval, force reversions to previous behaviors, or request change. Musical responses are embedded in a pre-trained latent space, emergent in the interaction, and influenced through the weighting of rhythmic, spectral, harmonic, and melodic features. The training and run-time modules utilize a modified version of the MASOMagent architecture. Our model stimulates spontaneous creativity and reduces the need for the user to sustain analytical mind frames, thereby optimizing flow. The agent traverses a system autonomy axis ranging from reactive to proactive, which includes the behaviors of shadowing, mirroring, and coupling. A fourth behavior—negotiation—is emergent from the interface between agent and user. The synergy of corpora, interactive modes, and influences induces musical responses along a musical similarity axis from converging to diverging. We share preliminary observations from experiments with the agent and discuss design challenges and future prospects. A web version of this paper with working videos is available on PubPub:
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The article presents the conceptual groundwork for an understanding of the essentially improvisational dimension of human rationality. It aims to clarify how we should think about important concepts pertinent to central aspects of human practices, namely, the concepts of improvisation, normativity, habit, and freedom. In order to understand the sense in which human practices are essentially improvisational, it is first necessary to criticize misconceptions about improvisation as lack of preparation and creatio ex nihilo. Second, it is necessary to solve the theoretical problems that derive from misunderstandings concerning the notions of normativity, habit, and freedom – misunderstandings that revolve around the idea that rationality is a form that is developed out of itself and thus works in a way similar to algorithms. One can only make sense of normativity, habit, and freedom if one understands that they all involve conflictual relationships with the world and with others, which in turn enables one to adequately take into account their constitutive connection to improvisation, properly understood. In outlining these conceptual connections, we want to prepare the foundations for an explanation of rational practices as improvisational practices. The article concludes by stating that human rational life is improvisatory because the conditions of human practice arise out of practice itself. Bertinetto A., Bertram G.W. We Make Up the Rules as We Go Along: Improvisation as an Essential Aspect of Human Practices // Open Philosophy, vol. 3, no. 1, 2020, pp. 202-221.
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Human interactions are often improvised rather than scripted, which suggests that efficient coordination can emerge even when collective plans are largely underspecified. One possibility is that such forms of coordination primarily rely on mutual influences between interactive partners, and on perception–action couplings such as entrainment or mimicry. Yet some forms of improvised joint actions appear difficult to explain solely by appealing to these emergent mechanisms. Here, we focus on collective free improvisation, a form of highly unplanned creative practice where both agents' subjective reports and the complexity of their interactions suggest that shared intentions may sometimes emerge to support coordination during the course of the improvisation, even in the absence of verbal communication. In four experiments, we show that shared intentions spontaneously emerge during collective musical improvisations, and that they foster coordination on multiple levels, over and beyond the mere influence of shared information. We also show that musicians deploy communicative strategies to manifest and propagate their intentions within the group, and that this predicts better coordination. Overall, our results suggest that improvised and scripted joint actions are more continuous with one another than it first seems, and that they differ merely in the extent to which they rely on emergent or planned coordination mechanisms.
Full-text available
The article presents the conceptual groundwork for an understanding of the essentially improvisational dimension of human rationality. It aims to clarify how we should think about important concepts pertinent to central aspects of human practices, namely, the concepts of improvisation, normativity, habit, and freedom. In order to understand the sense in which human practices are essentially improvisational, it is first necessary to criticize misconceptions about improvisation as lack of preparation and creatio ex nihilo . Second, it is necessary to solve the theoretical problems that derive from misunderstandings concerning the notions of normativity, habit, and freedom – misunderstandings that revolve around the idea that rationality is a form that is developed out of itself and thus works in a way similar to algorithms. One can only make sense of normativity, habit, and freedom if one understands that they all involve conflictual relationships with the world and with others, which in turn enables one to adequately take into account their constitutive connection to improvisation, properly understood. In outlining these conceptual connections, we want to prepare the foundations for an explanation of rational practices as improvisational practices. The article concludes by stating that human rational life is improvisatory because the conditions of human practice arise out of practice itself.
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Musical improvisation and biological evolution are similarly based on the principles of unpredictability and adaptivity. Against this background, this research examines whether and how structures of evolutionary developmental logic can be detected and described in free improvisation. The underlying con- cept of improvisation is participative in nature and, in this reading, contains similar generative strategies as there are in evolutionary processes. Further im- plications of the theory of evolution for cultural development – as the concept of memetics – and for computer science – in the form of genetic algorithms – build an interdisciplinary network of different theories and methodologies, from which the proposed model of genetic improvisation emerges. An improvisation thereby arises as an evolution of individual sound cells with a specific sound repertoire as their phenotype. The meta-generative function of the sound cell thus combines the analytical with the generative, in that its genotype codes for improvisational phylogenesis at the same time define its sounding ontogenesis. If this principle is reversed and – in the sense of reverse engineering – app- lied to a corpus of recorded improvisations with methods of bioinformatics for empirical analysis, a co-adaptive network of lineages of sound cells can be created. This structured approach allows not only a systematic analysis by means of gene pools but also a hermeneutic interpretation of the material along the visualisations in phylogenetic trees. It turns out that, after the individual-creative selection of sound cells, the second level of interactive se- lection between the improvisers becomes effective, which on the genetic level appears complementary to the dominant principle of imitation. To evaluate the epistemological status of these results, however, it is always necessary to read them in the context of their hybrid genesis between subjectivity and digitality.
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Conference Paper
This paper presents a model for Collective Free Improvisation (CFI), a form of improvisation that can be defined as referent-free. While very simple, it captures some interesting mechanisms of CFI. We use two variables: the intention and the objective. Both variables are used to describe the production and organization of the improvisers’ signals. Using a system of Landau equations, we propose a non-linear dynamics for the intention evolving on a short time-scale while the objective evolves on a long time-scale. In this paper, the model is used to determine if, and within which conditions, a collective structure can emerge from CFI.
This chapter discusses cognitive processes in improvisation. Improvisation is thus central to the formation of new ideas in all areas of human endeavor. Its importance experientially rests with its magical and self-liberating qualities. Its importance scientifically is that it presents one with the clearest, least edited version of how one think, encoded in behavior. It is among the time-based arts, namely music, dance, theatre and mime that one find the greatest literature. From a survey of this material, certain facts emerge quite consistently, and allow the formulation of plausible cognitive models for improvisation. Much of the variety of improvisation comes from the many different types of referent which may be used, and the many kinds of relationships the improviser may choose to set up between the referent and the sounds, movement, words, etc., that constitute the improvised behavior.
This article explores the question of why music touches us so deeply. While music philosophers, musicologists, and aestheticians have written a lot about musical emotions, psychologists have been slow to catch up due to both conceptual and methodological problems. Hence, the article focuses mainly on research carried out during the last decade. The study of music and emotions is fraught with considerable controversy and disagreement. Current debates in the field revolve around such questions as which emotions music induces, whether there are uniquely musical emotions, and what the relationship is between perceived and induced emotions. An important direction for future research is to consider how emotions might be one of several features of an aesthetic response to music - the appreciation of music as 'art'.
Abstract. This essay draws on participant observation, ethnographic interviews, phenomenological inquiry, and recent insights from the study of swarm intelligence and complex networks to illuminate the dynamics of collective musical improvisation. Throughout, it argues for a systems understanding of creativity—a view that takes seriously the notion that group creativity is not simply reducible to individual psychological processes—and it explores interconnections between the realm of musical performance, community activities, and pedagogical practices. Lastly, it offers some reflections on the ontology of art and on the role that music plays in human cognition and evolution, concluding that improvising music together allows participants and listeners to explore complex and emergent forms of social order.
Thesis (Ph. D.--Music)--University of California, San Diego, 1998. Vita. Discography: leaves 192-194. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 195-201).
L'Improvisation dans le Jazz et les Musiques Contemporaines: l'Imparfait du Moment Présent
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