Billy Connolly, Daniel Barenboim, Willie Wonka, Jazz Bastards, and the Universality of Improvisation
Raymond MacDonald and Graeme Wilson
Group musical improvisation is an important artistic, educational, and therapeutic process, and understanding the unique mental, individual, and social processes involved should be a key task for psychology. This chapter summarizes constraints in how some branches of psychology and ethnomusicology have conceptualized improvisation, and describes recent research embracing the breadth of what constitutes improvisation in music. Analyzing how highly diverse musicians discuss the fullest range of improvisational practices indicates important relationships between this creative interaction and wider psychological and social constructs. The chapter also presents research investigating the relationship between improvisation and health, highlighting a number of key benefits connected with improvisation in music therapy for patients with cancer. Enhancing understanding of the process and outcomes of musical improvisation in this way can help realize the potential contribution of music participation to contemporary culture, creativity in everyday life, and therapeutic interventions.
Alice Eldridge and Oliver Bown
This chapter examines a range of approaches to algorithmic music making inspired by biological systems, and considers topics at the intersection of contemporary music, computer science, and computational creativity. A summary of core precursor movements both within and beyond musical practice (A Life, cybernetics, systems art, etc.) sets the scene, before core models and algorithms are introduced and illustrated. These include evolutionary algorithms, agent-based modelling and self-organizing systems, adaptive behaviour and interactive performance systems, and ecosystemic approaches to composition and computational creative discovery. The chapter closes by reviewing themes for future work in this area: autonomy and agency, and the poetics of biologically inspired algorithms.
Aaron L. Berkowitz
Cognitive neuroscience research has begun to elucidate the neural substrates and cognitive processes that are involved in musical improvisation. In turn, the study of improvisation from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience has provided new insights about the brain and cognition. This chapter reviews brain imaging research studies of improvisation and explores the relevance of this work to musicians, musicologists, music educators, and cognitive neuroscientists with respect to the practice and pedagogy of improvisation, comparisons between music and language cognition, mirror neuron systems, and neural plasticity.
Roger T. Dean and Freya Bailes
This chapter discusses the conceptual frameworks in which current empirical studies of cognition in musical improvisation are being undertaken. It takes as its starting point the significant theoretical and empirical contributions of the late Jeff Pressing, musician and researcher, several of which were directed toward opening up this area of investigation. It is on the theoretical bases of models such as his that experimentally accessible hypotheses about improvisation can be constructed. The chapter particularly addresses the issue of transitions and segmentation in improvisation. Comparative and cross-cultural studies of the cognition of improvisation are then briefly reviewed. Finally, the potential of cognitive studies not only to elucidate improvisational processes, but also to contribute to them, is described.
Don D. Coffman
This chapter examines three approaches to teaching and learning that resonate with community music principles and that can help inform the theoretical bases for community music practice, because there are similarities between the facilitating behaviours of community musicians and the teaching behaviours of educators. Specifically, this chapter portrays a continuum of viewpoints about guiding others—pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy—and illustrates how aspects of each approach can be applied to community music practice. These approaches range from authoritarian ideas that are teacher-centred and learner-dependent to more autonomous ideas that embrace learner-centred and self-directed learning. The New Horizons Band of Iowa City, Iowa, in the United States, is presented as an illustration.
This chapter surveys music constraint programming systems, and how composers have used them. The chapter motivates why and explains how users of such systems describe intended musical results with constraints. This approach to algorithmic composition is similar to the way declarative and modular compositional rules have successfully been used in music theory for centuries as a device to describe composition techniques. This systematic overview highlights the respective strengths of different approaches and systems from a composer’s point of view, complementing other more technical surveys of this field. This text describes the music constraint systems PMC, Score-PMC, PWMC (and its successor Cluster Engine), Strasheela, and Orchidée—most are libraries of the composition systems PWGL or OpenMusic. These systems are shown in action by discussions of the composition processes of specific works by Jacopo Baboni Schilingi, Magnus Lindberg, Örjan Sandred, Torsten Anders, Johannes Kretz, and Jonathan Harvey.
This chapter presents the guiding design rationale for the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Digital Improv Project, which studies human cognition as a means of informing the creation of interactive narrative experiences. This work serves as an example of studying human co-creativity with the end goal of developing computer/human systems that have similar control, knowledge, and status in a creative task. The chapter describes the novel iterative design and development model used in the project and its relevance to practices in the broader interactive narrative community.
This chapter is an inquiry into contemporary hip-hop theater and dance as one of the latest genres of concert theater that is steeped in an Africanist aesthetic with multiracial proponents. This Africanist theatricality engages embodiment of the word and music. Growing out of the expressive street forms of rapping, deejaying, and breaking, it provides a needed rejuvenation of Western theater and dance. The chapter examines the “mashup” as a complex interdisciplinary, intercultural high-stakes negotiation. Locating hip-hop dance within both hip-hop theater and postmodern performance (dance and theater) the chapter analyzes the work of an important genre that uses movement as the primary medium of storytelling. The result of the mashup is a conjuring magic that pushes the limits of what it means to be human and offers fuel for social change.
This chapter explores improvisation from a consciousness-based standpoint. Examination of an inner mechanics for the transcendent experience frequently reported by improvisers sets the stage for consciousness-based distinctions between improvisation and composition processes, in which improvisation is extricated from common misclassification as an accelerated subspecies of composition. Temporal, cultural, and linguistic factors are considered in distinguishing between improvisatory and compositional paradigms. The intimate melding between musicians and listeners in peak improvised performance is paralleled with the deep collective communion associated with group meditation practice as indicative of a nonlocal, intersubjective field of consciousness, empirical support for which suggests that possible societal benefits may result from certain applications. An “improvisatory hermeneutics” is considered as a means for new ways of perceiving global challenges and paradigmatic change that centers intersubjectivity and other anomalous possibilities not commonly embraced in academic and public policy discourse.
Although singing is a universal human activity, many adults in Western society exclude themselves from singing, often self-defining as “non singing” or “tone deaf.” This chapter focuses on singing difficulties in adults (excluding vocal injury or illness), in particular, difficulties with singing acceptably in tune, or poor pitch singing. It examines the ways in which poor pitch singing has been defined and assessed in psychological research, and considers the relationship between singing pitch accuracy and cognitive mechanisms of pitch perception and sensorimotor coordination. The chapter outlines the very different profiles of singing performance associated with self-defined “tone deafness” and congenital amusia (a musical perceptual learning disorder), and places these in the theoretical context of neuropsychological and developmental research, drawing on models of singing development in children. Finally, the potential for adult vocal and musical development is illustrated with a few extant studies, and outlined as topic for further research.
Zachary Wallmark and Roger A. Kendall
Timbre exists at the confluence of the physical and the perceptual, and due to inconsistencies between these frames, it is notoriously hard to describe. This chapter examines the relationship between timbre and language, offering a critical review of theoretical and empirical thought on timbre semantics and providing a preliminary cognitive linguistic account of timbre description. It first traces the major conceptual and methodological advances in psychological timbre research since the 1970s with a focus on the mediating role of verbalization in previous paradigms. It then discusses the cognitive mechanisms underlying how listeners map timbral qualities onto verbal attributes. Applying a cognitive linguistic approach, the chapter concludes that timbre description may reflect certain fundamental aspects of human embodiment, which may help account for certain trans-historical and cross-cultural consistencies in descriptive practices.
This essay discusses the phenomenon of disabled Union veterans who turned to the profession of organ grinding during and after the American Civil War: they became mendicant musicians who played music in the streets to beg for money. Within a cultural logic that emphasized the sorting of worthy from unworthy poor—and “true” veterans from “imposters”—the related practices of street music and mendicancy were harshly stigmatized. Although artistic and literary representations of disabled organ grinders often used the performers as rhetorical devices to elicit fear, loathing, or pity, closer scrutiny of surviving documentary evidence reveals that the men indeed possessed agency, along with a capacity and desire for self-representation.
Sheila C. Woodward
Singing has its beginnings before birth in the fetal experience of the maternal singing voice. The nature of this form of human musical communication is highlighted against speculation that music may have evolved through mother–infant interactions. This chapter presents an overview of selected research on fetal, neonatal, and infant auditory response to and experience of maternal singing. This includes characteristics of maternal infant-directed singing and the maternal–infant bonding inherent in maternal singing. The discussion in this chapter rests on theories of early artistic intelligence and learning that go beyond goals of survival, problem solving, object use, or language acquisition, to include “the biological phenomenon of love”. The suggestion is that communicative expressions between mother and infant involve sympathetic responses that occur through delicate expressions and sensitive awareness that supersede perceptive and discriminatory processes.
Jared Burrows and Clyde G. Reed
Freely improvised music lacks commonly used mechanisms (e.g., scores, conductors, shared performance practices) that serve to coordinate choices across performers in other musical genres. This chapter analyses problems and solutions of musical coordination in free improvisation through the lens of “path dependence,” an analytic framework used in economics to model situations in which agents perceive a high pay-off to coordinating market choices. Key results in the path-dependence literature are the likelihood of multiple equilibria and “lock-in” to inferior outcomes. The interpersonal skills identified as critical for coordination in free improvisation closely parallel the skills that have been identified by social scientists as essential for high-functioning group behavior in non-musical pursuits. This suggests a pedagogical role for improvisation in enhancing economic and personal well-being with regard to human capital formation and happiness.
One of the particular joys of improvising music together is not knowing precisely the relationship between one’s own actions and thoughts (one has to surprise oneself, after all) or between one’s actions and those of other improvisers (did you do that because I did that? Or did I do that because you did that?). Drawing on research in social psychology, actor-network theory, and the extended mind thesis in cognitive science, this chapter argues that one’s experience of musical “authorship” can be enhanced or undermined rather easily by social, material, and technological forms of agency in the environment. It concludes that musical improvisation offers simultaneously a situated practice for exploring interagency—and thereby exorcising the humanistic ghost of a “self-luminous” will—and the possibility of creating some provisional closure, some fleeting reduction of complexity, in a world increasingly characterized by relentless machinic heterogenesis.
Jane W. Davidson and Robert Faulkner
Group singing practices interact with socio-cultural context, and this relationship depends on predominant social trends. Furthermore, ability to act in the world is expressed through Self-Identity, whereby we constitute ourselves as agents, authors of our actions, and generate our identities. There are three principal components of Self: the Material Self (the body; the physical world); the Social Self (expressed in relationships); and the Spiritual Self (found in religious/ spiritual experience). These elements interact in a web of individual and cultural circumstance, the overall becoming labeled The Created Self. In this chapter Selfhood is acknowledged as developing within a social and cultural milieu and is shaped by the specific roles we enact. Identity is primarily developed in relation to others, comprising many elements that are not fixed, but changing. Case studies are used to explore how social musical identities are developed in the social activity of group singing.
A posited definition of improvisation encompasses such a broad range of human actions that it is helpful to consider both improvisation and rhythm in terms of embodied cognition and a notion of bodily empathy. This suggests a possible (though unstable and inconclusive) connection to action understanding, empathy, and mirror neurons, while acknowledging the latter’s disputed status. With or without mirror neurons, the concept of action understanding offers a reconsideration of improvisation and music cognition with or without bodies (i.e., live or recorded). The relationship of improvisation, rhythm, and embodiment to contemporary theories of expectation, speech, and the evolution of music are considered. Action understanding is posited as the foundation of both music cognition and the perception of improvisation, marking both processes as inherently intersubjective, even whether the other’s body is absent or fantasized (as is the case with recorded music).
While Western Europe heralds a celebrated tradition of classical choral music, conductors and choral pedagogues from other continents are often astounded to learn of the disparities among choral music education programs throughout the region. This chapter sets out to contextualize the role of music education in the curricula of the typical public or private school, and how private enterprise has evolved to provide music opportunities for those pursuing musical artistry and classical training. Does choral art thrive in a more diverse cultural landscape and a less regulated environment? How does the organizational context of school choir, church choir, community choir, choir club, or private initiative, predispose and shape the choral experience and the success of its endeavors? Is there a European methodology to teach choral music? Finally, how are artistic concepts such as the quest for a “German” choral music passed on?
Sandra E. Trehub
Music in the early years is best understood as creative play with sound and body. Infants are highly responsive observers of mothers’ multimodal singing, which consists of expressive vocalizations in conjunction with facial and bodily gestures. Infants derive pleasure and solace from music, and they exhibit sensitivity to its pitch and temporal patterning. As toddlers, they engage in rudimentary singing and dancing, which ultimately become tools for emotional self-regulation. Preschoolers exhibit increasing sensitivity to culture-specific aspects of music. They sing as they play, producing conventional as well as invented songs and aligning their vocal patterns with their movements. By the early school years, children exhibit considerable understanding of musical forms and functions. Their melodic and rhythmic skills are more readily evident on the playground than in the classroom. Although music and movement are linked for adults, they are inseparable for infants and young children.
Sander L. Gilman
When theories of the psyche approach music, the question of the embodiment of music becomes a means of understanding the nature of both music and the psyche. Within psychoanalysis there are three quite different levels of analysis that play a role: the first is therapeutic and asks, “how can we cure aspects of the psyche that have come to make life difficult?” The second looks at the base line of normal human development through an evolutionary model. The third level examines the development of the social structures in which human beings interact as a reflex of their inner lives. It thus examines what Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) labeled “civilization,” a term he made quite fraught in all of its manifestations. Music (and its corollary, listening) functions at all three levels in complex and often contradictory ways in the history of psychoanalysis.