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date: 25 July 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Improvisation has been construed as Western art music’s Other. This chapter urges music theorists to take the consequences of this configuration seriously. The decision to exclude improvisation as inherently unstable is not neutral, but is bound up with the endemic racism that has characterized social relations in the West and that is being brought to the fore in Black Lives Matter and other recent social and political movements. Traditional music theory is not immune from such institutional racism—its insistence on normative musical behaviors is founded on the (white) phallogocentrism of Western thought. Does the resurgent academic interest in improvisation offer a way out? No, at least not as it is currently studied. Even an apparently impartial approach such as cognitive science is not neutral; perception is colored by race. To get anywhere, this chapter argues, improvisation studies must take difference seriously. Important impetus for a more inclusive critical model comes from such fields as Black studies, Women’s studies, subaltern studies, queer studies, and disability studies.

Keywords: affect, Black Lives Matter, critical improvisation studies, cognitive science, consciousness, embodiment, mirror neurons, subaltern studies, temporality, Women’s studies

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