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Chapter 6
Aesthetic Distinctions and
Musical Lives
Directly in response to the aesthetic and stylistic boundaries already outlined in Chapters
2 and 3, this chapter identifies eight aesthetic distinctions and two umbrella terms used
by Berlin’s improvising musicians to distinguish between their practices - providing a
contemporary survey of the diversity of styles or sub-styles which can be united under
the banner of ‘Improvised Music’.
The first part of this chapter identifies and describes these distinctions, and the second
and third parts explain how they interact with one another - showing how musicians
built musical lives from these choices and possibilities, and selected between improvised
and non-improvised activities.
I will frame this discussion in terms of purists (who performed predominantly in
one style, or a small range of styles) and poly-musical performers (who divided their
activities between several styles),1 as well as identifying the differences between musicians
who played differently in different settings and those who, even though the setting
might change, maintained their ‘voice’ throughout their entire output. In the case of
poly-musical improvisers, this chapter will also show the underlying ideologies which
united and underpinned such superficially disparate choices.
The term ‘polymusical’ is suggested by Ingrid Monson, after Mantle Hood’s concept of bi-musicality,
and describes musicians fluent in several musical styles [Monson, 1996, Hood, 1960]. For me, the concept
is also related to Georgina Born’s use of the term ‘splitting’, used to describe the seemingly fragmented
behaviour of IRCAM musicians who ‘split’ different areas of musical production from each other (as
well as their production and consumption, and aesthetic past and present) [Born, 1995, 296]. Rather
than invoking any sense of denial and refusal between these different practices (IRCAM musicians, for
example, wouldn’t declare their interests in popular music to colleagues), however, I use the term more
loosely here - referring only to the idea that musicians were active in several different musics (in the
case of Berlin’s improvisers, as section 6.3 will show, musicians were generally not secretive about their
non-improvised activities, and these other musics often directly fed their improvised output).