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Chapter 9
I’m not thinking... [and] it’s the wrong term for this work. There is no
thinking happening. Or maybe we call it intuitive thinking or something.
[...] It’s somehow connected to the body, and is connected to the experience
and... to responding to some things that are already happening. So it’s
more a responsive thinking, if you want to call it [that]. Or intuitive
responsive thinking, then, rather than “The composition has to go this
direction because...”. [...] It’s not coming this way.
One listener compared such “sub-conscious”, ‘real’ improvising to martial arts or driving
a car, adding:
I think that’s one of the principles of the whole thing... you learn, you learn,
you learn the technique, but to master the technique you have to forget what
you learn. And I think at least for my perception, it’s [about] the people
who forgot... what they learned, and simply do - like you drive a car - you
don’t think about driving a car. [...] The technique is no question, the thing
is no question... it grows out of itself.
Conventions, Expectations, Experience and the Field
Despite these somewhat romantic accounts of the exact cognitive mechanics of ‘real’
improvisation, it was nonetheless clear that the possibility of collective music-making in
this context took place within an underlying framework of trust, shared expectation
and mutual understanding.
Most musicians offered detailed explanations of the scenarios in which ‘real’ improvising
functioned best, and it is these expectations that I propose as the conventions underlying
and facilitating ‘real’ Improvised Music practice.
These conventions, although generally not verbalised or explicitly taught,9 allowed ‘real’
improvisers to trust that the others wouldn’t just do ‘anything’ (to the contrary, it
affirmed that they had a common goal in mind in the creation of a unified musical
work, even if the precise nature of that work was, as yet, unknown), and allowed them
to co-operate in the creation of certain ‘directions’ (to use Voutchkova’s term) that
their colleagues would identify, respond to and develop during a section, piece or entire
It was a responsibility and expectation that these directions would be recognised and
followed (that improvisers would not switch chaotically between materials and would
and not with scientific accuracy. A more in-depth study of these interview materials from the point of
view of Cognitive Psychology would be a subject worthy of future research.
In most cases these conventions appear to have be transmitted and learnt through repeated listening
and ‘doing’, as described in Chapter 7. Some younger musicians also told me that a handful of older
musicians refused to discuss their practice entirely, insisting that their protégées “found their answers in
the music”.