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Stretching the Performing Art - Sport Analogy Thin C onceptual and Normative Limits of the Room for Improvisation in Sport – and for Sport in Improvisation… Christian Munthe Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science My Outlook and Perspective I am….

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Christian Munthe

Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science

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My Outlook and Perspective

  • I am….

    • A philosopher and an academic

    • A performer of (mostly) free improvised music

  • I am using….

    • My training in and knowledge of philosophy – conceptual analysis, normative theory, logic

    • My experience as an improviser

  • Usually, I find no reason to connect these, mostly because playing is not a very intellectual activity (for me): I don’t really care what I do as an improviser, as long as I do it to my liking.

  • However, I have done some thinking on…

    • The concept of (free) improvisation

    • The philosophy of sport

    • The aesthetics of creativity and the evaluation of art

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What is Sport?

  • Ostensive definition: this and that and that and that and…

  • Cultural/institutional definition: that what is called or conceived of as sport by x, y, z…

  • Normative definition: this and that is what we should consider to be (real) sport

    All of these fail to help us answer the difficult and interesting questions, e.g. whether we have reasons to start seeing a, b, c… as sport, although we have not seen it as such before

  • Instead of a definition: listing general features that any interesting definition of sport has to adapt to:

    • Social practice

    • Rule governed

    • Structured as a competition

    • Physical activity

    • Culturally and socially ‘isolated’ (as opposed to e.g. war, or financial business)

  • Subcategories connecting to other social practices: professional (job market/business), amateur (informal social orders), leisure…

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What is Improvisation?

  • Blurring the distinction between

    • The decision/planning of what is to be done (e.g. a composition)

    • The implementation/execution of that (e.g. a musical performance)

    • Designing and creating a piece of art while and by performing it

  • Examples

    • Playing (the blues, jazz, flamenco, a baroque piece…)

    • Interpretation, variation,

    • ‘Soloing’ (from the cadence, over working the changes to your familiar death metal break)

    • Actually: anytime art is performed by a human being

  • Function

    • Achieving a more desirable result

    • Dealing with mistakes

    • Giving room for creativity in art performance

    • Enhancing/expressing social interaction between performers

  • Usual context

    • Social practice, physical activity, rule governed (tradition, genre, idiom…), culturally ‘isolated’

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So, What About Competition?

  • Improvisers surely can be competitive, but does that make the improvising situation into a competition?

    • Not unless we set up a ‘battle of the bands/players’!

    • Competing may occur in the context of group-improvising, but usually not between different improvising collectives.

    • Solo-improvisers may compete with each other, but not as part of a competition.

    • Ergo: players are competing as a playful addition, a means to excellence, a side-effect of a general human condition and nature

  • Closing this gap to sport would require a context of rules and instructions akin to those making sport events into what they are.

  • E.g., a composition that makes competing by improvising into the point of the piece! But what would determine a win??

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Can Sport Contain Improvisation?

  • Yes, but only within an essentially competitive context!

  • Taking it further: the player (team) who sets creativity over victory within a competition: pursuing sport as art means accepting defeat!

  • The more ‘artistic’ sports have a hard time giving room for much improvisation (excluding ‘mistake management’): the criteria of artistic excellence is too well-specified (cf. science).

  • Professional / elite sport may contain improvisation, but not (sustainable) as a part of artistic creativity – merely as a means to excel according to the criteria of victory and skill determined by the competitive context.

  • Cf. Improvisation as an exercise for ‘the real thing’ or as a means to find good ideas for for a non-improvised performance…

  • Amateur and especially leisure sport gives better room for the sort of playfulness implied by artistic improvisation…

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The Analogy Broken: Free Improvisation

  • The free improviser does not determine her performance through a commitment to pre-set contextual, structural or aesthetic rules.

  • The free improviser (as all performers) makes use of (implicit) rules as a means to selecting expressions, but…

  • The rules as not viewed as valid or binding norms, but as tools on a par with everything else employed to create the performance.

  • The free improviser constructs (and changes) the rules applied as she goes along performing.

  • For any free improvised performance, you can never say what rules were applied until it is finished.

  • Ergo: free improvisation is not rule-governed in the sense of sport and other sorts of improvisation.

  • Free improvisation cannot occur even within leisure sport, and cannot contain the necessary element of competition, since that requires pre-set binding rules.