Improvisation Creativity, a systems view, Anarchy and Zen. Dan Conway firstname.lastname@example.org
What we’re going to cover today • Put improvisation in a wider framework: Creativity. • Examine historical ideas about creativity. • Look at the idea of ‘Swarm Intelligence’. • Complexity, emergent behaviour. • Systems theory. • Inputs into the improvising ‘system’. • What can Distributed Cognition tell us about improvisation? • Concepts of Flow. • Concepts of Zen. • Concepts of Punk.
What is creativity? • “Mental processes that lead to solutions, ideas, conceptualizations, artistic forms… …that are unique and novel” – Johnson Laird, 1988. • “…the ability to come up with ideas or artefacts that are new, surprising and valuable’ – Boden 2004. Mention: Time, Mendel.
MihalyCsikszentmihalyi • Creativity comes about through a system consisting of at least these three elements: • A culture that contains symbolic rules. • A person who brings novelty into this sumbolic domain. • A field of experts who recognise and validate that innovation.
Can it be taught / analysed / measured? • Almost impossible – Borgo, 2006. • One learns ‘intuitively’ – Bailey. • ‘…no language to describe it’ – Bailey. • “…we don’t have the language to talk about.” – Jerry Garcia • ‘…intrinsically collaborative and inherently ephemeral.’ – Borgo, 2006. • ‘…extremely difficult to study empirically’ – Csikszentmihalyi, 2003.
Whitmer’s ‘General Principles’ • Don’t look forward to a finished and complete entity. The idea must always be kept in a state of flux. • An error may only be an unintentional rightness. • Do not get too fussy about how every part of the thing sounds. Go ahead. All processes are at first awkward and ‘funny’. • Polishing is not at all the important thing; strive instead for a rough go-ahead energy. • Do not be afraid of being wrong; just be afraid of being uninteresting.
Hultberg, 2000 Organ Improvisation Interpretation Improvisation • Extempor-isation • Expansion Instant Composition Edition (free)
Borgo (2006) says: • Actual processes: • Making ‘offers’ • Revoicing • Shelving
Common elements / emergent themes • Grammar. • Adaptation. • Perpetual Novelty (p21 bongo). • Variety. • Innovation / Experimentation. • Decentralised. • Overlapping authority.
Historic perspective Philosopher reading, Rembrandt, 1631. The Thinker, Rodin, 1902.
Starlings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XH-groCeKbE Fish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYl4m0xFcCU
“…where is the spirit of the hive?” - Maurice Maeterlink
Swarm intelligence • Devolving rules to lower levels. • Making rules simple. • Creating autonomous agents. • More robust • More flexible • More responsive • Decentralised • Entity is bigger than composer / player. • Outside of control of composer / player. “…the music needs something to happen…”
But if you make the rules really simple, doesn’t that result in simple outcomes?
Complexity • The three body problem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_w6JprsXK8 • Non-linear and unpredictable. An engineer may be searching through a problem space and find something that solves a completely DIFFERENT problem – and then go develop that. • Nonlinearity: Small effects may have large outcomes, large effects can sometimes be absorbed (p15 Borgo).
‘Stigmergy’ • Indirect Interaction. • Where an agent does not communicate directly with other agents, but instead affects the environment – which other agents respond to.
Emergent behaviour • Non-linear dynamics. • Novelty • The unexpected. • Requiring attention. • Increased consciousness of the moment. • Things not possible for an individual. “… magic.” -Jerry Garcia
General Systems Theory Palo Alto Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences Ludwig von Bertalanffy – Austrian/American Biologist Kenneth Boulding – English/American economist and Social Scientist.
Systems theory • 1950’s. • Ecological consciousness. • Holistic thinking. • Emergent behaviour. • The need to address the increasingly ‘silo-ed’ nature of knowledge. • Specialisation. • Networked systems. • Less reductive. • Cross-disciplinary. • Bio-psycho-socio-cultural. • ‘General Systems Theory’ - An attempt to make a ‘theory of everything’. • Kind of failed… BUT…
‘All models are wrong. Some models are useful’. George E. P. Box
Systems view • Consider the Environment • Consider the Group
Environmental aspects – Cultural scripts • Indian improvisation. • All music part improvised/part structured. • The very aim of playing a raga is to update/change the structure. • Rasa = poetical soul of piece, flavour. • Opening onto the Cosmos. • Spanish improvisation (Flemenco). • Designed to accompany dancer. • No technical discussion at all. • Totally abstract terms used. • Jazz • Idiomatic • Non-idiomatic • Ossified because of breakdown of system – Hubs have become too powerful? Borgo, 2006. • Rock and 60s Psychedelia. • Shift of market from single to album allowed artists more room to be creative and experiment. • Long solos. • Bands like The Grateful Dead cultivated an expectation of unpredictable, unstable performances. • Indian music!!!! • Spirituality! • Altered states of consciousness.
Role of the audience • Uniquely interactive with artists. • Average faces are more attractive. • Normalising. • Success of an idea or performance is decided upon between the artist and the audience. • Social system.
Distributed cognition • “The Distributed Cognition approach emphasises the distributed nature of cognitive phenomena across individuals, artefacts and internal and external representations in terms of a common language of 'representational states' and 'media'.” - Rogers, 1997
Distributed cognition • Includes the role of artifacts. • Eg: calculator, eyeglasses, instruments, texts • Representational states of information. • Language. • Writing and scores – augmented memory. • Emergent behaviour • Augment our abilities via the presence of others. • Achieve things a single person cannot do. Our tools are now part of us…
Stockhausen story about flow Is there time for this?
MihalyCsikszentmihalyi - Flow • Intense and focused concentration on the present moment. • Merging of action and awareness. • A loss of reflective self-consciousness. • A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity. • A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered. • Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience.
Group flow • ‘…extremely difficult to study empirically.’ - Csikszentmihalyi. • ‘Defies analysis’ – Bailey.
Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead) “It’s sort of stumbling into this area where there’s a lot of energy and a lot of something happening and not a lot of control. So that the sense of individual control disappears and you are working at another level entirely. Sometimes this feels to me as though you don’t really think about what is happening. Things just flow.” “…after 25 years of exploring some of these outer limits of musical weirdness this is stuff that we pretty much understand intuitively but we don’t have the language to talk about.”
Zen Koans • A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax: `What is Buddha?' • Tozan said: `This flax weighs three pounds.'
Larson, 2012 John Cage • “Graphic scores require musicians to take on hair-raising complexities of interpretation. A musician thus becomes collaborator with the composer , who shifts some of the responsibility to other and lets go of a piece of his own ego self-image. The composer gives up a piece of control. No performance is ever like another and no idea of perfection is possible or desired. The audience is asked to accept uncertainty and chance – to be open to ‘whatever’.”
Larson, 2012 4’33 “The hall is one body, one mind. Everybody is awake and full of questions. What is this silence? Why is it so riveting? And what do we make of it?
Emergent themes • Spontaneous. • Ego-less. • Responsive. • Open to possibilities. • Trying to ‘un-learn’ old habits. • Full attention. • Moment to moment. • Consciousness that is not self-centred.
Commonalities: Zen, Punk, Improv • Attention (Provost) • ‘Sense of Moment’ (Provost) • Non-heirarchal (Warner)
Prevost in Monson, Fischlin, Heble 2004. Anarchy in the bandroom • Decentralised. • Rhizomatic. • No dominance or Multi-dominance. • ‘Democratic’. • Deleuze and Guittari’s: ‘The Dividual’ “…a collectivity which cannot be reduced to the individuality of its members or to some leviathan meta-subject which encompasses them all…” -Deleuze and Guittari
Features of improvisation… • Expectations are different. • More interaction with audience than any other form. • Normalisation via feedback. • Anathema to professionalism (but not for ‘Dead-heads’). • More focussed on the ‘now’. • Augmented / additional • Perception • Cognition • Memory • A way of dealing with the complexity of the modern world? • Can be manifested in different ways – often invisible to one another. Eg: John Zorn hiring musicians for personality.