Accepted Paper:

Altering a fixed identity: Thinking through improvisation  


Anne Douglas (Robert Gordon University)

Paper short abstract:

Improvisation can be a self-conscious handling of the conditions of choice. Improvisation can also be an unselfconscious process of being inside the duration of an experience. In what sense can this apparent contradiction provoke a state of creative mobility or play that counters a fixed identity?

Paper long abstract:

"Replacing artist with player as if adopting an alias is a way of altering a fixed identity. And a changed identity is a principle of mobility, of going from one place to another…" (Kaprow 2003 p 125-6)

This paper explores an experiment in improvisation in which the practices of music, the visual arts, philosophy and anthropology come together. Calendar Variations 2010-11 draws artists into creative experiences through the use of verbal scores. The score invites participation in a process in which the outcome is indeterminate.

Improvisation as it is encountered in this research, can be imagined in two apparently contradictory ways: as a spatial, a self-conscious handling of the conditions of choice such as placing the silences and breaks in an open-ended score. Seen this way, it is possible to view choice and decision making as simultaneously a musical/visual, moral and political dilemma: Am I cheating? Am I compromising? What constrains? What frees? Improvisation can also be experienced/imagined as duration, finding one's way into the line of the sound or drawing, of being inside creative experience, trusting the consequences.

Drawing on the experiences of artist/improvisors and theories of cognition (Arnheim's double-edged mind, Shotter's knowledge within/knowledge about , Bergson's quantitative/qualitative multiplicity), I argue that our creative imagination is challenged by the collisions and complementarities of different understandings of improvisation to sustain a perpetually mobile state of creativity, akin to 'adopting an alias as a way of altering a fixed identity' (Kaprow 2003).

Panel P33
The art of improvisation