Accepted Paper:

Where you end and I begin: cognition and culture in experimental improvised music and dance  


Christopher Williams (University of Leiden)
Martin Sonderkamp (University of Music and Dance Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

In improvised music, dance, and life, one's thoughts, perceptions, and actions are dynamically coupled to “external” actors and environments. Borrowing from embodied and situated cognition, we explore this phenomenon in our own work, and invite the audience to “perform” these connections themselves.

Paper long abstract:

When musicians and dancers improvise together, bodies, instruments, groups, audiences, and environments not only interact; they become mutually dependent. A bassist's shoulder shifts, bow slides, instrument rings... vibrations bounce off the walls, reach the dancer's inner ear, filling the lungs, lunging toward the bassist's shoulder: these sounds, movements, spaces, and perceptions form a real-time feedback loop that blurs where you end and I begin. Over time, this local coupling bleeds into the global, as our collective action on stage bumps up against the cultural and social constraints offstage that brought us together in the first place.

Recent research in embodied and situated cognition by scholars such as Clark, Gallagher, Hutchins, and Varela provides a theoretical foundation for formalizing this push and pull, "dissolv[ing] the traditional divisions between the inside/outside boundary of the individual and the culture/cognition distinction that anthropologists and cognitive psychologists have historically created" (Rogers). This work centers not on laboratory experiments, but on "cognition in the wild" (Hutchins) - or "what it means to be human in everyday, lived situations" (Varela).

"Where you end and I begin" will develop these connections in both a discussion of how these principles operate in our own work, and in a series of simple exercises with the audience exploring how touch, hearing, and vision engage with space and collective memory.

Panel P33
The art of improvisation