“Down the Rabbit Hole”
As an introduction to the book Making It Up Together: The Art of Collective Improvisation in Balinese Music and Beyond, this chapter proposes “collective improvisation” as a concept with usefulness far beyond New Orleans jazz, free jazz, and experimental rock. An examination of the related concepts of group genius, distributed invention, and collaborative creativity across diverse fields shows the centrality of collective work to most creative processes. The chapter then advocates placing collectivity at the center of musical improvisation discourse across genres, extending and nuancing the definition of collective improvisation to create a more cross-culturally salient concept, and thus encouraging a unified terminology that enables intertextual reference among researchers of diverse improvised practices. In preparation for the book’s longer music-analytic case studies (Ch. 2-3, 5-6), the chapter introduces two collectively improvised practices from traditional Balinese gamelan music, which was long thought of as essentially non-improvisatory: kendang arja and reyong norot. Finally, by showing how ethnographically-informed musical analysis can deepen and nuance our understandings of improvisatory processes and collective creativity in culturally resonant ways, a case is made for the value of analytical ethnomusicology in this and other studies.
Keywords: collective improvisation, group genius, distributed invention, collaborative creativity, New Orleans jazz, Balinese gamelan, kendang arja, analytical ethnomusicology, musical analysis, ethnographically-informed musical analysis