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The Complicated Story of Improvisation

The Complicated Story of Improvisation

Models and Methods, Creativity and Conceptual Space

(p.21) Chapter One The Complicated Story of Improvisation
(p.iii) Making It Up Together
Leslie A. Tilley
University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines the concept of musical improvisation, unraveling the myriad of terms used to describe it and proposing language and frameworks for analyzing diverse improvisatory processes in unified ways. “Improvisation” is characterized as a continuum of creative options, from relatively strict formulaic variation to relatively free improvisation, each drawing in its own way from a pre-existing musical model and informed by a culturally-accepted knowledge base, which together make up the so-called conceptual space of the practice. An examination of creative cognitive processes, such as combinatorial creativity and exploratory creativity, and a musical analysis of two contrasting improvised excerpts (of Hindustani alap and Balinese kendang arja) together elucidate the unique characteristics and functions of diverse models for improvisation and reveal four complementary processes of improvisation: interpretation, embellishment, recombination, and expansion. These processes are then surveyed across varied practices. Finally, the concept of the improvisational “knowledge base” is explored, examining how varying degrees of conscious knowledge about a practice’s underlying guidelines affect their acquisition by both practitioners and analysts, and exploring how such a knowledge base informs both performance and analysis. The aim of the chapter is to provide widely-applicable terminology and concepts for analyzing improvisation across genres and cultures.

Keywords:   improvisation, improvisatory processes, cognitive processes, variation, musical analysis, model, knowledge base, conceptual space, Hindustani alap, kendang arja

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