Improvisation and Social Aesthetics

Improvisation and Social Aesthetics

Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice

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Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 12 illustrations Published: March 2017

Cultural Studies, Music, Theater and Performance > Theater

Addressing a wide range of improvised art and music forms—from jazz and cinema to dance and literature—this volume's contributors locate improvisation as a key site of mediation between the social and the aesthetic. As a catalyst for social experiment and political practice, improvisation aids in the creation, contestation, and codification of social realities and identities. Among other topics, the contributors discuss the social aesthetics of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the Feminist Improvising Group, and contemporary Malian music, as well as the virtual sociality of interactive computer music, the significance of "uncreative" improvisation, responses to French New Wave cinema, and the work of figures ranging from bell hooks and Billy Strayhorn to Kenneth Goldsmith. Across its diverse chapters, Improvisation and Social Aesthetics argues that ensemble improvisation is not inherently egalitarian or emancipatory, but offers a potential site for the cultivation of new forms of social relations. It sets out a new conceptualization of the aesthetic as immanently social and political, proposing a new paradigm of improvisation studies that will have reverberations throughout the humanities.

Contributors. Lisa Barg, Georgina Born, David Brackett, Nicholas Cook, Marion Froger, Susan Kozel, Eric Lewis, George E. Lewis, Ingrid Monson, Tracey Nicholls, Winfried Siemerling, Will Straw, Zoë Svendsen, Darren Wershler


"An indispensable collection that cracks open a site for more rich and interdisciplinary work." — Dan DiPiero, boundary 2

"[Readers] will be more than rewarded by the insight it offers into the social aesthetics of improvisation, issues you will no longer be able to ignore as you listen to your next improv recording or attend your next improv concert." — Lawrence Joseph, Musicworks

"Improvisation and Social Aesthetics is a substantial addition to the literature on improvisation." — Virginia Anderson, Notes

"This volume makes a clear and distinct contribution to the sociology of culture through its theorization of aesthetics, its sociology of improvisation, and its proposed shift in the theoretical language with which we approach research problems in the sociology of art." — Alexander C. Sutton, American Journal of Cultural Sociology

"Through both their rigorous theoretical grounding and curation of such a brilliant array of cross-disciplinary contributions, Born, Lewis and Straw offer a thoroughly inspiring set of tools for the academy to begin theorizing where, how and for whom art’s social mediations are occurring. I cannot recommend it highly enough." — Toby Young, Visual Studies

"The editors and authors of this important collection have assembled a striking and original set of ideas and examples to illustrate and demonstrate their contention that the time is ripe for a new approach to the classical questions of aesthetic theory. The resulting comprehensive and persuasive demonstration will persuade interested readers that the job has been done, that a social aesthetics illuminates questions that have too long been left unexplored." — Howard S. Becker, author of Art Worlds

"This groundbreaking collection brings together disparate fields, from ethnomusicology and art history to queer theory and philosophy, drawing them into a productive and at times heated conversation. Putting forward a whole set of new paradigms for considering music, improvisation, contemporary art, time-arts, new media, and aesthetics, the contributors advance the discourse on the improvised arts, potentially shaking up a number of disciplines in the process." — John Corbett, author of Vinyl Freak


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Georgina Born is Professor of Music and Anthropology at the University of Oxford and the editor of Music, Sound, and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience.

Eric Lewis is Associate Professor of Philosophy at McGill University and the author of The Video Art of Sylvia Safdie.

Will Straw is Professor of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University and the coeditor of The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. What is Social Aesthetics? / Georgina Born, Eric Lewis, and Will Straw  1
Part I. The Social and the Aesthetic
1. After Relational Aesthetics: Improvised Music, the Social, and (Re)Theorizing the Aesthetic / Georgina Born  33
2. Scripting Social Interaction: Improvisation, Performance, and Western "Art" Music / Nicholas Cook  59
3. From the American Civil Rights Movement to Mali: Reflections on Social Aesthetics and Improvisation / Ingrid Monson  78
4. From Network Bands to Ubiquitous Computing: Rich Gold and the Social Aesthetics of Interactvity / George E. Lewis  91
Part II. Genre and Defintion
5. The Social Aesthetics of Swing in the 1940s: Or the Distribution of the Non-Sensible / David Brackett  113
6. What Is "Great Black Music"? The Social Aesthetics of the AACM in Paris / Eric Lewis  135
7. Kenneth Goldsmith and Uncreative Improvisation / Darren Wershler  160
Part III. Sociality and Identity
8. Strayhorn's Queer Arrangements / Lisa Barg  183
9. What's Love Got to Do with It? Creating Art, Creating Community, Creating a Better World / Tracey Nicholls  213
10. Improvisation in New Wave Cinema: Beneath the Myth, the Social / Marian Froger, translated by Will Straw  233
Part IV. Performance
11. Social Aesthetics and Transcultural Improvisation: Wayde Compton and the Performance of Black Time / Winfried Siemerling  255
12. Devices of Existence: Contact Improvisation, Mobile Performances, and Dancing through Twitter / Susan Kozel  268
13. The Dramaturgy of Spontaneity: Improvising the Social in Theater / Zoë Svendsen  288
References  309
Contributors' Biographies  335
Index  339
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6194-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6178-7
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