Scholarly article on topic 'Designing Improvisation: Intercultural Collaboration and Musical Imagination'

Designing Improvisation: Intercultural Collaboration and Musical Imagination Academic research paper on "Art (arts, history of arts, performing arts, music)"

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Abstract of research paper on Art (arts, history of arts, performing arts, music), author of scientific article — David J. Hargreaves, Raymond A.R. MacDonald

Abstract The conference theme is that’design in mind’ is a creative process that offers new ways of thinking and sharing ideas in a group, where design is seen as a generic cultural activity, and our aim in this paper is to show how musical improvisation fits exactly into this description. We start by considering the essential characteristics of improvisation, describing it as essentially social, spontaneous, creative and accessible. We then go on to consider improvisation in jazz, a musical domain which is characterised by its use of improvisation. Jazz thrives and develops through broadening its boundaries with other musical genres and cultures, and we consider some of these developments from an international point of view, mentioning some of the key musicians in doing so. We conclude by summarising our main points in relation to the conference theme of design learning, and suggest that our analysis of musical improvisation has clear applications for education, as well as in the promotion of health and well-being, and social inclusion.

Academic research paper on topic "Designing Improvisation: Intercultural Collaboration and Musical Imagination"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 45 (2012) 14 - 20

The 5 th Intercultural Arts Education Conference: Design Learning

Designing improvisation: Intercultural collaboration and

musical imagination

David J. Hargreavesa*, Raymond A.R. MacDonaldb

aApplied Music Research Centre, Roehampton University, Southlands College, Roehampton Lane, London SW15 5SL UK bDepartment of Psychology, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Rd, Glasgow, G4 0BA

Abstract

The conference theme is that 'design in mind' is a creative process that offers new ways of thinking and sharing ideas in a group, where design is seen as a generic cultural activity, and our aim in this paper is to show how musical improvisation fits exactly into this description. We start by considering the essential characteristics of improvisation, describing it as essentially social, spontaneous, creative and accessible. We then go on to consider improvisation in jazz, a musical domain which is characterised by its use of improvisation. Jazz thrives and develops through broadening its boundaries with other musical genres and cultures, and we consider some of these developments from an international point of view, mentioning some of the key musicians in doing so. We conclude by summarising our main points in relation to the conference theme of design learning, and suggest that our analysis of musical improvisation has clear applications for education, as well as in the promotion of health and well-being, and social inclusion.

© 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection cnd/or peer review under responsib ility ofProfessor Heikki Ruismaki and Adjunct Professor Inkeri Ruokonen

Keywords: design; learning; improvisation; collaboration; jazz; creativity

It is a great honour for us to be invited to speak at this conference in the year when the city of Helsinki is World Design Capital. The conference theme is that "Designing is the most magical of all human cognitive endeavours. This conference has a holistic approach to the concept of design learning, which can be connected with product as well as process. 'Design in mind' is a creative process that offers new ways of thinking and sharing ideas in a group. We believe that design is a process in which problems are

* Corresponding author. E-mail address: D.J.Hargreaves@roehampton.ac.uk.

1877-0428 © 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer review under responsibility of Professor Heikki Ruismaki and Adjunct Professor Inkeri Ruokonen

doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.06.538

discussed and solved, in which the educational atmosphere is open to new ideas and in which design is seen as a generic cultaal activity".

Our own work in music psychology has investigated the topics of creativity, imagination, and improvisation, amongst others (see eg. Hargreaves, Miell and MacDonald, 2012), and our aim in this paper is to show how musical improvisation fits exactly into the description above. We will demonstrate how improvisation in jazz, as well as in other musical forms, is concerned with both product and process: how it is quintessentially social and collaborative; how it gives rise to new ideas in response to problems: and how it is culturally situated. These characteristics also enable us to suggest that improvisation can be put to many different practical uses in real-life fields, including education, and in the promotion of health and well-being. We consciously adopt a multidisciplinary approach: both of us are practising musicians as well as academics, whose specialist interests range over different topics within the field of cognitive, social and developmental psychology, arts education, music therapy and health psychology, as well as in music itself.

We follow this multidisciplinary approach in this paper, which falls into two main sections. We start by considering the essential characteristics of improvisation, describing it as essentially social, spontaneous, creative and accessible. We then go on in the second section to consider improvisation in jazz, a musical domain which is best known for and indeed characterised by its use of improvisation. Jazz thrives and develops through broadening its boundaries with other musical genres and cultures, and we consider some of these developments from an international point of view, mentioning some of the key musicians in doing so. We conclude by summarising our main points in relation to the conference theme of design learning, and suggest that our analysis of musical improvisation has clear applications for education, as well as in the promotion of health and well-being (see MacDonald, Kreutz and Mitchell, 2012), and of social inclusion.

1. Improvisation is social, spontaneous, creative and accessible

Improvisation is a universal creative capacity (MacDonald, Miell and Wilson, 2011). For example, the ongoing movement of social life has improvisation at its core: turn-taking in a conversation, walking down a street and making decisions about where to move, negotiating a business lunch, and many other social interactions, are all improvisational. In this way, improvisation is a defining feature of our humanity and we are all improvising constantly. It is also a process that involves highly sophisticated and nuanced psychological judgements: when to talk, who to talk to, what to say, and so on. When we improvise music we utilise these broader social psychological processes within a musical context. Improvisation in this sense is not about developing advanced music skills, but rather it is about borrowing from everyday life, and as such we all have the capacity to be musical improvisers.

Think of how a young child first explores a piano or guitar: investigating the surface of the instrument, plucking strings, pushing keys, experiencing the sensual pleasure of sound and texture and revelling in the newness of these explorations. Here, improvisation is an exploratory creative urge or a quest for newness and is uninhibited by notions of 'correct' or 'incorrect' musical practice and conventional judgements of aesthetic beauty. The improviser in this instance is not concerned with supposedly objective external judgments of quality; rather, the improvisation can be viewed as a creative exploratory process to facilitate the expansion of personal horizons. Furthermore, even these solitary explorations by a child with a new instrument may be viewed as social given that they take place within a family or other social environment, which will influence if and when the child has access to an instrument, how s/he approaches and continues to explore and interact musically with instruments, and with other people and/or instruments in the environment.

We argue that improvisation is unique as a social, spontaneous, creative and accessible artistic practice. It is social in the sense that group improvisation involves the creation of music through the idiosyncratic contributions of two or more individuals, each interpreting and musically responding to the playing of the other(s). Any individual musical contribution is impromptu, and is tailored to or dependent on the sounds, rhythms and tonalities heard from accompanying musicians (Bastien and Hostager, 1988; Mazzola and Cherlin, 2009). Since all have input into the overall sound - into what gets played and how -the creativity in improvisation can, we believe, best be seen as essentially social, rather than being attributable to or located within a single individual.

Although cognitive models of musical improvisation have sought to map some of the processes taking place in unaccompanied solo performance (e.g. Pressing, 1987, 1998; Johnson-Laird, 2001) and some improvisatory practice is solo, the practice primarily takes place among groups of individuals who collaborate in order to produce a coherent piece of music spontaneously and simultaneously. The view of improvisation as a collaborative, social activity means that it is nested in social interaction (MacDonald & Wilson, 2005). Research on how musicians conceive of themselves and their music can illuminate the psychological and musical processes that lie at the heart of a unique creative process. Interviews with jazz musicians highlight their view of improvisation as a collaborative, real-time music, dependent on the establishment of a swing feel, with a tension between individual and collective creativity. Bastien and Hostager (1985) focus on jazz as an activity in which inventiveness is the expected mode; they define it as a social process of coordinated innovation with a collective outcome. Their interest is in the context of shared awareness among musicians with experience in common, rather than in the broader cultural implications.

Improvisation can also be seen as spontaneous in that it is created as it is being played. Musicians create improvisations through moment-by-moment responses to immediate musical contexts, and do not seek to replicate exactly what they or others might have played at an earlier date, although they may be elaborating and modifying an earlier performance, as mentioned above. We would argue that the process is unquestionably creative in that improvising musicians produce novel music, within or beyond genre parameters, that may be similar to, but have substantive differences from, any previous musical performances. It is also, crucially, accessible, as improvisation is a process that everybody can engage in; we are all musical improvisers at some level.

Audiences who appreciate improvised music have a strong expectation that they will hear in a concert either wholly new music, or novel versions of previous pieces that have been transformed in some way, and they evaluate what they hear in those terms. However, regardless of the emotions or feelings the improvisers try to convey within a given piece of music, listeners filter everything they hear though their own listening histories, experiences and preferences, and are therefore free to interpret what they hear in an infinite number of ways (Folkestad, 2012; Mitchell and MacDonald, 2011). While there is clear evidence that structural parameters of the music influence the communication of its meaning to the audience, it is also clear that preference and structure interact in a number of sophisticated ways to produce this meaning (Knox, Beveridge, Mitchell, and MacDonald, 2011). This means that improvised music can have an infinite number of meanings for the listeners.

2. Improvisation in jazz

The boundaries of 'jazz' are now so widespread that it could be seen as a difficult genre to categorise: but if we take a few steps backwards into its history, it is quite possible to identify its essential characteristics, and then to trace its subsequent development from its origins in the USA, to its influence all around the world (see eg. Carr, Fairweather and Priestley, 1995). We argue that the three defining characteristics of jazz music are improvisation; a grounding in the blues; and the rhythmic characteristic

of 'swing or groove, even though many varieties of jazz now exist which do not possess all of these three characteristics.

Improvisation, which we discuss in more detail in the rest of this paper, is the act of creating music spontaneously, 'on the spot', rather than working from a score as in classical music. Jazz musicians who may be playing together for the first time draw on a store of common knowledge of different pieces, melodic, harmonic and rhythmic understandings: the music they spontaneously create depends on the particular combination of musicians present, whether or not there is an audience, the nature of the occasion and so on. Improvisation in the early forms of jazz, which developed in New Orleans, came from a marching band tradition: improvisations in traditional jazz, which derived from this tradition, were often collective, with all the different instrumentalists improvising at the same time. The trumpeter Louis Armstrong was credited with inventing the jazz 'solo' which emerged from this: subsequent forms of jazz were more likely to allow individual musicians to play an improvised 'solo' against the accompaniment of other instruments (in particular that of the 'rhythm section' of piano or guitar, bass and drums) - even though the way in which the rhythm section played the accompaniment was also improvised.

Early forms of traditional jazz music were very clearly derived from the blues, a musical genre which emerged from the songs of the slave population in the Deep South of the USA. Black slave workers on the cotton plantations, who were exploited and down-trodden by their white owners, used the blues as form of musical self-expression, and the idea of 'singing the blues' signified a powerful means of expressing deep depression and sadness about a whole history of exploitation. The typical musical form used by most of the famous blues artists such as Robert Johnson, Son House, and John Lee Hooker was what has become the backbone of a good deal of the pop and rock music which followed, namely the '12 bar blues' sequence. In its earliest and simplest form, this was comprised of just three chords: the tonic, the dominant and the subdominant, and the melodies which were sung to these chords were characterised by the frequent use of 'blue notes' such as the minor third, the seventh, and the augmented fourth. There were many harmonic and melodic developments of and variations on this basic pattern: and indeed the 12 bars of the chord sequence itself were sometimes changed to 1P/2 or 13 bars according to the style and feelings of the performer.

As social reform advanced and the slave trade disappeared, blues musicians moved north to Chicago in search of work, where cross-fertilisation with the electric instruments and drums of popular music gave rise to an urban form of the genre which became known as rhythm and blues: some famous exponents of this genre include Chuck Berry, B.B. King, and Muddy Waters. It was largely from these origins that jazz developed: in its original forms, it is certainly true to say that jazz music is based on the blues. Perhaps the most significant development which came next in the 1930s and 1940 was the growth of the 'big bands' led by musicians such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson: these became known as the 'swing bands', which this leads to the next defining quality of jazz, namely 'swing.

Whereas the aim of classical player is to reproduce a written score with accuracy, as well as with musical expressivity, swing and jazz musicians had a different aim, which placed less importance on fidelity to the written score (which in the case of unwritten 'head arrangements' was in any case absent), and emphasised instead the distinctive styles of the individual performers, and also the rhythmical feature which became known as 'swing'. This is very difficult to notate with any degree of accuracy, and depends on rhythmic displacement, syncopation, playing 'across the beat' using triplets and other complexities, and so on. The musicians themselves would argue that this rhythmic style is as natural to jazz playing as is breathing, and that it needs no explanation: the more recent term 'groove' is not exactly the same as 'swing', although it does also refer to the ways in which jazz musicians are able to play together by locking into each others' rhythmic pulses.

Having established this definition of jazz, we need to see next how the basic form has been adopted in many other countries around the world, and how the boundaries of jazz have cross-fertilised with many other world musics. In the USA as well as elsewhere, there have been many fusions between jazz and 'classical' music: some famous 'classical' composers including Ravel and Milhaud were quite consciously influenced and inspired by jazz, and George Gershwin was a songwriter in the Tin Pan Alley tradition who moved in the opposite direction to become a classical composer of famous works in the symphonic repertoire, including Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris. The composer Gunther Schuller, along with John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, used the term 'third stream music' to describe their attempts to fuse jazz and classical music, and the arranger Gil Evans became famous for his collaborations with Miles Davis on big band scores including Sketches of Spain (whose thematic material came from Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez) and Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. There have also been composers within jazz who have written 'symphonic' scores, including Duke Ellington and, much more recently, the South African-born British composer Michael Gibbs, who has written for American as well as British bands.

Given their geographical closeness, it is hardly surprising that there has also been a great deal of cross-fertilisation between North American jazz and South American music: 'Latin' jazz, which employs the Brazilian rhythms of the samba and the bossa nova amongst others, as well those of the Argentinian tango, has been in existence for many years, notably in some of Dizzy Gillespie's big band arrangements with percussionist Chano Pozo in the 1940s as well, more recently, as in Chick Corea's Return to Forever group in the 1970s, and in the work of musicians including Wayne Shorter, John Pattituci and Herbie Hancock.

Some scholars argue that the jazz music of black Americans had its origins in that of their African ancestors, and musicians including Duke Ellington and Archie Shepp made conscious references to this in their own music. In South Africa, a local version of jazz served to express the feelings of the majority group against the apartheid regime, and 'Afro-j^z' collaborations originated in the townships, notably in the work of performers including Hugh Masekela, Dollar Brand (Adbullah Ibrahim) and the bandleader Chris McGregor, whose groups included players such as Dudu Puckwana and Mongezi Feza. Herbie Hancock's 2010 album The Imagine Project is a conscious and very successful attempts to fuse the jazz tradition with various popular and world musics, and includes collaborations with Indian musicians playing sitar and tabla - which was previously done two or so decades ago by the West Indian saxophonist Joe Harriott in his 'Indo-J^z Fusions' group with John Mayer in the UK - as well as with traditional Irish folk music and various pop music styles.

Many US musicians found more sympathetic and appreciative audiences in Europe than those they encountered back at home in the USA, and were warmly received in France, Germany, Holland and the UK as well, in more recent decades, in eastern European countries including Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia, and many excellent jazz musicians are now born and bred in Europe, some of whom work with the best American players. One particularly fertile breeding ground for such players has been in Scandinavia: Sweden has produced several world class musicians, for example, but perhaps the most notable and indisputably world class Scandinavian player is the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, who has collaborated at the highest level with top American artists including Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Pat Metheny. Garbarek is notable for his adventurousness and flexibility in exploring the boundaries between jazz genres and others including Nordic folk music, Indian music, and early choral music: his recording Officium with the British vocal quartet The Hilliard Ensemble sold 350,000 copies within a few weeks of its release.

Another current strand of the overlap between jazz and European traditions is that with the European free improvisation tradition: this blossomed in the UK under the direction of musicians including Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Tony Oxley, and Gavin Bryars, as well as in other European countries with players

such as trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, and saxophonist Peter Brotzmann. Some of these players utilise specialist computer technology, such as that pioneered by Joel Ryan or Lawerence Casserly in Evan Parker's large ensembles.

This whistle-stop tour of the global influence of jazz music is necessarily brief, and we will undoubtedly have omitted many important developments and players: but it clearly illustrates three of our main contentions, namely that improvisation is social and collaborative: that it gives rise to new ideas in response to problems, namely those involved in fusing previously disparate musical forms: and that it is culturally situated.

3. Conclusion

To return to the central conference theme, we hope we have been able to show that 'design in mind' -in this case, through improvisation - is undoubtedly a 'creative process that offers new ways of thinking and sharing ideas in a group'. Using improvisation as a form of arts-and-skills education intrinsically draws on people's cultural identities, and the global reach of jazz is a very clear example of interactions among different cultures. The aim of our own research is to attempt to explain some of the phenomena involved in the design processes of imagination and creativity, and we suggest that these ideas have clear implications for music education, given the current importance of promoting children's creativity. The power of musical improvisation to express emotion also has obvious practical implications, notably in the promotion of health and well-being. Both of these lead to a further use to which music has been put, namely in reaching out to disaffected groups within society, and thereby enhancing social inclusion. We are only just beginning to discover and exploit the powerful practical uses to which music can be put.

References

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Carr, I., Fairweather, D., & Priestley, B. (1995). Jazz : The rough guide. London: Rough Guides.

Hargreaves, D. J., Miell, D. E., & MacDonald, R. A. R. (Eds.) (2012). Musical Imaginations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Folkestad, G. (2012). Digital tools and discourse in music: The ecology of composition. In D.J. Hargreaves, D.E. Miell, & R.A.R. MacDonald (Eds.) Musical Imaginations. (pp.193-205). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Johnson-Laird, P. (2001). Mental Models and deduction. Trends of Cognitive Science 5, 432-442.

Knox, D., Beveridge, S., Mitchell, L. B., & MacDonald, R. ( 2011). Acoustic analysis and mood classification of pain relieving music. Journal of Acoustical Scienc of America, 130, 1673-1682.

MacDonald, R. A. R., Kreutz, G. & Mitchell, L. (Eds.) (2012). Music, health, andwellbeing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

MacDonald R. A. R., & Wilson, G. B. (2005). The musical identities of professional jazz-musicians: A focus group investigation. Psychology of Music, 33, 395-417.

Mazzola, G., & Cherlin, P. B. (2009). Flow, gesture and spaces in free jazz. Towards the theory of collaboration. Berlin, Heidelberg: Spinger.

MacDonald, R. A. R., Kreuz, G., & Mitchell, L. (2011). Music Health and well-being. Oxford: University Press.