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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Improvisation and Identity

  • Author(s): Nordeson, Kjell Gunnar
  • Advisor(s): Borgo, David
  • et al.

This thesis investigates the role of musical improvisation in relation to composition, innovation, and identity. It draws on the author's experience as an improvising percussionist and on scholarship by Edgar Landgraf, Gary Peters, Bruce Ellis Benson, Judith Butler, James Snead, Rebecca Schneider, Jacques Derrida, and others, on the subject of improvisation.

The work is divided into four chapters. The first chapter argues that improvisation and composition are best viewed as a distinction of degree rather than kind. Chapter two discusses the relation between improvisation, innovation, and discovery and argues that invention is by necessity coupled to iterability. The third chapter investigates the relation between improvisation and identity and proposes a scenario of various platforms with different constraints on which we develop our persona; music making being one of those platforms. The last chapter expands the image of an individual artist to include a multilayered set of influences—past and present, conscious and unconscious, sensed anticipations from an audience and peers—to expand and nuance notions of personal agency.

Discussion and analysis of recorded improvisations by the author is interspersed throughout the text. The intention is to create a call and response situation for the reader by which listening to the recorded musical improvisations invigorates the theoretical approach of the thesis, and similarly, the analytical and theoretical discussion creates a mindset open for listening.

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