My dissertation–“Contingent Encounters: Improvisation in Music and Everyday Life”– investigates the connection between musical improvisation and everyday life by foregrounding the notion of contingency. The project is divided into three parts. In the first, I introduce contingency and use it to expand what is normally under consideration when we analyze musical improvisation: against conventional readings of improvisation as a domain of A) artistic activity and B) relative freedom, I argue that improvisation is more properly understood as a singular contingent encounter between subjects, objects, and multiple environments, and that in this sense it is particular social investments that cause improvisation to be read as an exercise in freedom.
In the second section, I explicate my thesis by comparing three musical case studies, one track each from Eric Dolphy, John Cage, and Norwegian free improvisers, Mr. K. Finally, I move into the realm of everyday life studies in order to compare the appearance of improvisation in my musical examples with everyday practices, including walking, baking, inhabiting, and perceiving. Ultimately, I argue that improvisation is not so much identical between music and everyday life as it is constitutive of both, and that we must consequently re-evaluate aesthetic and political readings of improvisation as a special kind of activity.