I’ve been relatively absent in this space lately, partially because of the year we’ve all just had (and are continuing to have)–and partially because during this year, one of the main things keeping me tethered to any sense of purpose or fulfillment has been the lucky fact that I get to write a book.
As I’ve been writing, I’ve sometimes taken some time to post on this blog about issues specifically concerning improvisation. As we go, I’ll continue to update this page with anything related to the book project.
In the meantime, Contingent Encounters is now officially “forthcoming.” I.e., this past Tuesday I submitted the full manuscript to the folks at the University of Michigan Press. It will still be a long road before it’s out in the world, but I’m very excited to finally be able to share this work in a complete way. It’s been a while since I’ve discussed the book in this space, so I’m going to take a minute here to re-introduce it. If you know me and are sick of hearing about it, skip on.
Contingent Encounters: Improvisation in Music and Everyday Life is an interdisciplinary exploration of the concept of improvisation that compares how it appears between musical and quotidian spaces. The primary thesis is that, contrary to the ways in which this term gets deployed most commonly (in advertising, corporate consulting, but also as it turns out, in lots of scholarship), improvisation should not be considered a special kind of activity or a potentially transformative creative and relational practice; rather, it can be more productively understood as a contingent encounter between subjects, objects, and environments. That is: no matter where we look, from highly specialized improvised artforms to highly routine, normal experience, improvisation emerges necessarily as an embodied accompaniment to contingency in multiple senses. Following this, improvisation–considered just as often exploitative or routine as it is magical or epiphanic–cannot be understood as necessarily or per-se special. Emphatically ordinary, improvisation is simply the mode through which we live.
The secondary claim of the book is that taking this idea seriously challenges many of the aesthetic and political implications of how improvisation has been most commonly approached, a challenge that I suggest is necessary in order to avoid some of the epistemological and political problems that are still constantly raised by thinking this notoriously vague term.
Bluntly interdisciplinary, this book is organized into two sections: Contingent Music, and Contingent Life. In the music section, I analyze three case studies from Eric Dolphy, Mr. K, and Ingrid Laubrock/Kris Davis. In the everyday life section, I examine walking, baking, listening, working, and perceiving through a theoretical and phenomenological lens. I hope that this book should therefore be of interest to anyone working in jazz studies, musicology, sociology, and everyday life studies, as well as American studies and cultural studies folks for its emphasis on questions of entanglement, subjectivity, and identity. Its main theoretical interlocutors are: Sara Ahmed, Vijay Iyer, George E. Lewis, Fred Moten, Michel de Certeau, and Jacques Rancière.
I’ll be continuing to update this site with any material on improvisation, and I’ll be posting updates about the book itself here. I may also post excerpts or teasers, but for now if you want to hear more, you can register for this public talk I’m giving in November.