SSE Talks


Improvisation And Anomalies In Music And Science
May 12, 2010 at 4:10 PM EST | E. SARATH


Ed Sarath


This talk explores two areas related to the conference theme. First is the improvisatory awareness that is at the core of peak creativity in music and science and the basis for receptivity to anomalous possibilities and subsequent innovation. This can be understood in terms of resolving a paradox that is inherent in acquiring the skills necessary for competent musical and scientific functioning. On one hand is the need for practitioners in both areas to engage in rigorous study over many years to gain necessary skills; on the other are inherent tendencies in that training toward conditioned perceptions and behavior that preclude the openness to new and challenging ideas that are essential for innovation and progress. The paradox is resolved in the heightened, moment-to-moment , improvisatory awareness.characterized by optimal access to acquired knowledge yet simultaneous freedom, fluidity, and openness.that is commonly glimpsed by many musicians and scientists. This awareness not only represents the key to innovation in any given creative episode, it also provides a basis.were it to be harnessed and cultivated.for new levels of collective critical analysis of both normative activity and anomalous possibilities. While there is no dearth of testimonies regarding fleeting glimpses of this awareness, lingering conservative tendencies in both music (e.g. neo-conservative movement in jazz despite the musices innovative thrust since its inception) and science (materialist tendencies amidst mounting research) indicate that expansion of a collective vision remains elusive. The second part of the talk explores a particular kind of anomalous finding that is common to both jazz and science and suggests important practical ramifications in both areas. Improvising musicians commonly report a kind of collective entrainment among performers and listeners in peak performances, whereby, as Stephen Nachmanovitch puts it, \players, listeners, and environment merge into a self-organizing whole.. This invites direct parallels with the idea of a non-local, inter-subjective field aspect of consciousness that has begun to attract the attention of scientific researchers. In SSE Journal 21/2, 2007, Masson, Patterson, and Radin report on studies involving collective meditation and random number generator measurements that suggest enlivened field coherence. New angles in music research and pedagogy that might extend from this research as well as sociological implications are discussed.


Ed Sarath is Professor of Music in the Department in Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation at The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance. He is also Director of UM‘s Program in Creativity and Consciousness Studies, which is an interdisciplinary network of colleagues interested in the interior/transpersonal dimensions of the creative process. He founded and serves as President of the International Society for Improvised Music (, an organization devoted to promoting awareness of the importance of improvisational studies in musical training and improvised music in today‘s diverse world.




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