Improvisation, Interaction and Computers
My PhD thesis from 2008
Interaction is an integral part of all music. Interaction is part of listening, of playing, of composing and even of thinking about music. In this thesis the multiplicity of modes in which one may engage interactively in, through and with music is the starting point for rethinking Human-Computer Interaction in general and Interactive Music in particular. I propose that in Human-Computer interaction the methodology of control, interaction-as-control, in certain cases should be given up in favor for a more dynamic and reciprocal mode of interaction, interaction-as-difference: Interaction as an activity concerned with inducing differences that make a difference. Interaction-as-difference suggests a kind of parallelity rather than click-and-response. In essence, the movement from control to difference was a result of rediscovering the power of improvisation as a method for organizing and constructing musical content. But control and difference are not mutually exclusive, they are not opposing concepts: Interaction-as-difference is to be understood as a broadening of the more common paradigm of direct manipulation in Human-Computer Interaction. Improvisation is at the heart of all the sub-projects included in this thesis, also, in fact, in those that are not immediately related to music but more geared towards computation. Trusting the self-organizing aspect of musical improvisation, and allowing it to diffuse into other areas of my practice, constitutes the pivotal change that has radically influenced my artistic practice. The work-in-movement, introduced by Umberto Eco is (re-)introduced as a work type that encompasses radically open works. The work-in-movement, presented and exemplified by a piece for guitar and computer, requires different modes of representation as the traditional musical score is too restrictive and is not able to communicate that which is the most central aspect: the collaboration, negotiation and interaction. The Integra framework—comprising a database model and a corresponding XML representation—is proposed as a means to produce annotated scores that carry past performances and versions with it. The notion of the giving up of the Self is suggested as the common nominator, the prerequisite, for an improvisatory and self-organizing attitude towards musical practice that allows for interaction-as-difference. Only if the Self is able and willing to accept the loss of priority of interpretation, willing to give up or disregard faithfulness to ideology or idiomatics is difference conceivable. Only if one is willing to forget is interaction-as-difference made possible. Among the artistic works that have been produced as part of this inquiry are some experimental tools in the form of computer software to support the proposed concepts of interactivity and along with the musical works they make up both the object and the method in this PhD project. Contained withing the thesis, these sub-projects (all of which are works-in-progress), are used to make inquiries into the larger question of the significance of interaction in the context of artistic practice involving computers.
One of the main threads of (Re)Thinking Improvisation was to investigate musical improvisation from a socio-musical perspective, starting from three main concepts:
- attentive listening
- musical freedom
Though improvisation in most cases takes place in interactive, collaborative contexts these factors have only seldomly been subjected to research. Following the idea that improvisation in multi-musician ensembles require some level of contribution of its performing members, and that improvisation as an activity relates to and interacts with a number of social aspects surrounding the musicians, instruments, collaborators and contexts, questions concerning these matters have been investigated. The research topics have been investigated and explored in cross-cultural and often interdisciplinary settings within the contexts of Vietnamese music, jazz and free improvisation, church organ music and contemporary western art music. Furthermore, (Re)Thinking Improvisation was characterized by multiple methodologies and international perspectives in the production of (artistic) research on improvisation in different cultures. The heart of the project was artistic practice and research of performers in Vietnam and Sweden, but the perspective stretches to music from three continents and a series of different theoretical approaches. These were outlined and further explored in the (Re)Thinking box (main publication outcome) and other publications.