Panel: The Embodiment and Embeddedness of Improvisation

Ingar Brinck, Improvisation in arts practices: Bodily coordination, imitation and engagement

What enables improvisation and how can we account for its function within arts practices? In the arts, improvisation means that agents engage in reciprocal real-time interaction without a script or leader. It combines skill and spontaneity by re-mastering the techniques and technologies that the local environment affords. In contrast, everyday routine improvisation is ubiquitous, occurring e.g. in verbal conversation and daily rituals such as cooking or cleaning. It is set to maintain status quo and compensate for ambiguity or error, a device for repair rather than invention. I will develop a theory of improvisation as based in sensorimotor processing and emerging from interaction dynamics. Bodily coordination (entrainment) provides the necessary underpinning in synchronizing the agents’ behavior temporally, allowing for a shared rhythm and timing. Imitation consists in the complete or partial matching of behavior and permits modulation of the interaction, normally serving to re-align agents when interaction breaks down. I suggest that in arts practices improvisation aims at discovery and novelty, as exemplified by modern dance and jazz music, and that agents imitate strategically to explore variations of expected behavior. I discuss how imitation may support improvisation on different temporal scales and levels of resolution, and consider the effects of emotional and material (dis)engagement on the interaction. Finally, I submit that studies in the visual arts imply that individual improvisation too emerges from imitation, the artist coupling to the physical context, using artefacts and her own body as tools for exploring novel trajectories, imitating shapes and forms or simulating imagined space. The present theory combines insights from the cognitive sciences, neuroscience, phenomenology, and studies in the arts, grounding the theoretical claims in reviews of empirical studies.

Susanne Ravn and Simon Høffding, Body memories in artistic improvisation: a dialogical embodied exchange of movement

When engaging in observations of and interviews with expert artists, such as dancers and musicians, it becomes evident that their practices are, in different ways, focused on developing, adjusting and optimising certain techniques of the body. In the phenomenological analysis of body memory in dance and musicianship presented in this paper, we contend that it would be a mistake to think of these body techniques – or specialised habits – as a repertoire of more or less automatized movements. Rather, in each repetition, body memories including these habits are to be understood as unfolding in response to the present context and accordingly instantiate a fresh memory of these habits while moulding them at the same time. In that sense, any habit is also always improvised in some degree – adjusted and timed in accordance with the present situation. In recent sociological discussions, several researchers have drawn attention to the facts that when exploring, and possibly changing, habits, we at the same time rely on other habits and that habit does not only include sensory-motor use of our bodies, but also the way we handle our attention and focus our awareness. We argue that dance and musical improvisation can then only be understood when taking into consideration its complex relation to habits and body memory. In the analysis we specifically draw on resent philosophical discussions (e.g. Sutton, Colombetti, Montero; Fuchs) to describe how body memories are not to be reduced to certain internalised dispositions, activated when performing. Rather body memories unfold and find their form in the contextual field of a dialogical embodied exchange of movement.

Mikko Salmela, Joint improvisation as interaction ritual

Improvised joint action feels good, sometimes even great when the participants experience highly rewarding “group flows”. In this presentation, I analyze the emergence of the positive affective phenomenology of improvised joint action in several domains such as various forms of art improvisation, improvisational music therapies for children with autism or schizophrenia, and social and political movements with the sociological interaction ritual theory of Randall Collins (2004). The understanding of joint improvisation as interaction ritual allows us to see how the shared affective experience of the participants builds up from several ingredients that include structural, intentional, and embodied elements. These are the participants’ bodily co-presence and physical separation from others; their joint attention to the joint activity; an initial shared mood among the participants; and their mutual awareness of the shared focus of attention. The initial affects intensify during the joint activity into an intrinsically pleasant collective effervescence in the group’s interaction ritual through emotional contagion and rhythmic synchronization of the participants’ bodily and behavioral processes as well as through the participants’ awareness of their shared experience. Improvised joint action involves more variation than typical rituals, but both are patterned social interactions in which the alignment of participatory, either synchronic or complementary, individual actions within the joint activity yields affective rewards to the participants, as shown by several empirical studies. Another difference to rituals is that in some cases of joint improvisation, the initial shared mood may emerge only from the affective rewards of bodily and behavioral synchrony and coordination. Another source of shared affects in joint improvisation is the activity itself, such as a successful performance of a difficult part of it. In social activism, improvised joint actions are often motivated by the participants’ collective emotions that by constitution involve extensive bodily and behavioral synchrony.

Ashley Walton, Auriel Washbun, Anthony Chemero and Michael Richardson, Musical movement: spatiotemporal patterns of coordination and embodied listening

Musical collaboration emerges from the complex interaction of environmental and informational constraints, including those of the instruments and the performance context. Music improvisation in particular is more like everyday interaction in that dynamics emerge spontaneously without a rehearsed score or script. First, we examined how the structure of the musical context affords and shapes interactions between improvising musicians. Six pairs of professional piano players improvised with two different backing tracks while we recorded both the music produced and the movements of their heads, left arms and right arms. The backing tracks varied in rhythmic and harmonic information, from a chord progression, to a single tone. Differences in movement coordination and playing behavior were evaluated using nonlinear dynamical systems methods. Collectively, the findings indicated that each backing track afforded the emergence of different patterns of coordination with respect to how the musicians played together, how they moved together, as well as their experience collaborating with each other. Second, listeners were asked to rate the audio recordings of the improvised performances. Listener’s experiences of the recordings were related to the way the musicians coordinated their body movements, including head movements. These results demonstrate a link between the perception of musical sounds and the motional characteristics of their sources, specifically the movements and gestures involved in musical production. Given that bodily motion is powerfully bound to listeners’ engagement with music, we explore new forms of listening experiences afforded by virtual reality and motion tracking technology. In collaboration with the arts collective Intermedio, new immersive experiences are demonstrated where listener movements determine and interact with the spatial distribution of sounds in a music composition. How these additional dynamics expand the possibilities for engagement with musical aesthetics are considered in relation to the theoretical framework of ecological acoustics.

Panel: Embodied Pedagogy

Ivano Gamelli and Nicoletta Ferri, PEDAGOGIA DEL CORPO- EMBODIED PEDAGOGY: AN ITALIAN PERSPECTIVE – telepresentation

In this contribute we want to present and share the perspective of Pedagogia del corpo-Embodied Pedagogy, a quite recent teaching in Italian Academic System.
It was founded about fifteen years ago by the researcher Ivano Gamelli at the University of Milano Bicocca, Department of Science of Education.
The basic assumption of this pedagogical approach is to reconsider the role of embodied knowledge in educational processes, connecting areas that in Italian schools but also in the curriculum for professional educators are traditionally divided like thinking and perceiving, speaking and acting, moving and teaching/learning.

The aim is to draw educational principles from different practices and body disciplines with artistic, rehabilitative and educational background (Dance, Theatre, Feldenkrais Method, Psychomotion…), and transfer them into educational settings.
Through a constant field research work, which blends narrative and autobiographical techniques with moving and body expression, this academic teaching wants to retrace new pedagogical approaches for projects addressed to children and adults.

Describing practical examples, we will outline the theoretical landscape of Pedagogia del corpo. In particular we will present some paradigmatic frames coming from workshops with students at the University of Milano Bicocca.

The workshops are built with an interdisciplinary approach that involves body expression, dance and theatrical techniques, autobiographical writing and sharing materials.

The aim is to give students- who are going to become teachers or educators- the chance to contact and work on embodied knowledge, especially on Presence and Listening, as important resources for their future profession.

The educative training to somatic experience makes our perception more sensitive and open to what happens around us; and this is precious for educators, because they are always deeply and dynamically engaged in a living, perceiving relationship with the others.

Raphael Sieraczek and David Hay (CHAIR), Using theatre and art-based pedagogy to achieve the practices of science in the student body

One of the most important goals of university science education is to prepare students to design and carry out their own experiments. Despite a well-developed literature on science-practice teaching, however, this goal is difficult to realize in conventional science education. The most intractable problem is that an experimenters’ knowledge of potential scientific objects immures the agency of matter which by definition currently eludes disclosure. As Barbara Maria Stafford shows in her work on “Body Critiscisms” and analysis of “Echo Objects”, however, the non-linguistic pedagogy of performance has potential for developing the silent, kinesthetic and effective sensitivities project the materially plausible, yet also imagined contours of a future experimental research project.

In this paper we describe an art-based pedagogical model informed by the “Imagine a Spectacle” theatre concept. In particular we show how this idea and its consequential actions achieve the elusive goals of learning science practice through a gradual disclosure of latent material potentialities. We exhibit our approach in documentary of one interdisciplinary performance: “Performing Antibodies” in which student of the arts, the sciences and social sciences collaborate with young artists, dancers, and musicians, bringing to light an embodied drama of antibody structure in and of their corporeal bodies. Drawing on contemporary philosophy of art and science, including the feminist turn of science studies and Andrew Pickering’s account of the dialectics of resistance and accommodation in experiment, our analysis exhibits how human and non-human protagonists can interact in unfolding drama in order to bring about science-like discovery. Our paper exhibits the essential features of our model and illustrates the stages of disclosure using the students’ choreography and emerging script of “being antibodies”.

Maiya Murphy, Take Up the Bodies: Understanding Body-based actor training through Enaction

Focusing on the pedagogy of Jacques Lecoq, this paper outlines how an enactive view illuminates the workings of body-centered actor training. Using the framework that DiPaolo et al. outline for Enaction in “Horizons for the Enactive Mind: Values, Social Interaction, and Play ”–autonomy, sense-making, emergence, embodiment, and experience–this presentation articulates some specific ways body-based actor training takes advantage of cognition to shape the aesthetic sensibility and abilities of the actor. Therefore in this sense we can see how training is not merely engendering aesthetic skill, but shaping a particular kind of cognitive engagement for the actor-creator and for the spectator as well. Enaction can subtly trace the ways in which both biology and environment are employed to take up bodies, cognition, and imagination in the corporeally focused practice of Lecoq pedagogy. This presentation zooms in on the notion of “satisficing” to understand one of Lecoq’s major approaches to the student-teacher relationship where the teacher focuses on negating student proposals, while largely refraining from praising success.

Sarah Klein and Tyler Marghetis, Shaping Experiment from the Inside Out

Beginning from a performative premise that art and science are both entrenched in embodied and situated methods for enacting their phenomena, this paper explores the cognitive scientific experiment as embodied performance. Scientific experiments require the ongoing enrolment of participants, who are regimented in subtle ways to perform both as data sources and as ideal subjects. We elucidate embodied routines of reflexive regimentation that stage this enrolment at the microscale of laboratory interaction. What emerges when, instead of intervening on submissive subjects, the experiment becomes malleable and responsive, conforming to subjects’ impressions of and aspirations for science? Blurring the boundary between research report and artist statement, this paper describes a collaborative performance made for the cognitive psychology lab.

EXPF: Shaping Experiment was a collaboration between a cognitive scientist and an ethnographer of cognitive science. EXPF inverted the agential structure of the cognitive psychology experiment, rendering it responsive to the impressions of its subjects rather than testing a hypothesis of the researchers. After having subjects complete what appeared to be a standard, computer-based cognitive psychology task, we elicited impressions about the experiment’s purpose and suggestions for improvement. Our performance score required that we respond to subjects’ feedback by revising the experiment before the next subject arrived, whose impressions revised the next version of the experiment, and so on in an iterated chain of performance and revision. In becoming responsive, experiment and experimenters became instruments to capture the invisible routines, expectations, and formalized power relations that make the experiment possible at the scale of laboratory interaction. This paper will report on the process and results of our collaboration. By rendering the cognitive psychology experiment as malleable bodies-in-interaction, this paper provides performative context for cognitive scientific facts, and intervenes in that activity, opening up possibilities for novel methodological relations and enactments.