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Sven Bjerstedt research

Improvisation and Intention

The project’s core question is: When artists improvise, do they ‘intend’ (‘think’, or ‘know’) beforehand that which they will do? The point of departure is musical improvisation, particularly jazz improvisation; but it would certainly be possible and interesting to expand the project to include improvisation in other temporal art forms such as theatre and dance. 

Jazz musicians typically internalize a cache of musical forms (e.g., meters, chord progressions, phrase patterns) as frameworks and as materials for their improvisations. Still, there is an obvious link between musical phraseology and purely physical aspects of improvisation, such as habitualized fingering sequences.  

Many instrumentalists, including myself, attest to their ability to sing along with their instrumental improvisations. How could that at all be possible, if we did not intend (just) beforehand that which we were going to play?  

The project will be open to a mixed methods approach, including, for instance, (a) philosophical and (b) psychological perspectives on improvisational activity; (c) auto-ethnographical narrative; (d) improvisation workshops with musicians; (e) qualitative interviews and stimulated recall sessions with jazz improvisers; as well as, if possible, (f) medical studies of brain activity during improvisational activity.