Distributed cognition, ecological theory and group improvisation

Linson, Adam and Clarke, Eric F. (2017). Distributed cognition, ecological theory and group improvisation. In: Clarke, Eric F. and Doffman, Mark eds. Distributed Creativity: Collaboration and Improvisation in Contemporary Music. Studies in Musical Performance as Creative Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 52–69.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780199355914.003.0004


This chapter proposes a way to understand the social, distributed and ecological underpinnings of improvised musical activity. It argues that significant aspects of collaborative performance may arise from perceptual, cognitive and action-orientated factors, in relation to prior experience and the broader historical and cultural context. The chapter illustrates ways in which each improviser in a collaboration may attune to different aspects of the circumstances, with idiosyncratic perceptions of the available affordances guided by attentional processes, physical aspects of the human body and musical instrument, and associations with prior experience. The experience of each musician in a collaborative improvisation thus both overlaps with and diverges from those of other musicians in the ensemble. These divergences are as important as the common ground, and are thus essential to any plausible and comprehensive account of collaborative improvisation.

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