The ongoingness of improvisational musical space is productively described by a creative engagement with Deleuze’s three syntheses of time. The first synthesis describes a process of contracting the past into the ongoing, living present and the projections onto an open range of future actions engendered by such a contraction; the second synthesis confirms the present as the now-actual instantiation of the trajectories that determine the past’s own contraction. Both these syntheses are in continuous dialogue with each other, as well as with the third synthesis, which involves recognising the “event” as a location where actions take place that engender movement into the future. Interactive musical improvisation consists of an ongoing flow of such events, which give meaning to past trajectories and partially determine future ones.
For any improvisational utterance this can be thought of as the continuous, ongoing instantiation of a living present territorialised by the particularities of its past—dimensions or manifolds. Because the kinds of improvisational utterances I am concerned with represent singularities within loosely-defined ranges of “types” (the real or imaginary syntactic constraints of jazz improvisation, for example), the notion of territorialisation (and de- and reterritorialisation) is particularly apt, since it involves bringing milieus, strata, and codings into communication, from an action-first perspective. For example, an external milieu of jazz syntax comprises notes, chords, rhythms, conventional gestures, histories, exemplary recordings, and so on, while an internal milieu comprises the semantic and syntactic connections between them: teleological harmonic motions, voice-leading behaviours, cumulative rhythmic impulses, motivic developments. Connections between the raw data of external milieus and the behavioural considerations of internal milieus are drawn within the territory to create meaning and expression. It is in the territory, therefore (and in deterritorialisations within the territory) that innovation happens, that conventions and performance practices are decoded and transcended, and that possibilities arise for differentiation, individualised/singular interpretations of codes, and plural communications across strata.
These actions occur in time, are constituted in time, and constitute the time of the improvisational performance. This paper engages the identity-generative aspects of Deleuze’s three syntheses to consider carefully the ways in which the singularities of the now-past that constitute the ongoing living present are assembled within the collective improvisational territory to project a virtual future (some version of which will become actual at the point at which it becomes a living present), and how through the ongoingness of that action the identity of the improvisational utterance is formed. By considering an improvisational utterance as a territorialising act, with multiple rhizomatic connections and multiple entry and exit points, we can consider Deleuze’s larger thematisations of repetition as difference and difference as identity in two ways: by foregrounding the internal repetition that characterises the types of improvisational spaces here under consideration (involving cyclical forms, creative variations, and call and response—this is Deleuze’s “refrain” taken in its most purely musical sense) and by locating a performative utterance along multiple historical trajectories, foregrounding the ways in which it defines the temporal space where its identity is acted out.
about the author(s)
Chris Stover is Assistant Professor of Music at Arizona State University. His recent work is published in Music Theory Online, Media and Culture, Analytical Approaches to World Music, Open Space, and elsewhere, and he is the co-editor of a forthcoming volume on Jacques Rancière and music. He is also an improvising trombonist and composer in New York City.
info & contact
Arizona State University, Tempe, US
cdstover [AT] asu.edu