Lindsey Fillingham (Guildhall School of Music and Drama)

Lindsey Fillingham (flautist) is a doctoral student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, practicing and researching group classical improvisation. She has lead improvisation workshops and courses at the University of Cape Town, City Literary Institute and the Barbican. Conference presentations include RNCM’s Hub for Artistic Research in Performance and GSMD’s Reflective Conservatoire. Lindsey studied performance in Cape Town (UCT), Stockholm (KMH) and Manchester (RNCM). She has played with orchestras including the Hallé, Cape Philharmonic, and Orchestra of the Swan in venues including the Royal Albert and Bridgewater Halls and St Martin-in-the-Fields, and currently leads improvising ensemble Ad-Lib.

  1. Small-group improvisation in classical music: reflections from within

Small-group improvisation in a classical music context is a rare but growing practice and an under-explored area of research. Historic sources shed much light on individual improvisation practice, but scarcely mention group improvisation. This raises the question of how small ensembles of classical musicians might improvise, and what methodologies might be best suited to the interrogation and dissemination of the improvisational processes and products that emerge. 

In a pilot PhD study, as artist-researcher in a trio of improvising musicians, I used practice-based participatory action research as a framework from which to elicit our reflections over several months of development, including rehearsals and performances. This multi-methods approach included reflective discussion, video recall and practice diaries. In this presentation, I discuss thematic analysis of this data in relation to literature. Initial findings suggest that improvisational processes and products are shaped by emotional and personal factors – including motivations, conflicts, experiences and beliefs – and external factors, including training, mentors, artists and audiences. A group bonding process occurs in which aims and values are established. Pre-planned and in-the-moment improvisational strategies and approaches emerge, regarding group communication, musical and structural decisions and state of mind. I close by presenting a nascent ‘taxonomy’ of group improvisation vocabulary.

Rene Mogensen (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire/Birmingham City University)

René Mogensen (PhD, MM, MA, BA) teaches creative music technology, improvisation, composition, and other subjects at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire where he is also research-active. His research interests include improvisation, music analysis, composition, music technology, computational creativity, and artificial intelligence for music. He has been active for many years as a saxophonist, composer and music technologist with performances, residencies, and recording releases in various parts of Europe, Asia, and the USA. His research is published in anthologies, journals, and international conference proceedings: Mogensen

Recordings with SomSwarm are online at:

Computational co-improvisation in music

Specialised computational creativity software can ‘improvise’ music in human-computer co-creative performance ensembles. One example is my SomSwarm software which employs a hybrid technology of self-organising maps and swarm algorithms to improvise interactively with human musicians. Through the process of programming SomSwarm, training its ‘memory’ through rehearsals, and interacting with it in concert performances, I can examine a conceptualisation of the ‘improvising act’ that is codified in the software architecture. To this end I develop a formal specification for computational creativity in music which provides a model of functionalities in computational improvisation. While this model is not proposed as a model of human improvisation, my own introspective and auto-ethnographic account has provided a heuristic basis for developing components of the formal specification which codifies a system with improvising capacities. The connections and parallels between human and computational improvisation yield a fertile perspective on questions of the experience of improvisation and how improvisational ‘knowledge’ may be approached. In support of discussion on improvisational knowledge I introduce the SomSwarm architecture and the formal specification, and give a short improvised performance including myself on saxophone and SomSwarm. This leads to discussion of the capacity for improvisation in a human-computer co-creative performance system.

Martin Gansinger (Al Akhawayn University, Ilfrane, Morocco)

Martin A. M. Gansinger studied Communication Science and Political Science at the University of Vienna, dissertation on communication and interaction in the practice of collective improvisation and its correspondence to the concept of Habermas’ Ideal Speech Situation, 9-month field study in Ghana on intercultural aspects in the context of transfusional West African music styles, long-term field study on extemporaneous communication as instructional method in traditional knowledge systems in Fez/Morocco and the convent of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order in Lefke/Cyprus, Senior Lecturer/European University of Lefke, Assistant Professor/Head of Department/PR  at the Faculty of Communication/Girne American University, currently based in Toulouse.

The musical practice of collective improvisation as an analogy to the Habermas’ Ideal Speech Situation and its potential for Intercultural Communication

The musical method of collective improvisation expresses a conception of playing whose democratic-emancipatory basic attitude suggests comparisons with the concept of the ideal speech situation formulated by Jürgen Habermas. In a first step, this presumption is explored in more detail by defining collective improvisation as a process of relationship characterized by interactivity and synchronicity. After a discussion of improvisational practices in music that reflects on theoretical, historical and psychological aspects, a short overview on the various developmental stages of free or collective improvisation that emerged from free jazz in the 1960s will be provided. Subsequently, the practice of collective improvisation will be put in context with the concept of the ideal speech situation and projected into an intercultural context. The sublimation of idiomatic, culturally shaped forms of expression demanded by musicians like Derek Bailey as well as the individual development of a characteristic sonic language by musicians like Evan Parker will be analyzed in regard to their potential as facilitating and equalizing aspects in the context of intercultural settings.

Melinda Maxwell (Birmingham City University)

Melinda Maxwell has performed as solo oboist in Europe, Japan, Africa and the USA. Composers have written for her such as Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Simon Holt and Howard Skempton. Her recordings have been critically acclaimed: in 2007 and 2009 two solo recordings were voted CD of the month for BBC’s Music Magazine. She is principal oboe of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and guest principal with the London Sinfonietta. She is a composer, improviser and teacher and completed a Masters degree in Jazz Performance in 2013. She is currently taking a PhD in improvisation and composition at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. 


Structured improvisation, despite posing limitations and restrictions, is one of the ways to harbour a specific creativity. This is not a new approach. The old tried and tested form of theme and variations is an example and in the world of bebop jazz, playing over the changes of a standard stimulates endlessly creative versions of the same song.  In this presentation I will show my methods of studying and analyzing a composition from which I make improvisations inside and outside the form that in turn develop and transform into further music. 

Benjamin Britten composed his Six Metamorphoses after Ovid Op.49 for solo oboe in 1951. It is a seminal piece for the instrument and is one of the reasons I have chosen it for my improvisations. Each of the six pieces juxtaposes a bi-tonal polarity rich in invention and ripe for re-invention. I have discovered how to play one of these pieces on an ancient Greek aulos (an instrument known to Ovid), to extend my research into oboe character. I hope to encourage a different approach to learning these pieces and believe improvisation holds the key to deeper understandings of the harmonic forms that ultimately have implications for their interpretation.   

Jamie Howell (University of Southampton)

Jamie Howell is a UK guitarist, educator and composer currently studying for a PhD in Composition at the University of Southampton under Matthew Shlomowitz and Ben Oliver. His work deals with the influence of digital music production on live, non-digital performance.

Digital signatures in the improvisational style of Richard Spaven

This paper seeks to examine the effect of digital music production on the improvisational style of live performers, and how these influences are perceptible in the musical vocabulary of an improvising musician. It will present a partial analysis of the work of drummer Richard Spaven who often performs in a live improvising context using an entirely acoustic drum kit, and yet whose playing is rich with influences from the programmed drums of electronic artists such as Photek. The paper will outline some specific examples of what Anne Danielsen has termed ‘digital signatures’, which she describes as ‘the sonic fingerprints of digital technology’, and identify examples of their influence in Richard Spaven’s improvising. Building on this, there will be discussion of the ways in which these digital signatures form part of an improvising vocabulary which is intuitive, subjective, and highly expressive.

The analysis will be contextualised within Mark Butler’s broad conception of the ontology of a work in EDM, Danielsen’s concept of the ‘inner dynamics of a groove’, and recent scholarship concerning the necessity of movement to rhythm (Roholt, Hamilton, Danielsen). This research is part of a broader project centred around the dialogue between digital and ‘human’ signatures.

Keith Phillips (Royal Northern College of Music)

Keith Phillips is an improvising guitarist and researcher. His work with the quartet Cusp and Get the Blessing includes appearances at jazz festivals and on national radio. He has presented his research at international conferences (Escom, ICMPC, SMPC, Sysmus) and co-authored a recent paper published in the journal Auditory Perception & Cognition. (Phillips, K., Goldman, A., & Jackson, T. (2019). Keith completed a PhD in Music Psychology at the Royal Northern College of Music in 2019, where he is now a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant.

Can a Scientific Perspective on Improvisation Avoid ‘Un-weaving the Rainbow’?

Ethnographic and pedagogical literature portrays jazz improvisation as a creative process, whereby the products of musical imagination are translated into music-producing actions. Accordingly, validation of musical improvisation as a creative activity depends on prospective auditory imagery, that is, pre-hearing in the mind’s ear what is to be played. Alternatively, a cognitive-scientific approach offers a more complex account of the process, involving multi-modal forward and inverse modelling, over timescales which raise questions about the viability of privileging prospective auditory imagery. In this paper I report findings from three studies. The first employed video-stimulated recall, semi-structured interviews and thematic analysis to investigate the improvisation strategies of six musicians. The findings indicate multiple strategy use as well as a degree of moral perfectionism regarding prospective auditory imagery. A follow-up survey study (n = 114) further supported these findings. A third study investigated guitarists’ judgements of sonic congruence using altered auditory feedback. Judgements of the congruence of played chords and auditory feedback were faster and more accurate when the hand shape used was familiar, indicating an embodied component in the anticipation of sound-producing gestures. In conclusion, I argue against dualist idealised models of improvisation involving imagery, and the computational metaphors used in cognitive-scientific accounts.

Libero Mureddu, Aino Juutilainen (Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki)

Libero Mureddu, pianist, improviser and composer, based in Finland since 2003.

He has studied Composition at the Conservatory “G. Verdi” of Milan and Music Technology at the Centre for Music and Techology, Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. He is currently doing his artistic doctorate at the MuTri doctoral school at the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki. 

Among his current projects, all focused to free improvisation, the dance and music collective Liquid Quartet, the Korvat auki ensemble, the Mureddu://:Cartheuser duo. In 2019 he has founded Hexad, a Helsinki-based international sextet focused on the performance of improvised music.

Aino Juutilainen is a cellist improviser based in Helsinki. She is educated in classical music but at the moment her main focus is in composing and improvising. She has worked with dance, theatre and puppet theatre as well as with a wide range of musicians from different backgrounds. Currently Aino mainly works with her band AINON and a series of sound art pieces called “Jälkiä” that got funding from Koneen Säätiö for the years 2019-2021. AINON’s debut album will be released in 2020 by We Jazz Records.

Joy Against the Machine: A computer controlled group improvisation (performance)

Formal development in collective free improvisation is a complex phenomenon, created in real time by the interactions between musicians, instruments, knowledges, bodies, emotions, interpersonal relationships. 

In an attempt to elucidate, visualize and clarify some of the processes involved in an improvised music performance, we have created a setting where the players delegate the creation of the musical form to a software. The software randomly selects pre-generated instructions for the improvisers and projects them on a screen. The performers obey to the machine’s instructions, as faithfully as possible.

This process has given valuable insights on the relationships between sections lengths in a musical form, and the relationship between musical materials, their length, their role within an improvisation. Moreover, leaving the formal responsibility to the machine has proven to be a liberating experience, and further experimentation is needed to understand its implication in understanding the role of power structures in guided improvisation. Future version will give to the audience the possibility to upload new instructions as well as the possibility for the performers to interact with the machine.

Finally, initial tests on the software as a teaching tool have been successful. 

The performance lasts twelve minutes with an optional three minutes-long presentation.

Davide Monti (Conservatorio “E.F. Dall’Abaco” Verona – ITALY)

Davide Monti is a baroque violinist who combines his infectious energy with an exceptional talent of being a completely natural performer. As a much sought-after director, soloist, concertmaster and chamber musician Davide focuses on the art of improvising, where the experience of extemporaneous communication parallels other art-forms such as theatre, dance, fencing and dressage.

Davide has taught violin and improvisation within historically-informed contexts in Europe, Canada, Asia and Australia. He is the Artistic Director of the International School of Improvisation – Helicona project in Verona. This project teaches musical improvisation in a multidisciplinary environment invariably fostering complex and fascinating strategies.

Helicona: Improvisation within a multidisciplinary historical approach

When improvising we aim to transform our personal sparks of energy into something that can be understood by our audience. This is what also happens in communication: we express a content in an effective form in order to deliver it. These two words are intimately connected, especially in art where the emotional energy that we want to express, combined with the rational organisation of the artistic “language”, becomes a convincing recipe, with respect to both style and rhetoric. The period between the Renaissance and Baroque is a key moment to discover the balance between this dualism. The history of improvisation is itself a fascinating journey through the history of expressive codes and into the psychological process when creating art.  

This lecture aims to provide historical examples applied in a modern multidisciplinary model – the Helicona Project – that stimulates an awareness of the communicative power of improvised music. This is intrinsically connected with a physical (and emotional) experience in other disciplines, including horse-riding, fencing, dancing, Commedia dell’Arte, Contrappunto alla Mente.

This method, includes elements of neurology and psychology of communication. Exercises help to develop the following areas: SENSORIAL (action-reaction), RELATIONAL (matching-pacing-leading), EMOTIONAL (the spark of an action), COGNITIVE (mental GPS).

Martin Devek (Dublin City University)

Having a holistic approach for artistic creation, my output expands to the fields of Music, the written word, and the Visual Arts. My music was performed at the National Concert Hall, the MAC Theatre, Ulster Museum, Dance Ireland, Belfast Children’s Festival 2015, 2016, and 2018 and my music was broadcasted in BBC Radio 5 and BBC Radio Ulster.

I am a funded PhD researcher in Music Composition at DCU, Ireland. I hold a BA (CONSUDEC, Argentina), a MCr in Arranging and Orchestration (Berklee College of Music, USA), and an MA in Computer Music (Maynooth University, Ireland).

Improvisers kinds of knowing: generating and sharing knowledge

To what extend can the improviser’s kinds of knowing be made explicit in order to generate and share knowledge? What mechanisms do we have available to investigate this? What role can autoethnography play in this process?

In this presentation, I will examine the process of creating new work within the context of PANIC Music Ensemble. PANIC music ensemble has a holistic approach to creation, where collaborative improvisation, spontaneity, and alternative approaches in the use of voices and instruments, shape the way new work is conceived and developed. Ideas for new pieces emerge and develop within the act of reflecting, improvising, interacting and collaborating.

Using a framework that draws from choreographic practices, collaborative creation, embodiment, enactivism, and affectivity, I aim to analyse this model of creation that extends beyond formalised music composition structures. Using an autoethnography approach I propose examining the embedded processes at play when developing new work, from the initial idea to the finished product. While doing this, I aim to shade a light on the following two questions: What kind of language would be most appropriate to analyse, expand and share this type of multidisciplinary creation? What tools are available to make this type of knowledge explicit? 

Max Burstyn (Royal Academy of Music)

Max Burstyn is a Master’s composition student at the Royal Academy of Music. He performs live electronic sets, exhibits many different kinds of interactive installations, and is currently writing his thesis which focuses on designing new audiovisual instruments for use in therapy.

CIAO Communal Interactive Audiovisual Orchestra

CIAO is a new interactive installation which encourages any members of the public to ‘play’ music and ‘paint’ digital art together. The aesthetic draws together 20th and 21st century music ranging from late-romantic orchestral music and contemporary electronica, and visuals ranging from surrealist and optical paintings with modern digital glitch and fractal art, providing exposure to many different art forms and hopefully creating some new ones through inter-communal expression. 

Maria Sappho Donohue (University of Huddersfield)

From Brooklyn, NY, Maria is a pianist, improviser, researcher, and instrument builder. Her interests are in re-considering ‘niches’ by looking to expand and represent wider demographics in her collaborations. Her work is interested in themes of the absurd and the more than human, she classifies this under ‘magical absurdism’. She is a current PhD Candidate at Huddersfield University, on European Research Council project IRiMaS (Interactive Research in Music as Sound). Maria is an international artist, she is in high demand as a pianist recently having played two consecutive years at the the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, as well as at the Museum of New and Old Art (Tasmania), Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and Glasgow Jazz Festival. She is a member of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra and a number of other international ensembles, including longstanding collaboration with the artist Gino Ballantyne. Maria is the co-founder and co-editor with Henry McPherson of the online discursive magazine the MASS which publishes and promotes current artistic practice for political change. She has worked with leading professionals in her field such as Maggie Nicols, Phil Minton, Trever Watts, Alvin Curran, and Thomas Buckner. Maria is a Winner of the New Piano Stars Competition, the Governors Prize for Music, and been supported by Creative Scotland, and the Dewar Awards. 

What mushroom? What free improvisation?: spontaneity in unexpected landscapes

Utilising the interactive archive of free improvisation practice “the Mushwork’, this paper will look at the practical ways in which free improvisers have adapted to online digital and distanced making. With a specific focus on how recent alterations in practices are effecting contentious boundaries of the field – drawn into question will be the muddying of what is musical and what is ’extra-musical’, what is real and what is fictionalised, and questions our existing standards for genre-fying ‘style’ in the field. By using specific examples of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra; Mopomoso TV (the oldest running free improvisation series in the UK); and  a growing archive of interviews and performances with international artists; a slice of the Mushwork will be investigated to ask – what kinds of communities do we build in uncertain times? And what might our choices tell us about existing issues in our socialites before they where jeopardised? In doing so we will look at the practical ways in which free improvisers have adapted  to co-developing group practices for curating, organising and generating work. These adaptations have been shown shown to benefit mental health and wellbeing (MacDonald, Burke, DeNora, Sappho Donohue, Birrell, 2021) and this paper proposes are a new frontier for speculations on altered possible futures for group improvisational practice and beyond. 

Diederik de Ceuster ( University of Leuven, Belgium)

Diederik de Ceuster is a PhD researcher at the University of Leuven, Belgium. The main objective of his research project is to understand the constructive potential of noise in contemporary music for non-pitched percussion in different musical practices by making in-depth case studies of four composers/performers. One case study involves the improvised music of Chris Corsano. Here, De Ceuster focuses on the impact of sound modifying techniques for sound/noise creation and answering the question if and how patterns of noise guide or direct improvisation tactics. Besides his PhD research, de Ceuster is active as a composer in the Netherlands. 

A Materialistic Approach to Improvisation: Chris Corsano’s “Famously Short Arms”

The American drummer Chris Corsano pushes the boundaries of jazz improvisation in several ways. Firstly, Corsano augmented the traditional setup of the drum kit with various re-purposed objects such as attached strings across drums and objects in metal, wood or plastic. Secondly, he innovated performance techniques such as one-handed drum rolls or drum rudiments at an incredibly virtuosic velocity. Thirdly, he transforms conventional drum improvisations by de-emphasising rhythm and giving more prominence to timbre, sound and noise as the main elements of his musical material.  

            In this paper an analytic model is proposed to understand these three facets by combining materialism, studies of embodiment and motor intentionality, and studies of jazz history and contemporary practice in an actor-network driven approach. A first step towards implementing this model is made here by focusing on the first facet (the impact of the augmented drum kit on the course of the improvisation) in an analysis of “Famously Short Arms” from the CD Cut (2012). Following Diana Coole’s theory of New Materialisms (2010), it will be shown that the instrument establishes “contingent capacities for reflexivity, creative disclosure and transformation” giving affordance to Corsano’s particular style and technique. 

Richard Perks (University of Kent)

Dr. Rich Perks is a guitarist, composer, and academic based in London (UK). His research interests include the combination of composition with improvisation; inter-cultural collaborations; and the extended performance possibilities of the fretless electric guitar. He is a Lecturer in Music Performance at the University of Kent (UK), and a Lecturer in Popular Music at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (UK).

Extended Techniques and Expanded Sound-Palette Specific to the Fretless Electric Guitar (Solo improvisation: 10 – 12 mins.)

My approaches to improvisation using the fretless electric guitar have been informed by extensive performance experience, spanning a variety of ensembles, genres, and contexts, including: inter-cultural collaborations (predominantly with Middle-Eastern and West-Asian musicians); the accommodation of improvisation within through-composition; free-improvisation; contemporary and popular music recording sessions; live electronic and technological augmentation; and solo performance. In April 2019, I published an article which considered the development of original performance techniques and timbres, unique to the fretless electric guitar (see Music and Practice: vol. 4, New Perspectives on Technique and Practice). 

Building upon Nettl’s notion of the improvisatory ‘model’ (1974), combined with the incorporation of preliminary indeterminate musical stimuli (as explored by Cardew, Guy, and Zorn, amongst others), this performance will showcase various extended techniques and timbres afforded by the fretless electric guitar, in the context of a solo improvisation. The ‘score’ will be projected throughout the performance to more explicitly illustrate the improviser’s continual navigation and negotiation between their music-culturally embedded ‘points of departure’ (Nettl, 2002; 2009), those intimated by the stimulus, and any spontaneous structural and/or phenomenological decisions (Borgo, 2005) which may – or may not – be made ‘in the moment’; providing greater experiential insight, communication and engagement with the audience. 

Francesco Venturi (Kingston University)

Francesco Venturi is a doctoral candidate at Kingston University of London. Composer, experimental singer and percussionist, he carries out interdisciplinary research into the queer voice. He has been doing radical improvisation since 2003.


Italian duo Interlingua is born from the collision of an improv attitude with a strong sense of form. Their music combines Francesco Venturi’s extended and extreme vocal techniques and percussion with Francesco Fonassi’s non-conventional electronics, and it has been compared to that of Senyawa, Trepaneringsritualen, ‪Giacinto Scelsi, ‪Einstürzende Neubauten and “Kayako Saeki if she was making music”. Starting from early avant-world influences they took a path of self-fascination based on the mimesis of gesture, soundscape and liturgical seduction. They released two studio albums and performed at venues and festival Europe-wide. Since 2018 they run the experimental venue Spettro, in Brescia, Italy.

D Henry McPherson (University of Huddersfield)

D Henry McPherson is an artist, improvising performer, researcher and composer. His diverse practice draws on the visual, sonic, and somatic, and frequently involves the production of scores, prompts, and stimulus material in various forms of media, for interpretation through sound, movement, and other performance. He maintains a focus on score (in its various definitions) as interface, document-object, and archive, capable of generating unlimited avenues of interpretive and communicative possibility. Henry’s current work explores ritual and relational nonverbal communication, improvising networks, systems and enmeshment, the queering of hierarchical spaces and structures, and improvised ecologies.

Meanings in the Moment: Nonsense and Narrative Interactions in Transdisciplinary Free Improvisation  

Through the lens of my PhD project Bodies of Meaning – an ongoing practice-led investigation into transdisciplinarity free improvisation (TFI) in sound and movement – this short presentation will explore the capacity for meaning-making and storytelling in TFI, conceived as a practice which generates its own temporal-situational singularity contexts (McPherson, 2020). Utilising footage from in-studio research, as well as from a series of telematic digital improvisation works undertaken across the global pandemic, I will share developing ideas of nonsense, non-causality, and the application of different “registers of sense” (Roche and Longley, 2018) in my practice and that of my collaborators, within the theoretical frame of TFI as a practice of world-making.  

Longley, A., Roche, J., 2018. What would it be, if it didn’t have to be like that? Undisciplining the travel of dance ideas in the  neo-liberal university., in: Brown, C., Longley, A. (Eds.), Undisciplining Dance in Nine Movements and Eight Stumbles.  Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 49–57. 

McPherson, D H. (2020). Considering the fixed naming of entities: towards a transdisciplinary approach to free improvisation. CeReNeM Journal, Issue 7 [2020] 

Robert Sholl (The Royal Academy of Music, The University of West London)

Robert Sholl is a Professor at the University of West London and teaches at the Royal Academy of Music. He has published widely on twentieth-century music (including Stravinsky, Berio, Birtwistle, Ferneyhough, Messiaen, Arvo Pärt). He is the editor of Messiaen Studies (CUP, 2007), with Sander van Maas, of Contemporary Music and Spirituality (Routledge/Ashgate 2017). In 2016-17 he performed all of Messiaen’s organ works at Arundel Cathedral, and in 2020-21 all of the Vierne Organ Symphonies and much of Tournemire.

The Unmasking Scene in The Phantom of the Opera: Improvisation in Context

This paper presents a discussion of my improvisation on the unmasking for Rupert Julian’s 1925 The Phantom of the Opera. The paper focuses on the ways musical improvisation can be informed by cultural and psychoanalytic theory that have remained largely separate from the fields of musical performance and improvisation studies (Marks 1997; Lewis and Piekut, 2016). 

I contextualise improvisation in Leroux’s novel and place the Phantom alongside two other literary characters, Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo and Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin. I then focus on this scene which is a culmination of repression and libidinal non-fulfilment. Identity issues fuels his hollow sense of self-worth and self-loathing transferred onto Christine as an object of his desire as a woman who offers the possibility of redemption. This scene represents a cathartic dissolution of his psychotic self-imago into harsh reality. I read this moment as a sublime form of disenchantment where the libidinal promise of the magical, pseudo-scientific and, mystical are rent asunder. 

I then differentiate my improvisation from contemporary theatre organ treatises which focussed primarily on mimesis of the visual action (Tootel, undated; Rapee, 1928). Instead I showed how the discourses (above) inform an “interior choreography” (Stravinsky 1947: 128) of harmonic gestures, textures and colours that create a musical and psychoanalytical depth-structure for the film making “procedural” knowledge into “declarative” knowledge (Ashley 2016: 669). Improvisation is understood here as being in a research ecology which permits the complementary enrichment of research, film, cultural, artistic and psychoanalytical contexts with improvisation.

Sue Miller (Leeds Beckett University)

Sue is a Reader in Music at Leeds Beckett University. Specialising in Cuban popular music and improvisation her book Cuban Flute Style: Interpretation and Improvisation (Scarecrow Press, 2014) explores the role of influence in the development of a style. Her second book Improvising Sabor: Cuban Dance Music in New York (University Press of Mississippi, 2020) looks afresh at the history of Latin music in the USA. Her current British Academy funded research project employs experimental archaeology approaches to live studio performance. Sue is also a professional flute player and musical director of ‘Charanga del Norte.’ 

Approaches to Improvisation in Cuban Dance Music

Various terms are used for improvisation in Cuban dance music and help define the distinct styles of improvisation adopted by performers. For example, ‘florear,’ literally meaning ‘to make flowery’,  is often used in the context of danzones where embellishment of precomposed melodic material is common. ‘Mambear’ refers to strong, rhythmic improvising which takes place over repeated vocal choruses. Inspiraciones are short improvisations usually played between call-and-response coros. ‘Descargar’ (‘to offload’) is used in more informal ‘jam’ sessions but appears to have its origins in Afro-Cuban religious ritual. Another term, ‘montunear,’ has the connotation of ‘grooving.’ Flute players in Cuban charanga orchestras of the early twentieth century took the florear approach to improvisation. Conversely, with the appearance of the danzones del nuevo ritmo in the 1940s, the approach taken  broadly changed from a romantic, embroidered style to a more rhythmic one. In New York, Johnny Pacheco introduced a high-energy, percussive style with an ’embalao’ (racing) approach. Drawing on both practice and written research, this presentation demonstrates these aspects of improvisation to show how idiomatic, socially grounded improvisation relates to composition, arrangement and performance context in subtle and complex ways.

Keywords: improvisation, Latin performance aesthetics, Cuban flute improvisation, approaches to improvisation.x

Robert Jedrzejewski (The Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, Warsaw, Poland, supported by Adam Mickiewicz Institute.)

Robert Jedrzejewski: intuitive artist, improviser, and cellist, is a doctoral candidate at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw, Poland. His goal is to determine to what extent the truly free and pure improvisation can become the basic creative method in music, which itself is part of an extremely dynamic performative sphere of the modern world. He is co-founder of SALULU: duo of improvising composers, organizer of MUSIC IN A NEW KEY – Festival/Conference in Warsaw, Poland. His diverse projects and compositions are regularly performed all over Europe, in Canada, in the USA, and in Singapore.

  1. Pure Intuitive Act

Lecture recital (cello) What, where, when and why? We are not spontaneously aware of duration when we give our whole attention to the present situation, that is when we are not made to turn to any other time of action through our needs or through social necessity. In other words, we are not conscious of time when we are fully satisfied with the present situation. We become spontaneously aware of time in media res (into the middle of things) only when we are dissatisfied in some sense. There are two main factors: waiting (as in the conscious interval between the emergence of a need and its fulfilment) and the effort of continuity (the obstacle to be overcome in order to complete a task once initial impulse has been exhausted). Through imagination, tension / anticipation and decision (act of ostension), to reactions and evaluations that close the autopoietic loop (feedback). I would like to test which elements constitute the main engines of this kind of practice and how people behave under these kind of conditions, and if an act of ostension based on improvisation can become the basic source of experiencing truth for the artist and researcher in the 21st Century.

2. Self-expression

Recital (cello)

Ed Cooper (University of Leeds)

Ed Cooper is a composer and sound-artist based in Leeds, UK. Encompassing deep-listening techniques, temporal aesthetics, and spatialisation, Ed’s interdisciplinary practice centres on liminality — the function and dimensions of the ‘in-between’. Specifically, it explores how a liminal state might not rely on stable phenomena to transition between, but how liminality can be used as a ‘master’ state and move from being a passage between and to a productive site in and of itself. This site of ambiguity is a key part of our lives from which events come to fruition: stability arises from instability, not the other way around.

Between Focus: Liminality as a Productive Site for Collaborative Improvisation

Between Focus explores how liminality can be used as a productive site for collaborative improvisation. Foregrounding the phenomenological experience of the pianist and dancer, the guided improvisation invites interpretation of the piano as an ‘object-in-itself’ and a component of the environment, acting as a creative nexus of ‘betweenness’. During the performance, focus shifts between the performers, their techniques, the ‘object’ and the space. This is reflected in the constant transition between collaborative exploration of the piano and active interference, between mental engagement and passivity. Building on a range of literature, from van Gennep’s Rites of Passage (1909) to Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (1968), this method of improvisation contributes to understandings of liminality by demonstrating and capitalising on the fragility of performative focus. The ‘betweenness’ of understandings, and subsequent communication, is the productive site of the work — instability is the ‘master’ state from which stability might arise.

Dr Geoff Bright (Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr Anton Hunter (professional musician, BIMM Manchester); Dr Gillian Whiteley (Loughborough University)

Dr Geoff Bright

Geoff is an academic, musician, vocalist and live art performer working recently with Alchemy/Schmalchemy, Mick Beck, the anti-choir Juxtavoices, and John Jasnoch’s J[a]B[a]W. A recent performance/installation as part of the duo with Gill Whiteley [the gathering…the chewing]  was Re-so[u]rceries and Re-sonations at the Treignac Projet gallery, France. Geoff also thinks and writes about aspects of improvisation.

Dr Anton Hunter

Anton is a composer and improviser living in Manchester. He leads the 11-piece Article XI band as well as his own trio. Also on-going is a duo with baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts called Ripsaw Catfish, Cath’s quintet Sloth Racket, the improvising trio Beck Hunters, Beats & Pieces Big Band and a myriad of other different ensembles, ad hoc and otherwise. His practice and research both explore the intersection of composition and improvisation, and his 2019 PhD is an examination of this within the specific context of large ensembles, including negotiating the issue of individual voice

Dr Gillian Whiteley 

Gillian (aka bricolagekitchen) is a multi-media artist-improviser and pamphleteer creating ludic dissent with various instruments and objects. Collaborations include Les Petroleuses, J[a]B[a]W, Alchemy/Schmalchemy and, with Geoff Bright, [the gathering…the chewing]. For her published writings on historical and contemporary forms of art and activism and various live art and performance projects see

Provoking aspects of power in sonic improvisation

Our trio brings together three active improvisers with different disciplinary backgrounds: Hunter from professional musicianship and teaching, Bright from philosophy and the ethnography of cultural practices and Whiteley from art and politics. Here, drawing on two pieces of recent work, we offer a short experimental provocation on an aspect of the ‘politics’ of improvisation. One of these (see Bright and Hunter 2018, 2021), used the notion of ‘social aesthetics’ to consider free improvisation practice at Noise Upstairs improv nights in Manchester UK. The other considered questions of ‘micropolitical’ practices from a more conventional activist perspective (Massumi, 2005) in relation to free improvisation as an intervention in the renewal of central European partisanship (Bright and Whiteley, 2018).  

Our intention is to problematise, through performance, how ‘power’ in different forms – in this case ‘instructions’ – might influence knowledge produced in improvised performance, and how that process may differ between structured or ‘free’ improvisation settings. The performance presentation is edited from a longer, recorded live zoom session. In the original live session, we did 10 mins improvised performance in two x 5 mins phases. In the first phase, each performer worked to a specific instruction not known to the other two performers (examples might be ‘work to disrupt any developing melodic direction’ or ‘always play less or more than the other performers’); in the second phase, the improvisers segued into an unstructured ‘free’ improvisation. The trio then conducted an in-depth reflective discussion of the subjectively experienced differences in power relations between the two performance phases. The conference presentation will consist of a brief introductory comment, followed by the full improvised performances plus a few key points distilled from the longer discussion. The full discussion will be available as an audio link to conference participants.

Bright, N.G. and Hunter, A. 2018. ‘“A hat, a cobra and a noise upstairs”: An ethnographic study of a Manchester free improv scene. In Ethnography and the Arts. Stroud: Tufnell Press

Bright, N.G. and Hunter, A. 2021.”Pulling a politics ‘out of the hat’ at the Noise Upstairs?’. In Reshaping Youth Participation: Manchester in a European Gaze. Emerald. 

Bright, N.G. and Whiteley, G. 2018. Re-sounding a partisan (micro)politics? In Edinost: Trieste 

Donald Wetherick (Guildhall School of Music and Drama)

Donald Wetherick is a music therapist in an adult mental health service and a music therapy trainer at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where he teaches music therapy techniques and research skills. He is currently pursuing a PhD on ‘The Musical Training of Music Therapists’. He trained at the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Centre and has since worked with children and adults in a variety of settings.  

What do improvisation tasks reveal in auditions for music therapy training? An analysis of accounts by trainers.

This paper investigates musical improvisation tasks as used in auditions for UK music therapy trainings and asks how trainers use and theorise these tasks. 

Music therapists’ skills are consistently described as including improvisation (Alvin 1975, Bruscia 1987, Nordoff and Robbins 2007). Music therapy trainings typically devote significant time to ‘clinical improvisation’ teaching (Wigram 2004). Improvisation tasks also form part of musical auditions for those entering training (Wetherick 2016), including ‘solo’ improvisations to a given brief, interactive improvisations with a member of the panel, and/or group improvisation tasks facilitated by a trainer. 

Interviews with music therapy trainers show that auditions play a significant role in selection for training. Improvisation tasks are seen as useful in assessing music therapy specific skills (not just general musical or instrumental skills), including personal qualities variously described as e.g. ‘communicative’, ‘relational’, ‘symbolic’ or ‘musical-personal’ skills. Not only are these qualities distinguished from conventional musical skills but they are sometimes seen as in conflict with them. 

It is suggested that musical improvisation tasks potentially reveal personal as well as musical qualities, and that conventional musical skills may not always facilitate or account for these qualities. This has implications for musical assessment and teaching beyond music therapy itself. 

Nick Sorensen (Bath Spa University), Annie Gardiner (BIMM, Bristol), Dan Johnson (BIMM Bristol)

Nick Sorensen is a jazz musician, writer and consultant. His consultancy company ‘The Improvising School’ provides workshops to develop improvisational skills for musicians, teachers and leaders. 

His research is concerned with understanding improvisation as a mode of creativity within artistic and social contexts and is grounded in his practice as a jazz saxophonist. His performance work explores interdisciplinary practice and transcultural collaboration. He is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts and Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa University.

Embracing latency and silence: an improvisational pedagogy for a post COVID world.

A significant pedagogical challenge for music educators is concerned with how to teach music improvisation improvisationally, (‘musical improvisations little sister’: Holdus, 2019). Building on a theoretical framework of improvisational pedagogies (Sorensen 2021) this presentation offers a case study of an innovative cross college extra curriculum improvisation class run at BIMM Bristol called Musical Responses and Collaborative Experiments (MRCE). The course, designed and led by Annie Gardiner and Dan Johnson, is based around group improvisations in which participants respond to stimuli derived from different artistic disciplines. Each session concludes with a post-improvisation discussion (Sorensen et al., 2019) 

 The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 challenged the course leaders to improvise an alternative pedagogy in order to teach improvisation on-line.  This case study outlines their discovery of Networked, or Telematic music, linking up with the Internet Ensemble Tech Force (ITEF) class with Professor Chris Chafe at Centre for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University (who developed the software application JackTrip).

 The outcome of this collaboration led to ‘embracing the latency’ (the delay between a user’s action and a web application’s response to that action) and engaging with the silencing reflex that at any one time privileges one sound over another. The class were now working with an inverted form of expression, playing into silence and listening to a unique partial soundscape of the other participants.

By treating the Internet and all its uncontrollable variables as though it is a person/ being, enabled the group to relax into exploring a new ways of improvising in which the variables generated by the software produced a more patient, curious and integrated musical conversation.

 As MRCE returns to face-to-face teaching the experience of online improvisation continues to inform these classes. The skills learned from asynchronous musical responses are now being incorporated into a new improvisational pedagogy that provides the basis for continued experimentation. 

Dorian Bandy (McGill University)

Dorian Bandy is an assistant professor of musicology and historical performance at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music. His musicological interests include Mozart (with a particular emphasis on embellishment, improvisation, the performer-composer relationship, and the Da Ponte operas), Beethoven, seventeenth-century German instrumental music, and nineteenth-century Lieder. Dorian also regularly writes and lectures on various issues in the philosophy of music, including the ‘work concept’, meme theory, musical meaning, and the philosophy of historical performance. He is a member of the Re:Enlightenment collective.

Alongside his academic work, Dorian maintains an active career as a conductor, violinist, and historical keyboardist. His repertoire spans four centuries, and his performances — acclaimed for their vitality, drama, and warmth — have taken him to venues throughout Europe and North America, including London’s Wigmore and Cadogan Halls, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, and New York’s Symphony Space.

Playing Dumb: Theatricality, Failure, and the Aesthetics of Improvisation

Despite repeated attempts over the past two centuries, theorists and philosophers have been unable to establish the aesthetic features that reliably distinguish improvisations from carefully constructed compositions. Using Mozart as a case-study, I approach this question by seeking traces of well established improvisational protocols in Mozart’s written compositions. I argue that many of his concertos and sonatas self-consciously conjure the excitement, volatility, and risks of impromptu performance by depicting — even caricaturing — improvisation at its least successful. In many cases, including the Piano Sonatas K.311 and K. 330, and the Violin Sonata K. 378, this approach manifests itself in haphazard motivic structures and irregular large-scale forms, as though the improviser could not keep track of the unfolding musical argument. Elsewhere, the simulation of improvisatory failure is more flamboyant: the soloist’s tentative entrance in the Piano Concerto in C, K.503, for instance, may be heard as a dramatized memory-lapse, during which the pianist is unable to invent viable new musical material.

Because Mozart himself was a fluent extemporizer, these and other examples are certainly not reflections of his actual performances. Rather, they are instances of “playing dumb”: attempts to cultivate an aesthetic of imperfection, and thus to imbue even the most polished compositions with an improvisation-like spontaneity they might otherwise lack.

Leah Stuttart (University of Huddersfield)

Leah Stuttard is a PhD student at Huddersfield University writing about the history of improvisation in the medieval music revival. As an accomplished internationally acclaimed medieval harpist (see, she is also an improviser in 15th-century and earlier styles. She is a recipient of a NECAH scholarship and was also a Leverhulme Study Abroad Studentship holder when she spent 3 years at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland, learning about the performance practices, notation, history, analysis, and contexts of medieval music and languages. She has written a chapter for inclusion in the forthcoming book Female-Voice Song in the Middle Ages, edited by Anna Kathryn Grau and Lisa Colton, part of the series of Brill’s Companions to the Musical Culture of Medieval and Early Modern Europe.

Assessing historically informed improvisation: a case study of solo lute performances in 15th-century style

Crawford Young is a world renowned improviser on the lute, specialising in performance styles of the 15th-century, an era which saw the invention of lute tablature and the attested improvisational prowess of Pietrobono del Chitarrino. I will explore Young’s improvisation through analysis of his performances over the course of several years taking a single 15th-century theme as model. An analysis of a recent interview with Young (10-11 February 2020) will enable me to elucidate Young’s creative process in terms of anterior preparations and posterior judgements as well as in-the-moment sound-making. I will discuss some problems specific to improvisation in pre-contemporary (and pre-recording) styles, with particular concern for how the undertaking relates to the Historically Informed Performance movement, its philosophy and aesthetic. For example, Young himself in a previous interview said: “[improvisation is] a concept that did not exist in pre-1500 music… I think it would be better to use a word like musicating [rather] than improvising or composing.” Another interest in my study is the way in which improvisation may create valid knowledge about historical music-making. Some initial thoughts about this hard to prove notion will be presented.