Improvisation. Philosophical Re-Scriptions

Posted on Jul 9, 2018 in / Serial Events / Serial IFIT

A conference with discussions, workshops and concerts

JULY 12 & 13, 2018

Maschinenhaus Kulturbrauerei, Berlin


The Conference is hosted by the Institute for Critical Theory (Zurich University of Arts) – Prof. Dieter Mersch and by matralab (Concordia University Montréal) – Prof. Sandeep Bhagwati.

Improvisation, the spontaneous and creative reaction to unexpected situations, behaviours, incidents, constraints and circumstances, is one of the oldest cultural techniques and plays a significant part in the repertoire of aesthetic skill set of new music, modern dance theatre, performance art and visual practice, and also in the popular cultural context (jazz, rock, hip-hop, rap). However, there is no consensus on what improvisation means from a philosophical point of view. The international conference “Improvisation. Philosophical Re-Scriptions” wants to address this question. In a format that intertwines, in various ways, philosophical and artistic practice on the one hand and reflection on the circumstances and conditions of improvisation on the other, this conference explores the preconditions of improvisation and asks for the specific insight that improvisation allows into the condition humaine. Is the practice of free improvisation where music performers start playing with each other without the need for previous agreements or rules, a metaphorical expression of the way in which humans behave towards themselves and their peers? Are such improvisations truly free – or are their rules and regulations merely more implicit than explicit, latent in socio-cultural influences and ethics? Wouldn’t it be better to speak of “comprovisations” instead of “improvisations”? Musical improvisations are predominantly anchored in a specific stylistic practice – are improvisations across stylistic, cultural, traditional and genre boundaries possible at all – and if so, to which aspects of practice can the concept of improvisation be applied sensibly in such constellations?

Responses to such questions would have consequences far beyond the aesthetic field. The musically realized relationship between musician and musician mirrors the relationship between human and human as one that is not a later add-on, but rather an essential feature how and what human beings are and have to be: always already in relation to something else, to others and to another, who draw upon them and to whom they answer before anything else. Improvising thus emerges, constitutes itself through such answers, by presupposing the other, as well as by listening to others: a’ primordial’ passivity which both Blanchot and Lévinas claim is older than any differentiation between active and passive. It is this perspective that enables improvisation as an open-minded and creative interstitial event; an event which – as in the relationship between language and communication – involves an exchange of answers and answers to answers; an exchange which begins or has always begun with others, and thus creates a ‘responsive-dialogue’ field of tension. It opens up scope for behaviour in which coincidence and alterity play into one another and in which a fundamental feature of human action can be demonstrated: the emergence of subjectivity in close corporeal proximity to one another, whether, quite literally, as ‘ re-sonance’ – or whether as conflict (interruption, disintegration of dialogue, fragility).

At this conference, philosophers, improvisers, musicologists and composers will encounter each other in different constellations, through philosophical and musical discourse. In lectures, panels, interviews, workshops, and moderated concerts, various registers and possibilities of improvisational and philosophical dialogues will be explored.


Day 1 (Thursday, July 12, 2018)
Time Event Participants
14:30h Doors open, Registration, Coffee/Juice
15:00h Opening Statements (15 min each) Dieter Mersch
Sandeep Bhagwati
15:30h Concert 1 Lucas Niggli
Alexander Hawkins
16:30h Panel 1 (10 min Statements each ): What is Improvisation: Musical Features and Social Aspects / Was heißt Improvisation. Musikalische Eigenschaften und soziale Aspekte. Simone Mahrenholz
Gary Peters
Christian Grüny
Jörg Sternagel
17:30h Refreshments
18:00h Philosophen fragen Musiker (auf Deutsch) Dieter Mersch + Simone Mahrenholz ask
Carl Ludwig Hübsch + Sylvia Hinz
18:45h Panel 2 (10 min Statements each): The Cultural Impact of Improvisational Practices / Die kulturelle Bedeutung improvisatorischer Praxis. Michael Mayer
Reinhard Gagel
Sebastian Kiefer
Isabel Mundry
20:00h Dinne
21:00h Concert 2 Simon Rose / Deniz Peters
22:00h First Day ends


Day 2 (Friday, July 13, 2018)
Time Event Participants
10:00h Doors open, Registration, Coffee/Juice
10:30h Lecture-Demonstration: Scores for Thinking Aaron Finbloom & 6 participants
12:30h Concert 3 Native Alien (Del Tredici, Browne)
Alexandra Cardenas – Live-Coding
13:30h Lunch
14:30h Musicians ask Philosophers Sandeep Bhagwati + Alexandra Cardenas ask Gary Peters + Silvana Figueroa-Dreher
15:30h Lecture – Demonstration/Jam Ensemble Extrakte & Friends
(Sabbagh, Janek, Gebrüder Teichmann, Hübsch, Del Tredici, Hinz)
16:15h Panel 3 (10 min Statements each): Towards a General Theory on Improvisation / Für eine generelle Theorie der Improvisation. Fabian Göppelsröder
Matthias Maschat
Daniel Martin Feige
Silvana Figueroa-Dreher
17:00h Refreshments
17:30h Concert 4 Jam with Christopher Dell
18:30h Open Discussion Moderators: Mersch, Bhagwati
20:00h Communal Dinner