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A frame of analysis for collective free improvisation on the bridge between Husserl’s phenomenology of time and some recent readings of the predictive coding model

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Abstract

The kind of collective improvisation attained by the “free jazz” at the beginning of the sixties sets a challenge to analytic theories of collective intentionality, that emphasize the role played by future-directed plans in the interlocking and interdependent intentions (and attitudes) of the individual participants, because in the free jazz case the performers’ interdependence or [interplay] stems from an intuitive understanding between musicians. Otherwise said: what happens musically is not planned in advance, but arises from spontaneous interactions in the group. By looking at the way jazz improvisers take up the challenge of making music together without a pre-conceived notion as to what kind of effect they will achieve and without a pre-set code of agreements (related to theme, chord patterns and chorus lengths), my aim has been to clarify what kind of strategies — other than advanced action plans and joint commitments — are used by improvising musicians to integrate their improvisations into a unified shared activity. In developing this proposal I initially drawn pre-theoretically on one paradigmatic study case — Ornette Coleman’s double quartet Free Jazz, A collective Improvisation (1960) and brought it in conversation with Husserl’s phenomenology of time. In a final move, I brought this phenomenological frame into dialogue with some recent readings of the predictive coding model. All in all, what we learned from the Free Jazz case is that the interdependence and interlocking of attitudes among individual participants characteristic of shared intention is not determined by a future-directed plan and the rational pressure to be responsive to and coordinate with others, it typically engages. Rather, in the free jazz case, the performers’ connection and interplay depend on the players’ readiness to feel each other out, by listening to each other playing, in a way that no doubt presupposes the Husserlian retention-protention scheme.

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  • 28 October 2019

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Notes

  1. Bill Evans, Improvisation in Jazz, Liner notes from the original 1959 LP release, published in the Booklet of Kind of Blue (1959) and also available on-line at the following address: https://www.sfjazz.org/onthecorner/bill-evans-kind-blue-liner-notes/. Consulted on-line on 04.09.2019

  2. As a working definition, “collective improvisation” can be regarded as a special case of a “joint action”, very largely defined “as any form of social interaction whereby two or more individuals coordinate their actions in space and time to bring about a change in the environment”, Sebanz et al. . “Joint Action: Bodies and Minds Moving together”, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 10, 2, 2006, p. 70. In this very general and minimalist sense, a collective improvisation is an unplanned, yet intentional action, undertaken by two (dyadic) or more individuals (polydyadic), which cannot be conceptualized along the lines of future-directed action plans and overarching goal, since nothing is planned excepted to improvise together for a duration of time.

  3. Around 1960 when “free jazz” appeared, the evolution of jazz, which until then had followed a straight line, took a sudden turn. This article is concerned with these developments, and specifically with the development of collective improvisation in the “free jazz”. In this turn, the most salient difference lies in that musicians choose to break away from the “conventional formula of ‘improvisation – theme – improvisation” (the treatment of a given material) and also to avoid the use of a pre-determined harmonic framework as a formative element and as a basis for improvisation. For instance, according to C. Canonne “Collective Free Improvisation (CFI) is a musical phenomenon produced by at least two persons improvising simultaneously and freely i.e. trying to leave undecided every compositional aspects until the very moment of the performance”. Its most salient and significant feature lies in that it “can be defined as a referent-free improvisation. [...] As opposed to referent-based improvisation (like straightforward jazz), there is no founding act (like the common choice of a standard) that confers a given set of musical or extra-musical data the status of common knowledge in a group”, C. Canonne & N. Garnier, “A Model for Collective Free Improvisation”, in Agon, C., Andreatta, M. et al. (eds.), Mathematics and Computation in Music. Third International Conference MCM, 2011 Proceedings, Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, 2011, p. 29.

  4. For a discussion of this point, according to which jazz improvisation can be regarded as a mimetic art form, which "presents" or put on the stage, rather than only "represents" the ever-expanding, gestural and expressive engagements that collectively negotiate and ultimately constitute a highly unified emergent we intentionality, that holds the group together see Garry L. Hagberg, “Jazz Improvisation: A Mimetic Art?”, Revue Internationale de Philosophie 238 (2006), pp. 163–181. See also for a further discussion of this focus, Garry L. Hagberg, “Improvisation, Collective Intention, and Group Attention”, in George E. Lewis & Benjamin Piekut (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press, vol. 1, 2016, pp. 481–500. In particular the following passage resumes Hagberg’s position: “I want to add that here there is another specific way in which group improvisation is — if a bit surprisingly — a mimetic art form: it holds a mirror up to what Searle identifies as the complexly interwoven sets of collective intentions that make society real over and above mere arbitrary convention. But, as I have argued elsewhere, group jazz improvisation is more than mimetic: it enacts within its own musical world what it reflects as mirror of society”, p. 484.

  5. I would add one additional note on the nature and meaning of the term “irreducible” in this context: when agents act jointly with others not only the mechanisms of action involved are typically more complex than those present in individual actions — since it is crucial that people coordinate their actions and plans — and in this respect the action performed jointly is “irreducible” to the individual action (the action of each soloist in the musical case), but also they may involve a shift from a sense of “self-agency” to a sense of “we-agency”, otherwise said, towards a sense of feeling, acting, thinking and performing together, qua members of a team. In this respect the experience of joint agency is “irreducible” to the experience of individual agency. This last aspect is nicely and exhaustively elucidated by E. Pacherie in the article entitled “How does it feel to act together?”, Phenom Cogn Sci 13 (2014), pp. 25–46. Finally, on a third level — the level of the outcome — there is something essential, something irreducible to the phenomenology of collective action that remains after we substract the sum total of individual actions from the final results which is collectively, greater than its parts.

  6. For a more detailed overview of contemporary approaches to collective intentionality, the so-called “Big Four of collective intentionality” see the excellent article by Deborah Tollefsen, “Collective Intentionality”, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 32, n. 1, March 2002, pp. 25–50, also published on-line in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2004). https://www.iep.utm.edu/coll-int/ See also, B. Preston, A philosophy of material culture, London & NY: Routledge, 2013, pp. 74–89.

  7. Garry L. Hagberg, “Improvisation, Collective Intention, and Group Attention”, in G. E. Lewis & B. Piekut (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies, volume 1, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016, p. 481 Garry Hagberg addresses further this topic in Garry L. Hagberg, "The ensemble as plural subject: Jazz Improvisation, collective intention and Group Agency", in E.F. Clarke & M. Doffman (eds.), Distributed creativity. Collaboration and Improvisation in Contemporary Music, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2018, pp. 300-316. My theoretical work and perspective divergent substantially from those adopted by Garry Hagberg, who mainly draws on the analytic tradition.

  8. M. Gilbert, On Social facts, London: Routledge, 1989; “Concerning Sociality: The Plural Subject as Paradigm”, in J. Greenwood (ed.), The Mark of the Social, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996; “The Structure of the Social Atom: Joint Commitment and the Foundation of Human Social Behavior” in Socializing Metaphysics, F. Schmitt (ed.), The Mark of the Social, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003; “Walking Together: A paradigmatic social phenomena”, Midwest studies in Philosophy, 15 (1990), pp. 1–14.

  9. M. Gilbert, “The Structure of the Social Atom: Commitment as the Foundation of Human Social Behavior”, F. Schmitt (ed.), Socializing Metaphysics. The Nature of Social Reality, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003, p. 39–64.

  10. M. Bratman, “Shared Agency” in Chris Mantzavinos, (ed.), Philosophy of the Social Sciences: Philosophical Theory and Scientific Practice, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 41–59.

  11. M. Bratman, “Shared Agency”, p. 41.

  12. M. Bratman, “Shared Intention and Mutual Obligation”, Faces of Intention, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 130–141.

  13. M. Bratman, “Shared Intention”, Ethics, vol. 104, n° 1, 1993, pp. 107–108.

  14. M. Bratman, “Shared Agency”, p. 42

  15. For a more recent synthesis of the sufficient conditions for modest sociality, see M. Bratman, Shared Agency. A Planning Theory of Acting Together, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014 pp. 151–157.

  16. M. Bratman, “Shared Agency”, p. 54.

  17. M. Bratman, “Shared Agency”, p. 49.

  18. M. Bratman, “Shared Agency”, p. 43. This point has been clearly made and discussed by B. Preston in the chapter 2 entitled “Taking Improvisation Seriously” of his book A philosophy of Material Culture, New York & London, Routledge, 2013.

  19. To be more precise, we should say that nothing is planned excepted to improvise together for a certain duration of time.

  20. The idea that we should be able to identify different levels of intentions and the dynamic transitions/interactions among them is clearly expressed by E. Pacherie (2006), “Towards a Dynamic Theory of Intentions” in S. Pocket, W.P. Banks and S. Gallagher, Does Consciousness Cause Behavior? An Investigation of the Nature of Volition, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press and later applied/transposed into a relational, collective framework by E. Pacherie, “The Phenomenology of Joint Action: Self-Agency vs. Joint-Agency”. In A. Seemann (eds.), Joint Attention: New Developments, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 343–89 as well as by D. Tollefsen, “A Dynamic Theory of Shared Intention and the Phenomenology of Joint Action”, in S. R. Chant, F. Hindriks, and G. Preyer, From Individual to Collective Intentionality, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 13–33. According to this theory, in order to accommodate a wide variety of types of joint action, we need to acknowledge three levels of shared intentions: shared future-directed intentions, that are formed prior to the onset of the action and represent the action as a whole; shared present-directed intentions that are responsible for the monitoring and guidance of action; and shared motor intentions that are much fine-grained and responsible for the precision and smoothness of the execution. While I find these views illuminating, I believe: 1) first, that the collective work in jazz improvisation involves a deeper level of intentions — not considered in the above mentioned theories — which arises from sensory inputs and coherent sensory flow unfolding over time within a stream without necessarily involving a mental representation of action-goals and, 2) second, that there is a great deal more to be said about the dynamic transitions and interactions among different levels of intentions which are only partially reflected by the hierarchical model offered by E. Pacherie. In this paper, I intend to explore both these issues in deeper detail.

  21. According to an argument first introduced by Annette C. Bayer who criticizes contemporary action theory for examining only intentional initiating action. See Annette C. Bayer, “Doing Things With Others: The Mental Commons” in L. Alanen, S. Heinamaa & T. Wallgren (eds.) Commonality and Particularity in Ethics, Macmillan Press LTD, 1997, p. 16.

  22. The musical piece Free Jazz. A collective improvisation was recorded in December 1960 in the studio of Atlantic Records and released in 1961.

  23. E. Jost, Free Jazz, 1994, Da Capo Press p. 59.

  24. Considering the time it was written, the following sentence “should be appraised”— as E. Jost acutely pointed out — “as a plan whose realization had to wait a few more years. To be sure, Coleman’s music was at that time already free from norms previously held to be inviolable. But the dominating role of the soloist and the resultant auxiliary role of the accompanists were not given up”. Most importantly, “This all radically changed in December 1960 with Free Jazz, whose title named a whole musical era”, E. Jost, Free Jazz, 1994, p. 59.

  25. Liner notes to The Change of the Century, made with Haden and Higgins for Atlantic Recording Corporation on the West Cost (New York) in 1959.

  26. Ornette Coleman, liner notes (by Martin Williams) to The Ornette Coleman Double Quartet Free Jazz, A Collective Improvisation, Atlantic Recording, New York, p. 3.

  27. O. Coleman, Liner notes to Change of the Century.

  28. Recall the following quote by Ornette Coleman: “When our group plays, before we start out to play, we do not have any idea what the end result will be. Each player is free to contribute what he feels in the music at any given moment. […] I don’t tell the members of my group what to do”, Liner notes to The Change of the Century, made with Haden and Higgins for Atlantic Recording Corporation on the West Cost (New York) in 1959 and also see footnote 18.

  29. L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigation, Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, § 83.

  30. O. Coleman, Liner notes to Change of the Century.

  31. The term “motivic chain associations” could evoke the “semantic relations” that Bratman mention explicitly in his work. However, in spite of this linguistic similarity, there is a clear and substantial difference between these two notions. Indeed, as Bratman conceives them, semantic interconnections are relations between intentions in that the content of my intention refers to the role of your intention, and vice versa. In his own terms, “it is part of what each intends that the other’s intention be realized in the right way, according to the rational pressure specified in the plan we are pursuing together”. See for instance, M. Bratman, “Shared Agency”, p. 48.

  32. E. Jost, Free Jazz, 1994, p. 50.

  33. There is an important distinction to be made between the motivic improvisation as worked out in modern jazz by Sonny Rollins who is the recognized father of this procedure and the motivic chain associations created by Coleman. As E. Jost clearly pointed out, “while Rollins derives his motivic material as a rule from the themes he uses, thus making recognition easier for his listener (the so-called “aha effect”), Coleman invents, as he goes along, motives independent of the theme. […]”, E. Jost, Free Jazz, p. 50. In other words, while Sonny Rollins’ approach to motivic improvisation consists in that he simply extends and develops all the motives that a ‘given theme’ implies, in such a way that the associations reveals many subtle relationships to the main theme, Coleman’s approach consists in developing and varying ‘any motive’ or phrase which a player happens to hit upon in the course of his improvisation and which in itself could be unrelated to the “head” of the musical piece. As a result, it might create elements of surprise, crossing and contrasting ideas that run counter expectations.

  34. E. Jost, Free Jazz, 1994, p. 50.

  35. E. Jost, Free Jazz, p. 59

  36. There have been multiple applications of Husserl’s phenomenology of time and his notion of time-consciousness to music performance, that might include: D. Clarke, “Music and Consciousness: philosophical, psychological, and cultural perspectives” in D. Clarke and E. Clarke (eds.), Music and Consciousness: philosophical, psychological, and cultural perspectives, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 1–28; E. Montague, “Phenomenology and the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness and music” in D. Clarke & E. Clarke (eds.), Music and Consciousness: philosophical, psychological, and cultural perspectives, op.cit., pp. 29–46, among others. Moreover, a kind of protention and retention seems to underlie the account of music, emotion and expectation present in L. Meyer, Emotion and Meaning in Music, Chicago, University Chicago Press, 1956 and in E. Narmour, The Analysis and Cognition of Basic Melodic Structures: The Implication Realization Model, Chicago, University Chicago Press, 1990. However, none of these accounts addressed the issue of how the Husserlian overall theoretical architecture — namely the co-constitutive interplay between backward-looking retention and forward-looking protention — can be transposed into a relational, trans individual framework in order to account for the collective dynamics, that take place in parallel among players, nor had they addressed/explored the links between this phenomenological perspective and some recent philosophical readings of the predictive coding model in order to make visible the dynamics of group synchronization at play not only in improvising ensembles but also in many everyday scenes of social interaction. One important motivation for the present endeavor lies exactly here: to analyze and make visible the nature and role of temporal affordances in these low-level, often unconscious, interactive mechanisms.

  37. Ted Gioia, The Imperfect Art, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 61.

  38. Edmund Husserl, The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness, trans. James S. Churchill, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964.

  39. For an in-depth and very clear analysis of this structure see D. Zahavi, "Inner (Time-) Consciousness". In D. Lohmar & I. Yamaguchi (Eds.), On Time - New Contributions to the Husserlian Phenomenology of Time, Springer, 2010, 319-339.

  40. In this respect, as Derrida strongly emphasizes, there is a radical difference between retention and secondary memory or memory in the usual sense, in which there is the mediation of a recalled image. J. Derrida Voice and Phenomenon, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2011.

  41. Edmund Husserl, The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness, p. 106.

  42. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (1945), London & NY, Routledge, 2013, p. 484.

  43. Maurice, Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception p. 488.

  44. For an in-depth analysis of this aspect see L. Lawlor, “An Immense Power: The Three Phenomenological Insights supporting Derridean Deconstruction”, in D. Zahavi (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of the History of Phenomenology, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2018.

  45. Maurice, Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception p. 486.

  46. As it is well known, turn-taking practices are important resources for improvising agents in collaborative contexts and there is a deep connection between turn-taking strategies in conversation (or speech) and the kind of turn-taking strategy that occurs in the music domain. A good and very readable introduction to this connection, which also includes the examination of a number of particular cases, is Ingrid Monson, Saying something: jazz improvisation and interaction, Chicago & London: the University of Chicago press, 1996. However, I also believe that the dynamical loops created by backward-looking retention and forward-looking protention, which I want to bring here to the fore, is precisely a crucial point missed in Ingrid Monson, otherwise interesting attempt to understand the use of turn-taking strategies in musical groups acting collaboratively

  47. As D. Zahavi clearly points out: “Rather than entailing metaphysical fusion, what Schutz has in mind here is the fact that our respective streams of consciousness in such situations are interlocked to such an extent that each of our respective experiences are colored by our mutual involvement”, D. Zahavi, Self and Other: Exploring Subjectivity, Empathy, and Shame, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 245.

  48. As Gallagher and Allen (2018) exhaustively show and discuss, the characterization of the predictive coding model is open to several interpretations. In this respect, as Dan Zahavi (2018) clearly points out, “it is important to distinguish between the neuroscientific models and the theoretical interpretations they are subjected to. Friston’s theoretical work (e.g., Friston 2010) constitutes an important source of inspiration for recent discussions of predictive coding and has been heralded as a ‘theory that is set to dominate the science of mind and brain in the years to come’ (Hohwy 2016, p. 259)”. (Zahavi 2018 p. 55) A fundamental attraction of this account lies in that it generalizes the basic neural “hierarchical predictive processing” model to include action, and thus “yields a new account of the complex interplay between top-down and bottom-up influences on perception and action, and perhaps of the relations between perception, action and cognition” (Clark 2013 p. 189) so that to offer a deeply unified account of perception, cognition and action. That’s why Andy Clark calls it “action-oriented predictive processing” (2013 p 185). In linking action, perception, and learning, the predictive framework is highly relevant also to researchers outside of the neurosciences.

  49. Other important and promising works that appeal to the predictive coding integrative framework (or model) to explain other-predictions and joint predictions (predictions about the joint consequences of multiple agents combined actions) as well as skilled performance might include the Active Inference Approach offered by A. Linson et al., “The Active Inference Approach to Ecological Perception: General Information Dynamics for Natural and Artificial Embodied Cognition”, Frontiers in Robotics and AI, 5, 2018; the Skilled Intentionality Framework developed by J. Bruineberg and E. Rietveld “Self-organization, free energy minimization, and optimal grip on a field of affordances”, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 2014; and the Cultural Affordances model offered by M. Ramstead et al. “Cultural Affordances: Scaffolding Worlds Through Shared Intentionality and Regimes of Attention”, Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 2016. While illuminating, none of these approaches, however, focus on temporal and musical affordances as I propose to do here, but rather on spatial or cultural affordances.

  50. I would add one additional note on how the argument here developed drawing upon Husserl’s phenomenology of time strengthens and develop further Roepstroff’s line of thinking: the phenomenology of time here reconstructed allows to see that priors may be extended may not just to spatial affordances and material objects, such as “co-construct artefacts”, but also to temporal affordances and musical shapes which belong to what Roepstroff calls the “shared worlds that are at the same time materials and symbolic” […] “worlds that exist outside the individual […] and somehow “get internalized”. Roepstorff, “Interactively human: Sharing time, construing materiality”, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 36(3), 2013, p. 225.

  51. Here, I am using the distinction between ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ processes as referred to the relationship between the organism and the environment. In this sense, bottom-up processes are usually considered to be driven from the outside by the sensory inputs, while top-down processes are driven from the inside by mental processes For an in-depth dicsussion and analysis of this point, see A. Roepstorff & C. Frith “What’s at the top in the top-down control of action? Script-sharing and ‘top-top’ control of action in cognitive experiments” Psychological Research, 2004, 68(2–3), pp. 189–198.

  52. Other important works that seek to analyze this circle where playing informs listening and listening informs playing from an enactive and echological perspective might include: Eric F. Clarke, "What's Going On: Music, Psychology and Ecological Theory". In M. Clayton, T. Hebert & R. Middleton (Eds.), The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, London: Routledge, 2012; A. Linson & E.F. Clarke, "Distributed cognition, ecological theory and group improvisation. In E. F. Clarke & M. Doffman (Eds.), Distributed Creativity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

  53. Frith & Wentzer Neural hermeneutics. In B. Kaldis (Ed.), Encyclopedia of philosophy and the social sciences 2013 p. 658.

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Funding

This paper has received funding from the AIAS-COFUND II fellowship programme that is supported by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 (Grant agreement no 754513) and the Aarhus University Research Foundation.

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Correspondence to Lucia Angelino.

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Angelino, L. A frame of analysis for collective free improvisation on the bridge between Husserl’s phenomenology of time and some recent readings of the predictive coding model. Phenom Cogn Sci 19, 349–369 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-019-09640-7

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Keywords

  • Phenomenology of time
  • Collective free improvisation
  • Collective intentionality
  • Collective action
  • Temporal affordances
  • Husserl
  • Schutz
  • Predictive coding model