The Complex Dynamics of Improvisation

  • David Borgo
Part of the Springer Handbooks book series (SHB)


This essay provides some general observations about the field of improvisation studies and surveys important theoretical and empirical work on the subject. It makes a distinction between referent-based and referent-free musical improvisation, placing particular emphasis on the specific issues that surround the latter, and highlighting recent research that has arisen to address them. Whether referent-based or referent-free, improvisation appears to involve a continual tension between stabilization through communication and past experience and instability through fluctuations and surprise. While many issues persist about how to frame and explore musical improvisation, there is broad agreement that improvisation involves novel output (for the individual, but only optionally for society) created in nondeterministic, real-time situations by individuals and collectives involving certain affordances and constraints. The critical questions involve how we chose to frame these improvisatory dynamics: either as information processing struggling to keep pace with the cognitive demands of the moment, or as an ecologically sensitive engagement with one's sonic and social world.


long-term memory


novel, optionally novel, nondeterministic process, constraint, existing element




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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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