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McGill Colloquium 2009

2009 Suoni Per Il Popolo Colloquium: Lex Non Scripta, Ars Non Scripta

Friday, 19 June, 2009 - Saturday, 20 June, 2009, 09:00 – 16:00

Improvisation is an important art form and an artistic and cultural phenomenon; a manner of speaking, a way of being, and a realm of experience. For theorists improvisation as practice and as idea raise questions not just about how law comes to describe, judge, and regulate improvisation, but the converse: how improvisation might describe, judge, and regulate the law. What does or should law tell us about improvisation? What does or should improvisation tell us about law?

For intellectual property, ars non scripta is a challenge and confrontation to legal orthodoxy. Does the alternative paradigm of sharing provide a better set of governance options in the creative realm? What other models might serve the purpose of respecting the art in and of improvisation better?

For legal theory, lex non scripta is likewise a challenge and confrontation to orthodoxy. Perhaps all art is improvised. Perhaps all law. Or perhaps we have lost the description of something that we once knew: the relationship between meaning and silence, prescription and invention: justice and law. Improvisational art practices are also deeply inculcated in assorted social constructions that one might think a just and civil society should protect and encourage. Do we have a right to improvise, and might we improve our rights? Can improvisation be seen as an ambex within which new forms and relations of social justice might be modeled?

The Conference was hosted under the auspices of the Improvisation, Community and Social Practice, a Major Collaborative Research Initiative (, and is supported by the Suoni de Popolo Music Festival, the McGill Centre for Intellectual Property Policy ( and the Faculty of Law at McGill.

The conference included a number of performances and other events, and was a rich and interesting occasion.


  • Professor Ingrid Monson, Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music, Harvard University
  • Professor Desmond Manderson, Canada Research Chair in Law & Discourse, McGill University Faculty of Law
  • John Oswald (Plunderphonics)
  • Nicole Mitchelle, President AACM

Lex Non Scripta Abstracts 2009

Lex Non Scripta Schedule 2009

Improvisation is a human right

– Muhal Richard Abrams