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Improvisation & Identity: a Qualitative Study

Matthew James Sansom

Published: 2007

Drawing on qualitative analytic studies of improvising musicians this paper discusses ways in which the construction and representation of self-identity can be observed in improvisational practice. Focusing upon improvisation’s relational context and the characteristics and qualities of its interactions, a phenomenological and interpretive analysis is presented that explores the idea of musical meaning as an activity serving the construction and representation of identity.
As a contribution to the now well-established challenge to musicology engendered by post-structuralist and post-modern thought, it explores musical meaning’s ontological significance through an analysis of the dialectical processes apparent in musical experience. Demonstrating a connection with processes that serve to define the self, as expressed in social theory and psychotherapeutic models, it becomes possible to better understand music, in particular creative musical experience, as a carrier of identity. As an alternative to a more structuralist semiotic agenda, this paper’s epistemological orientation seeks musical meaning in the experienced dynamics of the encounter.

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Improvisation is a human right

– Muhal Richard Abrams