Secret Gardeners: an ethnography of improvised music in Berlin (2012-13)


This thesis addresses the aesthetics, ideologies and practicalities of contemporary European Improvised Music-making - this term referring to the tradition that emerged from 1960s American jazz and free jazz, and that remains, arguably, one of today's most misunderstood and under-represented musical genres. Using a multidisciplinary approach drawing on Grounded Theory, Ethnography and Social Network Analysis, and bounded by Berlin's cosmopolitan local scene of 2012-13, I define Improvised Music as a field of differing-yet-interconnected practices, and show how musicians and listeners conceived of and differentiated between these sub-styles, as well as how they discovered and learned to appreciate such a hidden, 'difficult' and idiosyncratic art form. Whilst on the surface Improvised Music might appear chaotic and beyond analysis in conventional terms, I show that, just like any other music, Improvised Music has its own genre-specific conventions, structures and expectations, and this research investigates its specific modes of performance, listening and appreciation - including the need to distinguish between 'musical' and 'processual' improvisatory outcomes, to differentiate between different 'levels' of improvising, and to separate the group and personal levels of the improvisatory process. I define improvised practices within this ifeld as variable combinations of 'composed' (pre-planned) and 'improvised' (real-time) elements, and examine the specific definitions of 'risk', 'honesty', 'trust', and 'good' and `bad' music-making which mediate these choices - these distinctions and evaluatory frameworks leading to a set of proposed conventions and distinctions for Improvised Music listening and production. This study looks at the representation of identity by improvising musicians, the use of social and political models as analogies for the improvisatory process (including the interplay between personal freedom of expression and the construction of coherent collective outcomes), and also examines the multiple functions of recording, in a music that was ostensibly only meant for the moment of its creation. All of this serves to address several popular misconceptions concerning Improvised Music, and does so directly from the point of view of a large sample of its most important practitioners and connoisseurs. Such findings provide key insights into the appreciation and understanding of Improvised Music itself (both for newcomers and those already adept in its ways), and this thesis offers important suggestions for scholars of Musicology, Ethnomusicology, Sociology of Music, Improvisation Studies, Performance Studies and Music/Cognitive Psychology, as well as for those concerned with improvisation and creativity in more general, non-musical, terms

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