Workshop 2: Day 1 - Discussion

Discussion following the presentations of the first day of the workshop focused around six main themes: a dialectical tension with structure, non-idiomatic, use of the term experiment, unpredictability, image-breaking and image-making in terms of the end of art, and similarity and difference between genres.

Firstly, dialectical tension with structure was considered in the context of the Derridaen irony of recording improvisation. Here, arguments were made in reference to Antii Saario’s presentation, shifting the orientation of the discussion onto the second theme - non-idiomatic.

Here, a question was posed as to whether Free Improvisation can be genuinely non-idiomatic. This problem was contrasted in terms of Nicholas Gebhardt’s paper, considering that when ‘taking’ jazz to its limits, it nearly kills the genre of jazz itself. Again, concerns were raised over what happens when a classical piece of music is incorporated into the Free Improvisation and whether it would still be Free Improvisation when it would consist entirely of classical compositions. Hence, it was concluded that, if people cannot play a  classical piece while improvising, then it is idiomatic in a sense. Further, questions were raised as to whether this notion can be transferred into sciences which are generally very idiomatic, asking: What would non-idiomatic science look like? Going across artistic boundaries was described as getting out of idiomatic, followed by questioning the opposition of idiomatic and non-idiomatic in terms of radical discontinuities.

Thirdly, concern was raised over the use of the term experiment: if experiment has to be repeated to be itself, then improvisation and performance as such are not experimental. Here, Nicholas Gebhardt explained how Miles Davis from the late 50s to the end of his career was actually experimenting with the condition: combination of personnel, not giving the materials to performers until the day of recording, giving many hours of recording to the producer and letting him choose the elements used in the final recording. In this context, experimenting is focused not on the act of improvisation but on the conditioning in itself.

Fourthly, the issue of unpredictability was analysed. The problem of managing unpredictability in recording Free Improvisation was likened to a typical scientific question of experimental experience. The connection between recording FI and scientific practice was illuminated by a suggestion that things we cannot explain are suspended in science leading to a consideration as to  what are the forms and obstructions accompanying them. It  was concluded  by stating the importance of unpredictability and consideration as to whether improvisation or composition in this context does not become a singular concern around recording. Finally, it was agreed that it is impossible to arrive at a pure non-idiomatic state.

Consequently, the debate brought into attention the fact that it is not necessarily anti-idiomatic that is politically significant. It is about snatching images through bringing together the history of art and the history of science – we don’t need to get rid of images but get to anti-redemptive prohibition. Reference to Adorno was made in the context of the problem with the image as its history where the image-breakers became the image-makers. A question of what are the circumstances upon which we cannot know without further inquiry if its image-making or image-breaking was analysed in terms of a deep historical epistemology. Finally, ‘disturbing’ forms of theatre (reference to Karen Juers-Munby’s presentation) were considered through an inquiry into what actually makes them art. This part of the discussion was left with an open-ended question: What makes us feel that something is art or aesthetic?

Finally, the debate probed the questions of similarity and difference between genres. It was acknowledged that a process of mixing up and collapsing the boundaries is taking place. At the same time, it was outlined that in the physical and biological sciences, experiments are predominantly determined by the means of refinement or reduction; in contrast to the social sciences where genre mixing became the usual (i.e. mixing methodologies). A question of how much 20th century arts/criticisms are taken over by a model of critique was also posed.

Experimental life sciences were considered in their efforts to subject different fields to experimentation, probing the colonising potential of this process. It was agreed that the space for a new hybrid discipline can be created in this problematically colonising process, with some good results – i.e. the creation of a branch of experimental psychology.

Following, it was openly acknowledged that true experiments are rather in the margins and most of their existing forms are only reactions to colonising and blending. The importance of experimenting with series of concepts and methodologies was emphasized, illustrated by adopting a new language consisting of core concepts that come from all over social sciences.

The discussion was concluded with a reference to Derrida’s experiments as the ones which go beyond the periphery, by always presupposing the centre that they sit outside of. The first day of the workshop was closed with the call for the establishment of a new layer of common language across all the social sciences  - a fundamentally experimental action.