(This article is inspired by a talk given at the Philosophy of Improvisation: Aesthetics of Imperfection Workshops)
If musical composition is a means of achieving perfection and musical improvisation takes value in imperfection, what we are dealing with, aesthetically, is not an issue of taxonomy. The difference is in the spontaneity.
Graeme Wilson, free improvisation researcher and performer, views composition as solitary, and improvisation as inherently social.
What implications does such a spontaneous environment create when making music with others?
There is a collective anticipation as the players imagine what course the music will take. Every musician brings different strengths and weaknesses, all the time not approaching the performance with any “preconceived notion as to what kind of effect to achieve”, as musician Ornette Coleman describes his idea of unmediated emotional expression.
“When I improvise with others” maintains Graeme, “I want to achieve creativity, not perfection. I don’t know how I can achieve perfection”.
Very often, jazz musicians meet their fellow improvisers for the first time on the stage. Graeme claims that spontaneity helps in circumstances like these, where perfection can’t be expected. Despite what people believe, spontaneity opens up time to think and allow new possibilities to become apparent.
Perhaps we are dealing with an aesthetics of compromise.
Everyone has a different idea of where the music will go; therefore, improvising embraces a democratic philosophy of negotiation. For example, how will musicians collectively decide when will the music end? The ending is a philosophically fascinating place to be.
Existentialist writers like Kafka are fascinated with life’s anxieties and the absurdity of choices. Rather like Kafka’s characters, perhaps, we must plough onwards in improvisation as in life.
Like conversing with people, creating music together is just as educational. You learn more with others than you could learn by yourself. Improvisation is a way of being creative in collaboration. It is a paradigm for social interaction.