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Improvisation is ubiquitous in life. It deserves, we suggest, to occupy a more central role in cognitive science. In the current paper, we take the case of jazz improvisation as a rich model domain from which to explore the nature of improvisation and expertise more generally. We explore the activity of the jazz improviser against the theoretical backdrop of Dreyfus’s account of expertise as well as of enactivist and 4E accounts of cognition and action. We argue that enactivist and 4E accounts pro- vide a rich source of insights on improvisation that go beyond Dreyfus’s notion of skilled coping, for example, through the central enactivist notion of “sense-making”. At the same time, however, we see improvisation also as suggesting an extension of enactivist theory. We see expert improvisers, in music and in life, as walking on a path of open-ended expansion of their mindful experiential relation with their doing. At the heart of an improviser’s expertise (and of day-to-day living), we pro- pose, lies a form of “higher-level inner sense-making” that spontaneously creates novel forms of agentive goal-directedness in the moment. Our account thus supplants Dreyfus’s idea of the ego-less absorbed expert by that of a mindful (i.e. present in the moment) improviser enacting spontaneous expressions of herself, in music or in life. Keywords Improvisation · Music · Jazz · Music cognition · Expertise · Skills · Enactivism · Embodied cognition · 4E cognition · Phenomenology · Sense-making · Temporality · Absorbed coping · Rationality · Mindfulness · Mindlessness There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is prompted the evolution of the extremely severe and forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin unique disciplines of the jazz or improvising musician. stretched parchment with a special brush and black Bill Evans, Back Cover notes to the original Long Play water paint in such a way that an unnatural or inter- release of Kind of Blue (Davis et al. 1959). rupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. Sudnow’s detailed description of his acquisition of the These artists must practise a particular discipline, that skilled hands of a jazz pianist shows the limitations of of allowing the idea to express itself in communica- a cognitivism that thinks that having a skill consists of tion with their hands in such a direct way that delib- interiorizing the theory of a domain. eration cannot interfere.... This conviction that direct Hubert Dreyfus, Preface to David Sudnow, Ways of the deed is the most meaningful reflections, I believe, has Hand: A Rewritten Account (2001, pp. ix–x). In 1978, the social anthropologist David Sudnow wrote a detailed autobiographical account, inspired by (among other things) Merleau-Ponty’s embodied phenomenology, of how * Frank Schumann he acquired the expertise of a professional jazz musician. Frank.Schumann@gmail.com Hubert Dreyfus, in his foreword to the 2001 edition of Sud- Steve Torrance now’s Ways of the Hand, wrote that jazz piano improvisation firstname.lastname@example.org provides “a paradigm case of. .. the ways embodied beings acquire the skills of giving order to, or, better, finding order Centre for Cognitive Science (COGS), School in, our temporally unfolding experience.” Dreyfus portrays of Engineering and Informatics, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QJ, UK Sudnow’s self-exploration as concretising Merleau-Ponty’s work via a detailed exploration of how (in Dreyfus’s view) School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, UK Vol.:(0123456789) 1 3 252 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 the expert jazz-player’s hands take over from the jazz-learn- have found a number of fruitful insights from the enactive- er’s rule-following ego. phenomenological literature (including that of Dreyfus and The present paper takes the jazz improviser’s art as a Sudnow, but also of Francisco Varela, and many others starting point for the investigation of two, linked, clusters of working in the enactive tradition) on the jazz/improvisation issues within the philosophy and sciences of mind: focusing domain. For some time we have been working in both direc- on improvisation on the one hand, and skill and mindedness tions, both using theoretical reflections to shed light on the on the other. jazz performances, and using the performances as a form of commentary on the theoretical issues. 1. The first group of issues concerns how the experience of Our work, which is partially confirmatory and partially jazz sheds light on the role of improvisation generally— critical of Dreyfus’s and Sudnow’s pictures of jazz skill- not just in music or art, but in our day to day activi- building, will hopefully provide a useful illustration of ties. Improvisation turns out to be a key phenomenon, how the domain of musical improvisation can provide new ubiquitous in our lives. Greater attention to it is, in our insights into the nature of skilled action, and to cognitive view, long overdue. We examine a variety of facets of science in general. We will in particular address: improvisation, in the context of the thought of Dreyfus and of enactive approaches. We argue that reflective 1. the under-recognized centrality of improvisation to char- study of jazz improvisation will provide insights into acterizing human expertise; how we improvise our way through life; and this in turn 2. how temporality (at many different levels) conditions the will provide a significant new perspective on embodied in-the-moment creation of (jazz) improvisation; cognition and agency. 3. the counterpoint between ego-less or mind-less intuitive 2. The second group of issues takes jazz piano as a special unwinding, and deliberative, cognized, control in skilled example of a particular core element of enactive the- performance, and in particular, in improvisation; ory as such: skilled proficiency. Dreyfus’s interest in Sud- 4. the open-ended nature of enactive creation of perceptual now’s description of his journey from novice to expert worlds for the improviser to improvise in and on, with improviser holds a particular interest in this regard. For direct agency and intention. Dreyfus it was a specic fi case to illustrate his wider con - cerns with skilled activity in general. As is well known, The present paper thus owes a great debt to the work of Dreyfus considered the skills of the expert practitioner Dreyfusian embodied phenomenology—but also to Varelan to exemplify a form of u fl ent, embodied, “absorbed cop - enactivism. As a label, “enactivism” emerged from Varela ing” where mindful attention to the prescriptive rules or and colleagues’ landmark 1991 volume (Varela et al. 1991). canons governing that field had dropped away. However, This book offered powerful critiques of certain assumptions critical pressure has been put on this idea of skilled “ego- then reigning within classical cognitive science, and par- lessness” in fluent skilled activity from many quarters. ticularly the dominance of the computer metaphor in much We will look at the debate that has grown up, and we will of the latter. Some of the central elements in the book were argue that jazz improvisation is a focus case in which an pre-figured in the work of Dreyfus, particularly in his What entanglement between mindful and mindless processes is Computers Can’t Do (Dreyfus 1972), which assembled some particularly clear. This provides a nuanced intervention deep weaknesses within classical cognitive science and AI. in this debate, related to the above new perspective on Over the decades, Dreyfus’s insights have been taken up and embodied cognition and agency. reworked in new ways (not always with adequate acknowl- edgement to Dreyfus), by many people, including Varela and those working in the tradition that he inaugurated. 1 Improvising our way through life As musicians working on honing our jazz skills, another work by Dreyfus which was of particular interest to us Jazz improvisation has been both a theoretical and a musi- was the critique of cognitivist models of expertise that he cal encounter between the two authors of this paper. For co-authored with his brother Stuart (Dreyfus and Dreyfus some years we have explored improvisation, through peri- 1986). The five-stage model of skill acquisition offered in odic conversations in private, and via joint presentations in that work, designed principally to exhibit the limitations public with illustrative performances on two pianos. We of computer-based “expert systems”, showed a suggestive The presentations have included an informal gathering of academ- Many affinities between the innovative approaches of Dreyfus and ics and musicians in North London; a psychology workshop at the Varela are discussed in (Winograd and Flores 1986) with particular University of Bristol; and an interdisciplinary cognitive science semi- reference to classical cognitivist approaches to AI and cognition. nar at the University of Sussex. 1 3 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 253 way to understand the progressive growth in a given skill. focus on cells, nervous systems, etc., into a theory of cogni- According to this model, practitioners of a skill will tend tion, experience and action—particularly that of humans. As to progress from the status of ‘novice’ to that of ‘expert’ developed by Varela, Thompson and Rosch (in their 1991) over five broad stages, where the novice’s performance will it became recast as “enactivism”. In our view, enactivism often start off as intellectualized or theorized, and where offers a productive vantage point from which to reflect on true expert performance is characterized by a non-reasoned, improvisation, both in jazz and more generally. Two phrases intuitive form of skilled action (Dreyfus and Dreyfus 1986, used by core enactivist texts seem particularly fruitful: “Lay- p. 103). We believe that the case of jazz improvisation high- ing down a path in walking; and “Sense-making”. lights particular limitations of Dreyfus’s model, and that this (1) “Laying down a path in walking”. This phrase, used has implications for understanding the role of skilled action as the title to the final chapter of (Varela et al. 1991), may in general—as we shall see later. be seen as expressing a central essential strand of the enac- We had each of us also been impressed by Sudnow’s tivist approach. According to Varela, a human and/or any Ways of the Hand (Sudnow 1978, revised 2001). Working other biological being “lays down” a world, as one may “lay as an ethnomethodologist, alongside pioneering sociologists down a path” as one walks. The phrase also occurs in the such as Harold Garfinkel and Harvey Sachs, Sudnow used title of a 1987 paper by Varela, whose primary focus was descriptive observation methods to lay bare implicit rules biology, but which he also saw as giving a novel cognitive and assumptions enfolded within various socially structured and metaphysical outlook (Varela 1987) . As Varela says ways of doing things, including death and dying (Sudnow of an organism’s relation to its world (ibid.): “It is not the 1967), and computer gaming (Sudnow 1979). Ways of the mirroring of a world, but the laying down of a world”. And Hand logged and explored the detailed stages in the growth as Evan Thompson put it (Thompson 2007, p. 13), the first of Sudnow’s own expertise as a jazz piano improviser. As proposition of the enactive approach is that “living beings Dreyfus noted in his 2nd edition preface, Dreyfus saw in are autonomous agents that actively generate and maintain Sudnow’s account many affinities with his own account of themselves, and thereby also enact or bring forth their own how people develop skills from the halting, self-conscious cognitive domains”. stabs of the novice to the ego-less flow of the full expert. The path a walker takes is of course not totally arbitrary, In many ways Sudnow’s volume acts as a kind of hand- but is rather constrained and shaped by the conditions in book (no pun intended) for many jazz musicians who have the walker’s environment, (as well as by the walker’s con- read it. This may be partly because the book helps one, as stitution, history, and skills). In a similar way the world an such a developing musical practitioner, to progress in the organism knows is not a totally other realm which has to be mastery of one’s instrument or genre, and also because the recovered in perception, but is rather a domain of signifi- processes he describes may bear some similarity to one’s cances, or a set of possibilities that are made determinate by own experiences of progress in skill-building. But also it is the organism’s actions, and established via the organism’s perhaps because the book shows how something that often developing skills. presents to many, on a superficial glance, as a highly infor - The trope of laying down a path in walking is derived mal and “hang-loose” activity, can be framed within rigor- from a celebrated poem of Antonio Machado, a Spanish ous, academic language. poet of the late 19th and early twentieth century. Here is an English translation of part of the poem, (quoted in full in 1.1 Improvisation and enaction Varela 1987): Wanderer, the road is your footsteps, nothing else; Enactivism originally arose out the biological work of Wanderer, there is no path, you lay down a path in Francisco Varela and Umberto Maturana, who together pro- walking. pounded a new view of a living organism as an “autopoietic” In walking you lay down a path, (literally, “self re-creating”) unity operating under principles And when turning around you see the road you’ll never of internal coherence, rather than as adapting to an inde- step on again. pendent world. The autopoietic view which Maturana and Varela propounded, evolved from its original biological 3 5 Sudnow does not explicitly appeal to the Dreyfus five-stage model. See also (Thompson 2007, p. 13; Varela et al. 1991 ch. 11). However, a detailed comparison between the Dreyfus and the Sud- Caminante, son tus huellas el camino, nada mas; Caminante, no now accounts of expertise can be found in Hendriks-Jansen (1996, hay camino, se hace camino al andar. Al andar se hace el camino, p. 311 ff). y al volver la vista atrás se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a See Maturana and Varela (1986). pisar. A Machado, “Proverbios y cantares” (Machado 1912). 1 3 254 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 This striking metaphor also captures a key feature of 1984), is also one that Varela (and Thompson) saw as cen- improvisation in jazz, and in other arts that feature extem- tral to what later became known as the enactive approach. porized performance. The jazz player is constantly bring- As Thompson puts it (2007), “the nervous system does not ing forth novelty which is given existence in the moment of process information in the computationalist sense, but cre- playing. Unlike the musical recitalist who takes a pre-written ates meaning”. Looked at in terms of a biological organism, piece of music and renders in performance, the improvis- sense-making can be seen as a kind of interplay between the ing musician generates the composition, (or elements of the maintenance of self-identity by an organism and the world composition) as the audience listens, rather as a street food with which it maintains a sensorimotor coupling. The organ- seller cooks a dish in front of the customer. In the case of a ism’s environment is a world of elements that matter to the pre-created composition, one can (in principle) edit, or re- organism, as assisting or threatening the latter’s self-main- order, the composition before it is finally assigned for per - tenance. So the environment is not a neutral, exterior world formance. In case of improvisation there is no chance to edit but a world already interpreted as an array of self-generated or correct—one lays down the piece in playing. Machado’s significances. It is perhaps not too far a stretch to say that lines even capture this unavailability of going back to correct the continual unfolding of the process of an organism’s one’s past performance: “when turning around you see the meaning-making encounter with its environment is like an road you’ll never step on again”. improvising jazz musician generating musical responses that In jazz improvisation, there is, actually, sometimes the make sense in the context of her fellow players’ (and her possibility of a kind of “post-editing”, where, for example, own) previous musical “moves”. a note or chord that sounds incongruous or unsatisfactory The jazz parallel further suggests an extension of the idea can be recontextualized by the player’s (or a co-musician’s) of sense-making from a process enacted by an individual offering of further notes that give it more sense as part of agent, into the inter-agential realm—as an ongoing interplay a longer sequence. However, Sudnow, for example, refers of mutual significances between members of a social group. to such “post-editing” as only an intermediate stage of Hanne De Jaegher and Ezequiel Di Paolo have described improvisation that is “very much backward-looking and interactive encounters between two or more humans as a [only] reparatively forward-going” (Sudnow 1978, p. 56). process of “participatory sense-making” (De Jaegher and Yet at the highest levels of freedom, (in line with Machado’s Di Paolo 2007). The idea of mutual sense-making involving wanderer), improvisation—and perhaps life—are inherently multiple actors yields a powerful, recursive picture of the forward-going. The jazz pianist Herbie Hancock recalls an complex reflections and interactions that occur in a group of incident when playing with Miles Davis in the 1960s. Han- people attending to each other’s attention. To take the dyadic cock, as a young, but already highly acclaimed pianist at the case for the sake of simplicity: if two agents each attend to time, played a chord that sounded, as he thought, embarrass- each other, each attends to the other, but also to the other’s ingly off the mark. To his surprise, Davis just paused for a attention, and to the other’s attention to their attention to second, before responding (on his trumpet) with “some notes the other’s attention, …. and so on. A complex nesting of that made it right. .. with the choice of notes that he made, relationships is thus set up—rather as two mirrors, held and the feeling that they had” (Cheadle 2015). together, may generate a “tunnel” of images of reflections (2) “Sense-making”. This phrase, which seems to have within reflections. originated in a paper by Varela in the early 1980s (see Varela Obviously, the interpersonal relationships between jazz players in any given performance are, like any cultural or cognitive activity, shaped by the local social contexts within 7 which any such performance takes place, and the broader Hancock reflects that, unlike himself until this moment, Davis socio-cultural history of the genre. The improvisatory nature never judged what happened. Davis did not “hear it as a mistake. He heard it as something that happened, just an event, that was part of jazz performance makes it, we believe, particularly suited of the reality of what was happening at that moment. And he dealt to be a model for a broader range of cognitive activity. This with it.” Hancock goes on to say “Since he didn’t hear it as a mistake, point has been well articulated by Michael Tomasello, who he felt that it was his responsibility to find something that fit. And is perhaps one of only a few cognitive scientists to make he was able to do that.“Hancock recalls that in reflecting on this, he learned a central lesson not only about good improvisation in music, an explicit connection between jazz improvisation and but also about life: “We can look for the world to be as [we] would like it to be. But the important thing is that we grow. And the only way we can grow is to have a mind that is open enough to experience situations as they are and turn them into medicine. . .Take whatever situation you have and make something constructive with it. That is For a specific application of participatory sense-making to music, what I learned in that situation from Miles“(Cheadle 2015). Simi- see (Schiavio and De Jaegher 2017). The application of sense-making larly to jazz, an open, non-judgmental mindset is also central to other to human interaction has also been studied under the label “inter- forms of improvisation such as improvisational theatre (Johnstone enaction”, see (Colombetti and Torrance 2009; Schiavio 2014; Schi- 1979). avio and Cummins 2015; Torrance and Froese 2011). 1 3 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 255 cognition in general. Critiquing traditional in-the-head mod- jazz, and music-making in general, for all their cognitive els of thinking, Tomasello writes: aspects, are highly embodied—the “hand” of the pianist, to use Sudnow’s key term; the mouth and breath of the flute “…. [F]or humans, thinking is like a jazz musician or trumpet-player; the throat and lungs of the vocalist; but improvising a novel riff in the privacy of his own room. also the way the whole body of the player moves—whether It is a solitary activity all right, but on an instrument seated at the keyboard or drum kit or standing holding the made by others for that general purpose, after years of bass or blowing the sax. Music is embodied because of the playing with and learning from other practitioners, in interactive, unified way in which the musician is linked to a musical genre with a rich history of legendary riffs, her instrument. It is embodied also in virtue of the nature for an imagined audience of jazz aficionados. Human of our response to the music, whether as player or listener: thinking is individual improvisation enmeshed in a jazz audiences, in particular, tend to explicitly register sociocultural matrix.” (Tomasello 2014, p. 1). their listening through physical signals such as clapping, There are, of course, a number of other ways in which foot-stomping, whooping, etc.; players often make similar enactivist and allied approaches can be deployed to shed gestures in their performance. Again, as in all musician- light on musical activity and improvisation in particular— ship, jazz performance is about physical mastery of the for example—theoretical concepts such as autonomy, envi- skill of playing the instrument. Developing skillful musical ronmental embedding, dynamical embodiment, perception- agency involves assuming and assimilating various embod- as-action, and so on, all lend themselves to being applied to ied stances, postures and movements (Bowman 2004). This jazz and other improvisatory art. Some of these concepts, holds for improvisation in particular. In his phenomenologi- and the bodies of theory that lay behind them, have been cal report about learning how to improvise, David Sudnow grouped together under the label “4E cognition”—an abbre- relates his most substantial developmental transition towards viated way of summing up mind, cognition and action as improvisation to working on timing and temporal stances embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive (Newen et al. with his body after observing how Jimmy Rowles (a pianist Forthcoming; Menary 2010; Rowlands 2010). There have described as a “musician’s musician”) moved on the bench been many useful suggestions of how improvisation can be (Sudnow 1978, p. 81 ff). theorized in terms of the 4Es or Enactive framework. Being so emblematically embodied, jazz performance, Some interesting conclusions may be drawn from these apart from its intensively physical nature, is also often affec- observations on the relation between improvisation and the tively highly charged, and experientially vivid. As such, it enactive approach (and related approaches) to cognition incorporates many features of embodied activity that are and action. First, enactivism may offer a fruitful theoretical marginalized within the traditional cognitive scientists. backdrop for understanding improvisation in jazz and other Indeed, jazz may present an embodied, but also cultural and performance arts. Second, the case of improvisation (not social, activity that incorporates many aspects of what hap- just in jazz but more generally) may, in turn, offer a source pens when we are spontaneous in life (Corea 2016; Mer- for powerful ways of deepening enactive theory and other cer 2007; NYU Steinhardt Jazz Studies 2014). However, phenomenological and 4E approaches. Third, as enactivism with jazz improvisation the abilities of players span a wide is a theory with general application to agency, cognition and, spectrum of performance levels. Thus jazz presents ample indeed, life, it may thus be time for improvisation and related opportunities to study embodied improvisation at multiple concepts to be promoted to taking on a more central place levels of proficiency, yielding insights into how such skills within cognitive science research per se. Perhaps, if such develop. a promotion had taken place some decades ago, its subject Embodiment is, of course, one of the key terms grouped area might have been rather different. under the heading “4E cognition”. A large subset of the cognitive science research that takes embodiment seriously 1.2 Improvisation and embodiment focuses on how our embodied interaction with the world can be productively discussed in terms of the dynamical In sum, we would suggest that jazz, given its improvisa- progression in time of our bodily activity. The temporal flow tory nature, would be a good starting point for an alter- of our embodied action plays a central role in understanding natively reconstituted science of mind—where “mind”, as the nature of improvisation in performance. Temporality is seen from this vantage-point, obviously includes a lot more than merely “cognition”. One obvious reason for that is that There has been a considerable literature discussing embodiment in relation to music in general. See, for example, (Krueger 2014, 2011; Laroche et al. 2014; Laroche and Kaddouch 2014; Linson & Clarke, See, for example, (Goldman 2013; Iyer 2004; van der Schyff 2017; 2017; Loaiza 2016; Matyja and Shiavio 2013; Schiavio and De Jae- Walton et al. 2015). gher 2017; Schiavio et al. 2014, 2017). 1 3 256 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 a feature which complements the intensive physicality of central determinant of what happens, and almost all pre-set jazz-making. We thus now move on to examining how jazz- parameters drop out of the performance. making, and improvisation more generally, is temporally Another way of characterizing the unforeseen nature of enmeshed in a multiplicity of individual, social and cultural (much) jazz is to say that certain key aspects of the compo- processes. sition take place in the time of the performance, rather than beforehand, as is generally the case with music prepared by a 1.3 Improvisation and temporality classical composer. So, while there may be much preparation in advance for any given jazz piece, much of the composi- 1.3.1 The spur of the moment tion—at least during solo, or “group-blowing”, passages, takes place at the time that the music is “consumed” by the The most obvious way in which the notion of improvisa- audience. So a distinguishing feature of improvisation in tion relates to temporality is in terms of its etymology: the jazz, and of improvised performance more generally, is that word “improvise” is derived from the Latin Improvisus, preparation-time significantly overlaps with, or bleeds into, or “unforeseen”. The term suggests an implicit contrast performance-time. between performing a task “in the present tense”, as it were, A number of jazz musicians have commented on this in- without much prior preparation; and executing a task which the-moment aspect of jazz improvisation. When asked for has been pre-planned or pre-scripted, where steps in the a brief characterization of improvised music versus music task-fulfilment involve either reading off from a notated set composed before its performance, the jazz saxophonist Steve of directions or working from a previously internalized set of Lacy summed up the contrast as follows: rules. Much musical performance may, of course, be unfore- “In fifteen seconds the difference between composi- seen by, or surprising to, members of the audience —but tion and improvisation is that in composition you have improvised music is often unforeseen (or often has elements all the time you want to decide what to say in fifteen that are unforeseen) even by the performer, not to mention seconds, while in improvisation you have fifteen sec- the other players. onds.” [Quoted in “A Passion for Jazz: Music History We shall see later, however, that it is a mistake to link and Education,” 2017 (online)]. the “improvised” too closely with the “unprepared.” In fact a considerable amount of improvised performance is More pithily, the pianist Bill Evans has said: extensively planned in advance—and much jazz perfor- Jazz is the process of making one minute’s music in mance includes, or is indeed mainly comprised of, playing one minute’s time from pre-written sheet music. Even in most contemporary (Quoted in Cavrell 1966, The Creative Process and jazz performance, where musicians may improvise singly Self-Teaching—film available on YouTube). or collectively over extended stretches, there will usually be pre-arranged structural constraints (for example, a prior Jason Rebello, a prominent UK jazz pianist, has com- agreement that a specific passage of improvisation should mented as follows on the precarious, in-the-moment, nature last for a fixed number of repetitions of a particular chord of jazz performance, which often requires split-second reac- progression, or a fixed number of bars, etc., or that one of tion and response: the ensemble should give a specific signal when it is time It’s the unpredictability of life that drew me to jazz or for a pre-composed section to be resumed). improvising in the first place. The ability to sit there But a good deal of the surprise and edge that is associated with no idea of what is going to happen next and to with jazz playing (see below for some commentary on this trust that whatever does happen will be ok, is one of from musicians) comes from the fact that much of what is the most vital qualities needed to improvise well. One being produced is as much “in the moment” to the players thing I have found over the years, is that thinking does as it is to the audience. So there are of course some notable not really help the improvising process. If anything, it free jazz performers or groups, where improvisation is the hinders it as it is too slow and clunky to be of use in the moment of a rapidly changing musical landscape.… A celebrated example within the “classical” canon was the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, in Paris, on 29 May 1913, which provoked a riot among outraged audience-members. So, for example, many of the great jazz performances of big bands led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and so on, allowed only very Historic examples of free jazz can be found in much of the work of short improvised solo sections, performed by selected members of the Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, John band. Coltrane, and so on. 1 3 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 257 Fig. 1 Improvisation in jazz: a spectrum CONSERVATIVE / SAFE END RADICAL / RISKYEND • keeping close to the original theme • radical and full departures from (or “head”); convenonaltempi, chords, theme, • adding stock ornamentaons to etc.; melody; • exploringunusual sounds or eﬀects • using standard chord-variaons; from instrument; • using standard rhythmic variaons; • using instrument as sound producer • use of “library” paerns; quong rather than (just) as music device; other tunes or rehearsed phrases; • using ‘error’to create new • reliance on previous innovaons by possibilies; other musicians; • maintaining edginess, rawness; • focus on observing jazz convenons – • working oﬀ the expressing aﬀecve “correct” jazz ; state as well as musical content; • emphasis on cognive control; • emphasis on intuive unfolding; • relavely low arousal state • high arousal state [Examples: Chet Baker & Bill Evans: [Examples: Ornee Coleman: The The Legendary Sessions (1959); Count Shape of Jazz to Come (1959), Cecil Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Taylor, Andrew Hill, Evan Parker] Armstrong; Errol Garner] (Rebello, private communication ). composing, uttering, executing or arranging anything, with- out previous preparation.” (Emphasis added.) However, as 1.3.2 Before the moment we have pointed out above, much improvised jazz is meticu- lously prepared beforehand. While we have stressed the “in-the-moment” character of It may surprise the newcomer to jazz to hear that impro- improvised jazz, it is important to stress that for any impro- vised elements in jazz may contain such strongly pre-fash- vised jazz work, much preparation for the moment of per- ioned features. Is not the whole point of improvisation to formance will need to have been done in advance. Indeed “make it up as you go along”, to “let it all hang out”? In a well-trained and well-rehearsed jazz musician will spend fact, the picture is a lot more complicated: there are many many hours in a week learning, and crucially, mastering, different aspects to improvised jazz, many or most of which tonal and rhythmical relations in various harmonic and will be addressed in offline rehearsal to make the actual per - rhythmic systems, to exploit this practical expertise fluently formance possible. Some of these aspects will involve rela- in real-time performance. So there is something a little mis- tively restrained variations on the performed material; others leading in the quotations above, as they both make it sound will involve some rather more radical ways of generating (or (when taken in isolation) as though the jazz is simply about searching for) novelty. just turning up and playing. In fact, as with any performance A linked point to this is that improvisatory features in art-form, there will be a substantial pre-performance period jazz performance can usefully be thought of as lying on a devoted to skill-building, and to preparation for the specifics spectrum from conservative to radical, or from “safe” to of any given performance. “risky”. At the more conservative end, the novelties that This misconception is sometimes built into the way are generated in the performative moment may consist of a improvisation is conceived or defined. Thus one diction- relatively limited set of variations along melodic, chordal, ary website gives the following as one of its two definitions tonal, rhythmic and other parameters—although such perfor- of improvise: “to perform or make quickly from materials mances will be likely to be much more than straightforward and sources available, without previous planning.” (https :// recitals as if from musical scores on the page, and will still www.collinsdic tiona r y.com—emphasis added.) Again, dic- exhibit considerable amounts of spontaneity. At the more tionary.com defines improvisation as “the art or act of … radical or “free form” end, one will tend to find a greater emphasis on more extreme kinds of novelty or exploration that may renounce any constraints during the time-frame of the performance itself. (See Fig. 1.) These remarks were given as part of some comments made by Rebello to an early sketch of our ideas on improvisation. 1 3 258 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 In the middle ground between both extremes, one can find Multiple scales of temporality in performance. improvisation that strives to go beyond pure variations of existing structures without giving up on form entirely. Thus Because of the way music performances unfold in time, it is natural to discuss the characteristics of such perfor- players may extemporize some dimensions of prior struc- ture, such as the spontaneous re-harmonization of the har- mances in terms of various temporal features (which may vary according to period, region, genre, and so on). In jazz monic progression of a tune while remaining faithful to other features such as the tune’s original melody. On another level the most usual time-related features include time-signature, tempo, rhythm, syncopation; simultaneity and sequentiality of novelty, improvisers occupying this middle ground may depart from standard roles in performance, such as soloist (e.g. chords versus arpeggios); and so on. These features are largely shared with non-improvised music performance. versus accompanist, in favour of equally co-leading roles for all. Notable pioneers in the latter were the musicians in the • Coordination/interaction dynamics within the temporal first trio led by pianist Bill Evans (Berendt 1982). Yet common to all accomplished jazz musicians, even flow: to those whose preference is to play at the radical or risky end of the spectrum, is that they will have put an prodigious a. intra-player coordination: any musician’s skill will amount of prior effort and time into rigorous off-stage prepa- ration—both in isolation and with fellow-performers—of involve coordination along a number of elements inside the player’s body/brain boundary: for example, between the many skills necessary to deliver fluent and convinc- ing—as well as courageous and fulfilling—improvised hand and hand; hand and ear; between the player’s body and her instrument; and, where two or more players are performances. This is well expressed in an interview conducted by Japa- performing, b. inter-player coordination: there will be various kinds of nese writer and Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, two of the world’s lead- interaction between players that take place in a near- instantaneous or tightly sequential fashion. There are ing jazz musicians. This is summarized by Ikeda as follows: “Improvisation embodies the power to create value freely many analogies between temporal patterns in joint music-making and in conversation. For example in joint from an instantaneous encounter….At the same time, polish- ing the power of improvisation to its true brilliance demands speech one has turn-taking modes of talking/listening, and overlapping or collective speech patterns (such as constant, unseen effort. As is only considerate and a sign of good faith, I prepare for dialogues by thoroughly studying heated argument, verbal expression during love-making, by crowds at sports matches, and so on). Similar varia- the person with whom I will be talking.” (Ikeda et al. 2006, emphasis added). tions occur in joint music-making. 1.3.3 Other temporal aspects • Cognitive processing in improvisation: fast versus slow/ So far we have looked at temporality in improvisation in one mindless versus mindful performance: broad way—in terms of the contrast between what happens in the before-phase of a performance—when a work is being Improvised musical performance (as much other human action) is characterized by a tension between “fast” and prepared, composed, rehearsed, etc.—and the now-phase, when the work is being performed to an audience. Impro- “slow” thinking processes: in-the-moment composition often requires rapid, pre-conscious, intuitive processing, vised jazz (and improvised art in general) has what appears to be a special property: the two phases at least partly, and while players will also need to monitor and control perfor- mance using slower, conscious, deliberative or mindfully- maybe significantly, overlap. We conjecture that this makes an important contribution to what people often describe as engaged processing. Much of the skill of the improviser consists of knowing how to mediate between these two the ‘immediacy’ of jazz. However, it is worth noting that there are many other speeds of output. (We will return to this point later, when discussing Dreyfus’s account of expert cognition and skillful ways in which improvised music displays time-related fea- tures. For example: embodied coping.) Compare Jason Rebello’s remark, quoted earlier, about (delibera- The trio comprised of Evans, bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer tive) thinking—“… [it] does not really help the improvising process. Paul Motian. See, for example, their album Sunday at the Village If anything, it hinders it as it is too slow and clunky to be of use in the Vanguard (1961). moment of a rapidly changing musical landscape. 1 3 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 259 Historicity and cultural embedding versus immediacy. then, does the phenomenon of improvisation extend out- side the artistic sphere? We could define improvisation very On a markedly longer timescale, it is obvious that much narrowly so that it only exists in art. However, that hardly (most?) artistic production takes place within a historical accords with common usage, or with the strong intuition tradition. Again there is another tension here: on the one that something very much like what is exhibited within the hand there may be a more or less self-conscious acknowl- jazz sphere occurs widely outside art. edgement by the artist of the past legacy of one’s particular The suggestion could indeed be made that improvisation genre (stretching back years or centuries): this may generate is ubiquitous—maybe even the norm in life. Take walking constraints to which the artist more or less agrees to con- around a town, for example. Most of the time, one might say, form (for example the 12 bar blues pattern). In contrast (and we “just walk.” But many aspects of the walk are spontane- again especially in improvised art) there may be a kind of ous and improvised. We invent many things as we go. Do “now-ness” to the playing, that departs from the traditions we amble, march or break into a trot? Do we cross the road governing one’s idiom—possibly critiquing or challenging here, or a bit further on? And so with many action-types that tradition in various ways (self-styled “avant-garde” jazz in life: talking, eating, sleeping, washing, sport, and play. takes such challenge as central). Humans improvise when making love, when fighting, and when giving birth—and there are perhaps improvisatory 1.4 T he ubiquity of improvisation elements even in being born or dying. So, it would seem that, in much of life, we extemporize more frequently than Within Western academic musical communities, much we follow a script. As jazz pianist Chick Corea has put it: discourse on music and teaching of music tends to view improvisation is not something special, but “living, just improvisatory art as unusual or anomalous, as a mode of something natural.” And, as Walton et al. write (2015): musical performance that deviates from the normality of “You can never step into the same river twice, never play the recitative music. So the musical skills that are taught aca- exact same game of soccer, never navigate your car through demically are dominated by mastery of correct reading and the exact same highway traffic, or cook your favorite meal playing from notated works by composers of distinction. It the exact same way …”. is not uncommon to find people who have been “classically” These considerations raise the further question: if improv- trained to find it very challenging to break the spell of the isation is ubiquitous in our lives then surely it deserves to be printed manuscript when invited to experiment with musical discussed more centrally in cognitive science or in psychol- improvisation. Within such a mind-set, jazz, and improvisa- ogy? Some areas of cognitive science—for example—those tion in general, are considered to be a special case within that revolve around notions such as situated action/cogni- music. However, in fact many musical traditions besides jazz tion—may be thought to be particularly amenable to giving treat improvisational skills as central to their genre. Further, improvisation special status. it appears that many composers and recitalists within the An early study in situated cognitive science (specifically Western classical tradition in earlier centuries appear to have of AI planning), which foregrounds improvisation is Agre used improvisation of different kinds quite frequently during and Chapman (1987). They suggest that the immediacy of their performances. Today European and North American real life makes the techniques for constructing action-plans music departments and conservatoires are much more likely in classical AI systems inappropriate (they dub this “capital to include improvisation as a core part of the curriculum P Planning”). In what they call “lower-case-p planning”, by than they were, say, 40 years ago. contrast, the rules or recipes are relatively sketchy and the So improvisation seems, perhaps unfairly, to occupy a execution continually involves “rearrangement, interpola- rather anomalous, or specialist, position within many views tion, disambiguation, and substitution” (p 268). As they put of music production. Yet when we turn to improvisation in it: “[L[ife is a continual improvisation, a matter of deciding a wider context, the reverse may well be the case. How far, what to do now based on how the world is now.. . Life is fired at you point blank: when the rock you step on pivots Bach’s Musical Offering, based on a brief “Royal Theme” devised by the Prussian Emperor Frederick II, started out, so the story goes, Improvisation Piano Exercises with Chick Corea (YouTube as a three-part fugue extemporized by Bach, at Frederick’s request, in video), (Corea 2016). See also Jordanous and Keller (2012), Linson his palace in Potsdam in 1747 (see, e.g., Milka 2015). Some profes- and Clarke (2017) and (Higgins and Mantie 2013; Lewis 2009; Miller sional music writers are now becoming more aware that the absence and Iyer 2010; Nachmanovitch 1990) cited in Van Der Schyff (2017) of improvisation in standard contemporary classical music perfor- p. 1. mances is a lack rather than a virtue—see for example Clive Brown, “We’re playing classical music all wrong—composers wanted us to See Linson et al. (2015) for a more recent subsumption architec- improvise” (Brown 2015). tural approach to improvisation. 1 3 260 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 unexpectedly, you have only milliseconds to act.” (see also absorbed coping that Dreyfus and others have put at the cen- Agre 1988; Agre and Chapman 1987, p. 268). tre of their accounts. These remarks harmonize with our earlier observations concerning the ways in which key notions within the enac- 2.1 Dreyfus on skilled expertise tive tradition (laying down a path in walking; sense-making) already seem to suggest that improvisation is a general fea- Dreyfus has forcefully argued for expertly skilled coping as a ture of lived action, rather than a side-show, and for that basis for human cognition. His argument rests on a critique of reason should be put into the foreground of a considered classical cognitivism that is shared by enactivism and other account of cognition and action. Dylan Van Der Schyff, theories stressing embodiment. According to classical AI-influ- writing in the field of music education, has similarly argued enced theories of cognition, as seen by Dreyfus, expertise can that improvisation is central, not merely to music, but to the be understood as an intellectualized, mastery of rules which understanding of human action and knowledge in general, are situation-independent, by a mind which is characterized seeing it as reflecting “the adaptive and relational nature of in terms of conceptual understanding, or analytical rationality. human meaning, and world making more generally” (Van On his view such rules are ill equipped for the holistic forms of Der Schyff 2017, p. 1). Van Der Schyff goes on to point out understanding that he sees as central to natural human cogni- that much of the writing in the enactive (and, more generally, tion, and thus, by extension, also to improvisatory activity. 4Es) tradition within cognitive science may be considered Dreyfus considered rules of that sort to be perhaps appli- as compatible with an outlook which regards lived activity cable to certain artificial micro-domains, but inadequate for as fundamentally improvisational in character. Indeed, Van the vast majority of real-world contexts of human life, since Der Schyff entitles an important section of his paper “Cogni- real-world contexts are situation-dependent—that is, embed- tion as embodied, embedded, enactive and extended and … ded in the agent’s holistic real-world activity. Expertise, on improvised.” (van der Schyff 2017, pp. 9–11). We applaud his account, is exercised for the most part in an embodied, this suggestion that improvisation should be given a higher non-conceptual—and hence “a-rational”—way rather than profile within studies of cognition and lived action, and that through explicit rule-following. the notion can be used to complement insights gained within As we saw earlier, a key notion of Dreyfus’s thinking enactive and related approaches. (It was suggested by a is that humans develop such a form of practical wisdom referee of our paper, that, in place of “improvised” one could in a staged developmental path, where only the last stage rather add a 5th E, namely “extemporised” !). exhibits what Dreyfus considers true “a-rational”, embodied expert practice. Prior stages of learning expertise may actu- ally involve practice that is relatively intellectualized and 2 What improvisers do rationalistic. However, what the developing expert does is not merely to “interiorize a set of rules”. Rule-based prac- As a contribution to the role of improvisation within this tice is, rather, a scaffold that bootstraps a different form of wider discussion of cognitive science, we aim to provide learning that is then made properly embodied and contextual a first step in considering how the character of the accom- (Dreyfus 2005; Dreyfus and Dreyfus 1986). As an example plished improvisational musician’s skill may help in deep- that illustrates Dreyfus’s account, consider a learning golfer, ening our understanding of lived action and cognition in whose approach to a making a swing involves following, in a general. For this, we first return to considering questions more or less conscious or deliberative fashion, a set of proce- raised by Dreyfus about the nature of expert activity, which dures for how to stand, grip the club, focus visual attention, we see as a basis of improvisatory activity. Particularly, as follow through, etc.; whereas an accomplished golfer will touched on earlier in our discussion, we will focus on what execute such bodily and attentional aspects of the shot in he called “mindless, absorbed coping”, as well as on phe- a single, effortless flow, with little, if any, exercise of con- nomenological accounts of expertise, both in practice and scious mind. Similarly, under Dreyfus’s account, a novice development. Focusing on improvisation, a key claim we jazz musician may follow a collection of improvisational will then make is that improvisational expertise in particular routines, more or less consciously constructed to produce the involves a non-deliberative, directive mental presence in the desired musical result; whereas the playing of a seasoned moment, both entangled with and extending the “mindless”, There are, however, more enactive models of music education The main focus of Van Der Schyff’s paper, we should note, is to being developed in which musical material is introduced via a less point to new directions for the understanding of music, and more cognitivist approach (Laroche and Kaddouch 2014; Schiavio and specifically, of music education, rather than to make an intervention Cummins 2015; van der Schyff 2017; van der Schyff and Schiavio within cognitive science or theory of action. 2015) seeking to build a more dynamic, exploratory fashion that is See Linson and Clarke (2017) for a recent ecological/4E account perhaps closer to natural ontogenetic development (Spencer et al. of minimal system requirements for improvisation. 2006). 1 3 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 261 soloist will tend to involve a fluent set of notes, without any the moment is supported by what he called “System 1”, a detached awareness, in the moment of execution, of how the form of cognitive operation that is much akin to Dreyfus’s different component features that make up the playing have “immediate coping” in that it is rapid, intuitive, automatic, been selected, or fit together. Veteran jazz pianist and educa- and pre-conscious. System 2, on the other hand is slower, tor Kenny Werner speaks of attaining “effortless mastery” reflective, and method-based. [Compare, for example, enter - of an element of music as occurring when an improviser ing in your password in a fluent, routine way (system 1), “owns” the element to a degree where he is able to use it with typing it in more carefully and with more alertness, without giving thought to its execution (Werner 1996). when a couple of previous rapid shots have failed (system In a little more detail: (1) When learning a novel skill for 2)]. Following Dreyfus, one might say that it is only prior which she lacks any prior contextual understanding a “nov- preparation in the early stages of expertise development ice” may begin her learning from a set of context-free rules that rely on a system 2 style of operation (see also Ericsson that allow her to execute a range of actions in the domain, et al. 1993), characterized by what Dreyfus would term a prior to any sense-making activity being possible. (2) Yet situation-independent and domain-general form of rational soon, as an “advanced beginner”, she will start to see some thinking. But a system 1 style of operation will dominate situational features that allow some first contextual distinc- the fluent, absorbed, “mindless” action of the accomplished tions. (3) At the stage of a “competent performer” she will expert (see also Beilock and Carr 2004; Dietrich 2004). have accumulated an overwhelming number of both rules Dual-process theory is often discussed primarily in terms and contextual distinctions, and then is presented with the of “in-the-head” processing—hence the title of Kahneman’s necessity to make decisions among the possible alterna- book: Fast and Slow Thinking. But clearly it also appears tives that may apply. By having a choice, she enters a situ- to apply to embodied activity—and in particular to musical ation where her decisions may be more or less successful. performance of varying levels of skill. Dreyfus would reject From affective connotations related to perceived successes the idea that skilled activity (à la system 1) involves any- and failures, a notion of “significance” emerges. Her action thing that could be called “thinking” at all. Also Dreyfus’s choices now begin to matter to her. (4) Having a notion of account would appear to be readily applicable to a wide vari- significance, as a now “proficient performer,” sensations of ety of cases which do not lie on a novice-expert spectrum— risk and fulfilment begin to function as drivers for a new cases such as play, chatting, food-preparation, dressing, etc., form of learning that transitions fully away from rule appli- which are common in our lives, and where, as we observed cation to a learning of properly situational discriminations above, improvisation seems to be ubiquitous. and salient goals. (5) Last, as an “expert performer,” she has acquired a rich repertoire both of such contextual “sensations 2.3 Debating mindfulness and rationality about,” and of contextual “actions within,” the domain. She sees in any given situation what can be or needs to be done, However, how mindless is an experts embodied action? and immediately knows how to do it. Dreyfus has forcefully Recent investigations of the real-world phenomenology of defended the view that at this point, the expert responds to skilled performance have put the notion of absorbed coping the “full concrete situation,” and becomes absorbed in her (as well as a simple dichotomizing of system 1 and system “embodied coping”, such that mindful attention would only 2) into question. Here we will argue that improvisation may disrupt the process. be a mindful activity. This will put pressure on such an all However, there have been extensive arguments both for too stark division. and against in particular this last point, the emphasis on Dreyfus’s views have been challenged by many peo- mindless coping. We will now consider these arguments, ple. One notable example has been the philosopher John drawing in particular on recent reports on the real-world phe- McDowell. In a debate with McDowell, initiated by Drey- nomenology of expert action, as well as on enactive theory. fus’s (2005) presidential address to the American Philo- The discussion will take as its context our overarching theme sophical Association, Dreyfus depicted McDowell as falling of (jazz) improvisation, which provides a distinctive per- prey to “The Myth of the Pervasiveness of the Mental” (as spective on this debate. 2.2 Slow versus fast thinking—system 1 and system Even though Dreyfus applies the notion of expertise to the matters of our normal everyday life from childhood on, his model of learning Dreyfus’s philosophical view on mindless embodied coping applies largely to the acquisition of specialist skills later in life. How- fits in well with “dual process” accounts of human cogni - ever, ontogenetic development may arrive at similar forms of accom- tion (see, for example Daniel Kahnemann 2011; Stanovich plished ability via more embodied and dynamic developmental routes 2011). For Kahneman, expert performance that “flows” in (Oudeyer and Smith 2016; Thelen and Smith 1994). 1 3 262 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 Dreyfus later called it). According to this myth, as applied 2017, Sect. 10.3). Gallagher agrees with McDowell which, to McDowell’s views, perception and action are essentially contra Dreyfus, there is a kind of rationality in those of our to be characterized as “conceptual and rational”. Dreyfus activities which embody absorbed coping. But, for Gal- maintains, by contrast, that some activity—particularly the lagher, this does not have to be the kind of intellectualized fluent, embodied agency of the accomplished expert, or of rationalization that he thinks McDowell sees as involved (in everyday familiar coping, is not pervaded by mind at all. For potentiality, though not necessarily in actuality) in relations if it were, then, according to Dreyfus, it would be reflective, between human mind and world. Gallagher thinks there is and so distanced—and as such the agent would not be fully an alternative way to conceive rationality, namely as “an engrossed in the act itself. Dreyfus quotes a description of embodied-enactive practice” (Gallagher 2017, p. 200). The a soccer player by Merleau-Ponty, for whom the “field of world that the agent relates to is a world of affordances or forces” on the pitch are not a set of objective facts which are requirements: the kettle is something we can use to make “given” to the player; but where on the contrary “the player coffee; the dishes in the sink are perceived as needing-to- becomes one with it (fait corps avec lui)” (Dreyfus 2013 be-washed, and so on. These affordances and requirements citing Merleau-Ponty 1966, p. 168–169). So the Myth of the clearly are part of “the space of reasons”. Pervasiveness of the Mental is, for Dreyfus, the view that all As a development of this, Gallagher talks of the “rational- perception and action involves a kind of mental mirroring ity…implicit in the hand” (Gallagher 2017, p. 200, see also of the world, a view which, in Dreyfus’s account, ignores Chap. 9). As he says, if I reach out to grab a banana, the the kind of absorbed coping in which mindfulness is absent. configuration of my hand is different depending on whether McDowell counters this by attributing to Dreyfus a dif- I am going to eat it myself or hand it to you to eat, or pretend ferent myth—the “Myth of Mind as Detached”. McDow- it’s a phone, or a gun. How my hand is shaped will differ for ell concedes that mind, on his view, involves rationality each of these cases—and these differences show, Gallagher and conceptuality, stating that “rational mindedness per- says, how the way my hands (and, by extension, other parts vades the lives of the rational animals we are, informing of my body) shape themselves will display an “embodied, in particular our perceptual experience and our exercises pragmatic rationality” which fits them into this or that situ- of agency” (McDowell 2013, p. 41). However, such ration- ation in an appropriate manner. ality and conceptuality does not need to be exercised by The continually varying structure and dynamics of hand an agent through “a detached, contemplative relation to the postures, crucial to musicians who use their hands to play world she experiences”. Rather, reasons for acting, and thus their instruments, are of course illustrations par excellence conceptual framing of the action in the situation, have to be of this rationality implicit in the hand—if, indeed, we follow available to the agent as and when necessary, as a kind of in- Gallagher in talking of it in that way. We wish to question, principle capacity that can be exercised if, for instance, she however, whether the term “rationality” is being stretched is asked “Why did you do that?” So, for McDowell, the kind too far here. It is true, as Gallagher goes on to point out, of absorbed coping which is at the centre of Dreyfus’s focus that hand gestures are intimately related with our linguistic can indeed be accommodated within the former’s view, communications: “The hand … transforms its movements because, McDowell says, not all mindedness is displayed into language (via gesture) and into thinking”. Indeed, as a detached, rational, reflection on an action: rationality human rational and conceptual capacities, as McDowell will also be present merely as a cluster of unactualized con- would agree, are closely bound up with our nature as lan- ceptual capacities which come into play only as and when guage-using agents, and our use of language for thought and called for. communication. Hand gestures, and gestures and postures of many parts 2.4 Rationality and embodied‑enactive suitedness of the body, can indeed be used for thinking and for com- municative acts in this way. And this is also true of many In a recent commentary on this debate, Shaun Gallagher non-human species. However, if we were to extend such has suggested that much of what McDowell says can be accepted, even while maintaining the spirit of what Dreyfus incorporates into his picture of absorbed coping (Gallagher Thus Gallagher talks of a world that is “laid out in perception … in terms of differentiations that concern my action possibilities—the Dreyfus originally entitled this “the Myth of the Mental” but object is something I can reach or not; something I can lift or not. . .” changed the title as it gave a misleading idea that dismissing the myth (Gallagher 2017, p. 200). involved dismissing the existence of the mental as such, rather than a certain position, attributed by him to McDowell, concerning how See (Hobaiter et al. 2014; Leavens et al. 2005) for how primates mindedness related to action. (See Dreyfus 2007, 2013; McDowell use their hands for pointing and other communicative acts. And of 2007. For a later exchange, see, 2013; these, with other discussions in course dogs will pick up a lead in their mouth to indicate they want the debate, are collected in Schear 2013.) to be walked. 1 3 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 263 enactive-embodied “rationality” to other species, it would Jason Rebello’s remark (cited above) that thinking is often frustrate an important objective in McDowell’s philosophy, too “clunky” to do more than interfere with the flow of one’s namely to use rationality as a way to characterize what dif- improvisation in the moment of performance, there are fre- ferentiates human mindedness and agency from that of other quent cases where the musician employs forms of monitor- creatures. So this may not be a path that Gallagher could ing and observation during the performance. As we have easily induce McDowell to come along. elsewhere proposed in the skilled attention hypothesis (Clark The notion of rationality plays a normative role in this et al. 2015), part of the skill of the accomplished performer discussion. For example, in explaining why I make a cer- is to integrate such monitoring processes seamlessly into tain move in a chess game, I am exemplifying rationality in the flow of the play. So an embodied-enactive account that showing why the move was chosen as the right one given is adequate to this kind of case will be one where (to use the situation on the board. But not all normativity in action the language of Kahneman) system 1 and system 2 forms of has to be assimilable to rationality in that way. In executing operationality are woven together within the ongoing skilled a golf drive a player makes a set of movements that have a performance. So skilled action-in-the flow is not necessarily normative relation to the goals and situation. But, we sug- mindless. gest, this is not a rational normativity, but rather a kind of Indeed, a growing number of recent phenomenological operative “suitedness,” as it might be called. Such normative discussions of this topic suggest a prominent role for mind- characterisations will fit the enactive-embodied account of fulness in real-world performance. For example, as with a agency that applies to much of what we do—including the skier’s adjustment to the conditions of snow discussed by kinds of absorbed coping which are at the heart of what is Gallagher (above), Sutton et al. observe that elite cricket at issue between Dreyfus and McDowell. It would surely players adjust their batting to hit a shot through a slim gap be better to avoid the use of the term “rationality” in this in the field, where the action is fast enough for it to be like context, if only because of the strongly intellectualist con- a reflex, but nevertheless is context-sensitive in a way that notations of the term. For this reason, we would prefer to actions requires mindfulness about the in-the-moment dispo- talk in terms of embodied-enactive suitedness (or meetness sition of the players (Sutton et al. 2011, p. 80). Similarly, for or aptness) of an action within a given situation. basketball players, rather than leading to “choking” (Beilock and Carr 2001; Cappuccio 2017), it is important that they 2.5 Reflection in expert flow pay deliberate attention to their dribbling of the ball at just the right moments in the play (Montero 2016, p. 100). In a So far this would suggest that Dreyfus may be right in dis- related way, chefs, despite a perception of their cooking as puting the role played by notions such as rationality and con- driven by feelings of “this has to be there, this feels right ceptuality in McDowell’s account of absorbed action in the here”, also report the importance of never ceasing to learn; flow. However, there is a certain tension in Dreyfus’s account and as Bermúdez points out, there would be no possibility which Gallagher’s discussion highlights well. Going back to of learning if “the mind is shut off during performance” the case of absorbed expert action in particular, it appears to (Bermúdez 2017, p. 2). be Dreyfus’s view that the exercise of expert agency-in-flow is necessarily non-deliberate, non-reflective, and mindless. 2.6 Playing with intention When discussing the case of an expert downhill skier, Gal- lagher points out that he may need “to reflectively consider Reports in the domain of musical performance in particular changes in the texture of the snow, in order to anticipate highlight a further function of mindfulness beyond such con- possible adjustments to his skiing style” (Gallagher 2017, text sensitivity that we see as central, but that is left out so p. 201, footnote). This reflective thinking or monitoring far. This is the role of mindfulness in forming (spontaneous) would seem to be an integral part of the skier’s expertise, action that is intentional and goal-directed. Many classical yet it looks to be in conflict with Dreyfus’s view that expert performers stress the importance of directing musical perfor- agency-in-flow is mindless and hence cannot contain ele- mance with a clarity of intention, and see it as a mistake and ments of reflection. As reported by Gallagher (ibid), Dreyfus a myth that a mindless performance in-the-moment should accepted this consequence (at a conference in 2006). Yet it be what leads the music (as Dreyfus suggests). For cellist seems a bizarre conclusion. When one executes a certain set Ingal Segev, such elimination of thought in the performance of specialized skills one may often need to adopt a monitor- also eliminates the playing as driven by the artist’s ongo- ing or quasi-reflective stance, alongside of, and integrated ing conception or image of the music as it unfolds in time, with, the operation of one’s well-practised moves, in the flow based, as it is, on copious prior study and practice (Montero of the skilled exercise. 2016, p. 100). Heinrich Neuhaus, the teacher of classical In the present writers’ experience as jazz players, this is pianist Sviatoslav Richter and author of what is considered particularly so for musical improvisation. Notwithstanding one of the most authoritative books on piano pedagogy, The 1 3 264 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 Art of Piano Playing (Neuhaus 1967), even links the success playing reduces to an absorbed mindless coping. Rather, of gifted students such as Richter to the clearest formation expert musicians, and improvisers in particular, gain an and expression of the musical-artistic intention. To Neuhaus, ability to achieve an embodied-enactive suitedness or apt- work on the artistic image (“Arbeit am künstlerischen Bild”) ness (as we have called it) in their playing, that allows them is of the utmost importance, since a lack of awareness of to act with high-level agency on the music itself. In doing the musical intention leads to a performance that does not so, they come not to fully disappear in, but rather to express express the character of the music, but evokes “instead of themselves via, musical utterings. From this angle, we per- the language a murmuring, instead of a clear thought mea- ceive one weakness in Dreyfus’ view of absorbed coping—at gre rips of it, instead of a strong feeling powerless efforts, least with respect to improvisation—to be that he seems to instead of the deeper logic ‘consequences without causes’, assume a pre-given domain that is rendered mindless once it instead of poetic images their prosaic leftovers” (Neuhaus is mastered. However, we suggest that alongside the notion 1967, p. 1). As we shall see below, given the importance of performance-in-the-flow elaborated by Dreyfus, there has of playing within a musical language, a form of mindful to be emphasized a never-ending developmental aspect of embodied-enactive suitedness, allowing for meaningful enactive creation. In improvisation one is, as in learning, intentional action within the domain of music, is perhaps faced with a certain “breakdown” of one’s habitual skills even more central to the improviser’s efforts to spontaneous in continually occurring novel constraints from the interac- musical creation. tion with the world (Di Paolo et al. 2014). So a sense-maker In a similar way, Høffding’s interviews with the Danish must, to some degree, continuously engage with new situa- String Quartet point to a role for kinds of mindful reflection tions she has not until now come to perceive or act in. This at varying levels of agency in the performance. Høffding creates an (for her, previously non-existent) aptness and nor- comes to view absorption in musical performance (as tar- mativity concerning how to walk the very walk she is walk- geted in Dreyfus’s account) more as a “passiveness” about ing, or (for the music improviser) the music she is playing. certain aspects of the performance than as a “mindlessness” Sudnow provides vivid reports of such continuous expe- in the performance (Høffding 2014; Salice et al. 2017). This riential “appearances” or “openings” of co-developing is seen as resulting from a control of the instrument as a tool normativity and aptness (see, for example, Sudnow 2001, that is temporarily integrated into the body schema, so that p. 77; the terminology is not his). In setting out to learn many details of the instrument can be forgotten (see also how to improvise music, he depicts his initial perception of Schiavio and De Jaegher 2017, for a notion of “incorpo- the piano as purely visual-spatial, significant only in terms rated control” by the musician of her instrument). Høffding of successful reaches for certain keys in space; but much of goes on to say, however, that body schematic control over an the book is about how, during this path, he bears witness to a instrument does not imply a mindless control of the music. continuous bringing-forth of novel, and eventually musical, Beyond a body-schematic instrumental control, musicians experiential relations with his instrument. Once he had suf- have to exercise agency on various levels of the musical ficiently mastered the visual-spatial world, he came to enter performance proper, including that of the music itself, but a world of sound in which he was concerned not so much also, for example, the affective connotations of the playing, with the pressing of the keys, as with the formation of direct and their interactions with other musicians. intentions within the musical domain. Such a first foundational transition in his experiential 2.7 An improviser’s innards relation with the piano was marked when for the first time he began to feel “expressly aiming for the sound of [a] par- In what follows we take this last point on agency within ticular note, that the sounds seemed to creep up into my fin- the domain of music a little further, with implications on gers, that the depression of the keys realized a sound being the nature of an improviser’s skills. In line with the role prepared on the way down, that I had gone to do them” of mindfulness for the music itself, David Sudnow’s phe- (Sudnow 1978, p. 37). He was now not any more “going nomenological analysis of his own path towards becoming a for good places … [but] aiming for sounding spots” (ibid). proficient improviser (Sudnow 1978) suggests that, as expert Multiple further cases of such experientially transformative musicians and improvisers achieve a transparent control shifts occurred during his learning, described in great detail, over their instrument, they do not enter a stage where their when, beyond a world of sound, Sudnow came to create for Translated by the authors from the German edition, in which this passage reads as: “anstelle der Sprache kam ein Gemurmel heraus, Di Paolo et. al’s adaptation of Piaget’s concept of equilibration anstelle des klaren Gedankens kärgliche Fetzen eines solchen, for an enactive theory of perceptual learning explicitly addresses the anstelle eines starken Gefühls kraftlose Bemühungen, anstelle der “open-ended nature of human learning” (Di Paolo et al. 2014, p. 1), tiefen Logik ‘Folgen ohne Ursachen’, anstelle poetischer Bilder ihre and points also to the need for an agent’s “intrinsic normative evalua- prosaischen Reste.” (Neuhaus 1967, p. 1). tion” (ibid) for such learning. 1 3 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 265 himself the worlds of (and aptness for) melodies (p. 38 ff), its highest level, this may be seen as a form of “inner sense- harmonies (p. 50 ff), and rhythms and phrasings (p. 81 ff). making” that flexibly creates novel intentions in the present Each of these neither emerged as complete, nor as globally moment. A making-sense not only of the external world but available, nor in a single moment, but rather, as with other also of the realm of potentially available actions and their forms of enactive perceptual sensorimotor learning, in a expected consequences, creating (or “finding”) in real time continuous locally-contextual unfolding, yielding one addi- novel ways of “intending”. This may be what pianist Bill tionally gained way of knowing and then another—until, Evans refers to when saying—quoted at the beginning of the much later, he could express himself more globally in a way paper—that “direct deed is the most meaningful reflection” he saw as being intentional and meaningful in a language (Evans 1959, emphasis added). In this, the improvising mind of jazz. goes beyond an expert’s mindful monitoring of a pre-given This aspect of Sudnow’s account particularly reverber- course of action, that intends to execute a pre-given image ates with the present authors’ experience as jazz players. that was formed during (often extensive) prior practice. One Given such an account, we think Sudnow’s path renders a might perhaps say that expertise is more an endeavour of view on mastery and expertise that actually diverges from sense-exploitation or sense-remaking, while improvisation that advanced by Dreyfus. Attaining aptness in the control is, rather, an activity of in-the-moment sense-making, or over one or another aspect of his developing craft did not sense-exploration. render Sudnow’s improvisatory playing mindless, but rather This is, obviously, not to suggest, simplistically, that enriched it with novel features, musical objects and con- improvisation is essentially free, and that expert recitative textually appropriate novel ways for musical enacting. And performance is essentially constrained. Each occupy differ - as Sudnow reports (along with other experts), this process ent regions on a constraint-freedom continuum that may be seems to be an indefinite one. However, Dreyfus’s account seen as underlying spontaneous thought and action (Christoff seems to be one that implies that an expert will approach et al. 2016). An expert recitative performer, residing towards a summit, where the performance is rendered mindless. the more constrained end of the spectrum, has choices of In contrast, we argue that a better view is one of continual direct action that are more familiar. The recitalist is, in per- exploration and perfection—especially for peak improvisers. formance, re-telling a story that is already composed and Enacting novel worlds never ends. written, even though such performers may aim to tell the Thus we arrive at a somewhat different conclusion than story as if it were for the first time. On the other hand, the that offered by Dreyfus himself about Sudnow’s account. For expert improviser, residing at the more unconstrained end of Dreyfus, Sudnow’s journey towards improvisation “reaches the spectrum, has prepared (in equally extensive prior prac- its climax, [when] there is finally no longer an I that plans, tice) a large number of directly available choices of action not even a mind that aims ahead, but a jazz hand that knows with which, within the performance, she seeks to tell a nar- at each moment how to reach for the music.” [See Dreyfus’s rative that is composed as it unfolds. foreword to (Sudnow 2001), p. x]. However while Sudnow So, we suggest, the cognitive process of improvisation in does talk of his hand to coming to “know” and gaining a jazz—and in life—can be conceived of as a form of inner “potential for musical action”, his account does not appear sense-making, an explorative higher-level making-sense of to imply that one’s mind goes fully blank in absorbed coping the direct possibilities of what the situation could be made as one comes to master “musical reaching” in improvisa- into. Such making-sense of the inner domain of possibilities tion. Rather, Sudnow’s account illustrates the open-ended for meaningful (musical) perception and action and their path of enactive perceptual learning that continues to create respective consequences creates a novel perception (or inten- novel objects and, eventually, novel experiential domains tion) about what the situation should be made into. (Di Paolo et al. 2014). In this way, we suggest, the expert player is not some- A key claim we wish to make here, then, is that in improv- one who is mindlessly absorbed, as in Dreyfus’s account, isation, in addition to a basis in open-ended perceptual but rather one who gets to aptly express her self in continu- learning, also the formation of novel intentions for action ally novel ways (small or more drastic). Consequently, in is open-ended; and that spontaneously creating novel forms place of Dreyfus’s picture of the ego-less, absorbed expert of agentive goal-directedness lies at the heart of improvisa- improviser who is without an “I that plans”, we have an tion—and, indeed, of life. The improvising mind enacts a improviser whose acts are the spontaneous expression of form of hierarchical higher-level sense-making over the pos- herself. This, we believe, is how best to recast—or extend— sible perceptions of the moment, as well as over the possible Dreyfus’s account of the absorbed expert, through the lens sensory-motor schemes available for action in the now. At of improvisation. See (Di Paolo et al. 2014) for an enactive theory of perceptual learning. 1 3 266 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 and potential of artificial cognitive systems for reproducing 3 Summing up aspects of human expertise. But we have focused on another, more recent, related debate engaged in by Dreyfus (princi- This paper takes as its focal centre of interest the world of pally with John McDowell): the role of mind or ego in the the improvising jazz musician. It draws upon the background activity of the fully proficient expert. Dreyfus takes the flow of the authors, both of whom have some practical experience of the accomplished expert, or the virtuoso performer, in art of playing jazz (but more importantly, a deep admiration and in sport, for example, to be a mindless flow—and so, of the real experts in the art). Inspired by Sudnow’s Ways too, for one’s “absorbed coping” in other, less lofty, achieve- of the Hand, our shared interest in the phenomenology of ments. Although Dreyfus appears rarely to focus specifi- jazz, and the exploration of its practice, has led us to reflect cally on improvisation in the relation to absorbed coping, his on the jazz player’s improvisatory expertise. Improvisation views are of particular relevance in that area. We have chal- in performance art, and the expertise of the in-the-moment lenged his claim that expert performance in-the-moment, in creator, provides a rich canvas from which to explore the particular if improvised, is mindless or egoless. nature of improvisation and expertise more generally within Looking at observations by McDowell, Gallagher, Sud- our daily lifeworld. now, and several other writers, we have concluded (as have The assertion that improvisatory behaviour is ubiquitous others) that the Dreyfusian account has to be carefully within everyday life appears as both unsettling and banal. rewritten, or extended. In our own distinctive account (which Banal because, once it is expressed, it seems too obvious applies particularly to the case of improvisation, but which to make much of (but we question that). And it is unsettling may have more general application), we suggest that expert because of the apparent lack of serious work, within the mind improvisers do not enter a stage of absorbed mindless cop- sciences and philosophy, on the nature of improvisation, and ing, but are instead on a path of open-ended expansion (and on how the latter contrasts with non-improvised behaviour. sometimes transformation) of their mindful experiential rela- How might the field be different if improvisation had a more tion with their doing. For instance, a player’s engagement central place? We have made some inroads here on this, with the piano’s keys may unify with the piano’s sound, until and we have mentioned some valuable work by others, for she becomes habituated to perceive and act with direct, non- example, the suggestion that the phrase 4E be extended with deliberative, intentional agency on musical features such as an additional I for “improvised” (or a fifth E for “extempo- melodies, the form of the flow, the affective connotations of rised”); but there is a vast territory to be worked on. the playing, and so on. In the first part of the present paper, we have explored the We propose that at the heart of an improviser’s exper- activity of improvisation against the theoretical backdrop of tise (and indeed, of day-to-day living) lies the spontaneous work by Dreyfus and other authors. Dreyfus is celebrated creation of novel forms of agentive goal-directedness. Both as a forthright critic of the limitations of the cognitivist drawing on, and extending, enactive theory, we suggest that approach to mind (both artificial and natural). Enactivism such improvisatory ability is grounded in a form of “higher- has strong links to Dreyfus’s work, sharing roots in continen- level inner sense-making” that operates in the moment tal phenomenology, and an anti-cognitivist stance. We have over a rich realm of perceptual relations and sensory-motor suggested ways in which enactivism also provides a rich schemes that have been established in prior practice. By source of insights on improvisation—for example—through this, summing up, we supplant Dreyfus’s idea of the ego- its central notion of “sense-making”, but also other notions. less absorbed expert, as applied to improvisation, by that of Since improvisation is essentially a form of creation in an mindful (i.e. present in the moment) improviser enacting the moment (the creativity often spurred by the moment), we spontaneous expressions of herself. thought it important to articulate some of the ways in which temporality is crucially bound up with improvisation in a Acknowledgements We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers mesh of different time scales, both as an artistic discipline for their insightful comments; as well as audience members in London, and as a daily practice. We cite the affirmations of several Bristol and Sussex for giving us the opportunity to allow our ideas to jazz musicians about their work, which bear testimony to grow, and for providing us with a wealth of useful insights. Further, we are grateful to a number of people, from whom we have had fruitful this. This opens up another rich seam to be explored further, contacts of a theoretical and/or musical nature, in relation to the present both in relation to jazz and other improvisatory art, and in paper. These include: Christian Artmann, Alan Bern, Chris Biscoe, a broader context. Ron Chrisley, Andy Clark, Dav Clark, Hanne De Jaegher, Ezequiel In the second part of the paper, we turned our attention Di Paolo, Madeline Drake, Tom Froese, David Germano, Laszlo Gar- dony, Shaun Gallagher, Jeff Haller, Anna Jordanous, Adam Linson, to the cognitive processes behind an improvising musician’s Lynn McDonald, Heinz Muntz, Kevin O’Regan, Jason Rebello, David expertise. Dreyfus has been a, or the, major contributor to Silverman, Dan Tepfer, Arist von Schlippe, Peter Wilson. FS was sup- our understanding of the nature of expertise. The debate ported by ERC Advanced Grant 323674 “FEEL” to J. Kevin O’Regan between Dreyfus and the AI community has been particu- and by ERC Advanced Grant DLV-692739 “XSPECT” to Andy Clark. larly instructive in terms of understanding the limitations 1 3 AI & SOCIETY (2019) 34:251–268 267 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Crea- De Jaegher H, Di Paolo E (2007) Participatory sense-making: an enac- tive Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creat iveco tive approach to social cognition. Phenomenol Cogn Sci 6(4):485– mmons.or g/licenses/b y/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribu- 507. https ://doi.org/10.1007/s1109 7-007-9076-9 tion, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate Di Paolo EA, Barandiaran XE, Beaton M, Buhrmann T (2014) Learn- credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the ing to perceive in the sensorimotor approach: Piaget’s theory of Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. equilibration interpreted dynamically. Front Hum Neurosci 8:1– 16. https ://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum .2014.00551 Dietrich A (2004) Neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the expe- rience of flow. Conscious Cogn 13(4):746–761. https ://doi. org/10.1016/j.conco g.2004.07.002 References Dreyfus HL (1972) What computers can’t do. MIT Press, New York Dreyfus HL (2005) Peripheral vision: expertise in real world contexts. A Passion for Jazz: Music History and Education (2017). https://www . 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AI & Society – Springer Journals
Published: Mar 28, 2018
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