After several discussions about music and cognition, Dai Griffiths suggested to me that I might like to participate in this conference, and he was right.
I can bring to the conference my way of thinking about interactive group improvisation, which looks at the the musical context, and how that influences what the individual musician does within that context. Of course that musical context is, in part, constructed by what the individual musician does. We can see the circularity of “Action – Learning – Understanding” in process in any musical group improvisation. What we do contributes to what we hear, and what we hear influences what we do.
I recognise that there are other musical contexts to be thought about – e.g. that of the individual musician’s internalised understanding of music, then how that interacts with the internal frameworks of other musicians through the music they each play to allow a mutually constructed external context to emerge. This provides the potential for the music making experience even before we take into account, the range of internalised musical contexts of the listeners in any audience, what they produce, and how that might reflect back into the performance, or inform the musical experience of those listeners.
It is also useful in teaching approaches to improvisation, where I am often concerned with getting students, in practice and study sessions, to focus on internalising the principles of musical relationships (as well as their techniques on their instruments), while shifting that focus in performance to the musical context being constructed by the other members of the group, and trusting their own internalised system enough to allow it to contribute to the overall sound of the band without conscious direction.
This approach regards the conscious mind, or awareness, as a monitor of the music making system rather than the creator of the music itself. It is the placing of our attention, directing curiosity, maintaining interest, and asking questions. This feedback system depends on aesthetic judgements about what both the individual’s contribution to the music, and those of the other group members, is doing to the group sound.
I see this as a metaphor for many other group dynamics.