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Martin E. Rosenberg: Investigating the Relationship between Sound & Time Through Jazz Improvisation


Jan. 14th:Informal reading group -- 10 am PST

Jan. 21st:Public Lecture -- 10 am PST

Jan. 28th Public Lecture -- 10 am PST

Artist’s Presentations TBA

Martin E. Rosenberg's workshop will be in four parts--two public sessions and two private sessions. Everyone is welcome to join the public sessions. If you would like to also participate in the private presentations and reading groups, please send an email to

Two Lectures on Sound and Time: This will bring together time and sound with respect to music 1. as a system; 2. as an embodied as well as distributed phenomenological process. It will also address the political implications of cultural marginality and resistance to dominance that jazz exemplifies as an art form.


First Abstract: to talk about reversible and irreversible time, and the principles of emergence with respect to jazz visible in music notation, in melody, harmony, harmonic rhythm, and percussive rhythm.

ABSTRACT 1: Calculus, Phase Space, and the Extrinsic Manifestations of Emergent Form in Jazz Improvisation:

1. How do assumptions about duration or time shape the very different creative processes in classical and jazz music? I refer specifically to the western tendency to spatialize time since the 17th Century when both calculus and standard music notation, with even temperament and bars and time signatures, emerged.

2. How dependent are John Cage’s compositions, by foregrounding the interdependence of music and noise, upon a carefully considered deconstruction (in the Derridean sense) of the calculus of music notation dominant since those 17th Century innovations in contrapuntal composition. We will then notice how he adopts models of music notation that look uncannily similar to phase space diagrams of such complex irreversible processes as attractor states in thermodynamics.

3. How did the Be-Bop composing practices of Charlie Parker and others engage directly in the calculated yet spontaneous deconstruction of spatialized time in order for new, hybrid processes of musical expression to emerge? Reminiscent of Bergson’s stages of “creative evolution,” these processes enable song structures, as the vehicles for improvisation, as well as the conceptual/linguistic musical content (melody, harmony, harmonic rhythm, and percussive rhythm) of those songs, to evolve into increasingly subtle and abstract forms at breath-taking speed.

4. How may we identify processes of de-territorialization and re-territorialization, and the iterative, emergent or self-organizing nature of the refrain (and of harmonic rhythm generally), as central to an understanding of the micro-political motivations of an aesthetic? We will also see how a shift from the model of calculus to the model of phase space in conceptualizing the nature of duration enables us to theorize and visualize, the crucial role of systemic bifurcations: in both complex processes from physics, and in jazz.

5. How one might define Ornette Coleman's theorization of “Free Jazz,” in terms of a distributed form of musical expression (called "Harmelodics"), as an evolutionary extension of the line of conceptual flight opened up by Be-Bop composing practices. Other artists such as John Coltrane also embraced the distributed nature of jazz performances, involving the maximum freedom in juxtaposing independent and sometimes contrasting melodic, harmonic and rhythmic materials, to reach for a full realization of performative freedom. Thus, attention will shift from cognitive bifurcation to cognitive aggregation during improvisation.

Second Abstract: to talk about the neuro-phenomenology of improvisation and the multiplicity of embodied cognition involving three simultaneous forms of time cognition occurring during performance.


The Multiplicity of Subjectivity, and Three Forms of Time Cognition as Intrinsic Manifestations of Emergence during Jazz Improvisation:

This chapter examines jazz improvisation in two ways. First, it addresses the problematic metaphor- “improvisation is story-telling.” Although jazz musicians must remain aware of the narrative frame or schema of the song form while improvising variations for their own “story,” they also must react instinctually in real time to the other musicians who are also creating variations. Thus, the improviser’s intention with respect to their own “story” may not be so simply defined.

Secondly, it then addresses how jazz improvisation happens, with respect to current neuroscience research. I will draw on Francisco Varela’s theoretical essay “The Specious Present” to demonstrate how improvisation requires the engagement of three coexisting forms of time cognition (Fast: 1/10; Slow 10; Integrating 1), and two distinct but competing forms of musical cognition: top-down "Projective Apprehension," while preparing for improvisation; and bottom-up "Proprio-Sentience," which enables interaction beneath the threshold of conscious awareness during performance. This model of improvisation becomes visible particularly in dysfunction, when jazz improvisers become "lost.” Also addressed: the role of instruments in mediating these processes, and the need to shift from a prosthetic to a structural coupling model of instrumental performance.

Third, it will investigate how one might conceive of the relationship between embodied and distributed cognition with reference to the properties of emergent processes: From the irreversibility of time, to cognitive bifurcation (both visible in music notation) to feedback loops both within the cognitive processes of a single improviser as well as amongst improvisers interacting as an ensemble (and increasingly visible through the research on the cognitive neuroscientific correlates of improvising musicians), we need to confront the question of how emergent properties, largely associated with living systems, might apply to processes of thought.


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