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Title: Getting Out of a Jam: Collective Improvisation in Popular Music
Authors: Gupta, Christopher
Advisors: Manabe, Noriko
Contributors: Music Department
Keywords: analysis
collective improvisation
cueing systems
jam bands
Subjects: Music
Economic theory
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Collective improvisation in popular music, ranging from modal jazz to jam-bands, often evinces a level of design and cooperation that seems impossible within an improvisatory context. Ensemble members improvise freely and yet coordinate their decisions by relying on cueing systems—audible routines that bridge the gap between individual and group agency. In this dissertation, I offer a theory of cueing systems and discuss the aesthetic and functional significance of them in Western popular music. First, I argue that cueing systems consist of two basic components: a metric event and a salient pitch-based event. Coordinating these two cues opens a line of communication that enables players to share and act upon their intentions, such as to change keys or resume a composition. Second, I show how cueing systems can enhance our understanding of musical form in improvisation. Cueing systems enable the sudden and dramatic transitions that often characterize formal subsections. Thus, in collective improvisation, they function as formal seams. Building on this observation, I outline a theory of form for collective improvisation and provide two case studies. Third, collective improvisation challenges many traditional assumptions about musical ontology. Cueing systems, for example, can enable ensembles to transition seamlessly between compositions, destabilizing the nominal and ontological integrity of individual works. I suggest that the collective intention required to execute a cueing system can help resolve these challenges. Interestingly, artist interviews reveal a very different perspective on collective improvisation. Musicians often report that the process is accidental and inherently mystical. There exists a striking asymmetry between musicians’ accounts of the music and the processes observably at work in the music. Thus, finally, I discuss this divergence between analysis and artist interviews, and its significance in the unusual case of collective improvisation.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Music

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