The Comparing Domains of Improvisation Discussion Group was founded in August 2015 by Marc Hannaford (former Lecturer in Music Theory, Department of Music) and Andrew Goldman (former Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University), and is sponsored by the Columbia University Department of Music and the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience Program, and has received funding from the Edwin H. Case Chair in American Music, the Fritz Reiner Center for Contemporary Music, and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. The group is currently run by  Alyssa Regent and Nicola Hein.

We invite improvisers, scholars, and all who are interested to participate in a series of discussions regarding the way people improvise and what improvisation means in various domains. We consider the term “improvisation” in a broad sense, including various “masking terms” such as “the ad-hoc,” “workarounds,” “the spontaneous,” and so on.

We envisage a group that includes representatives from as many disciplines as possible; while music, dance, sports, and theatre have long been associated with improvisation, more recent scholarly work has brought the improvisatory to the fore in domains such as philosophy, design, urban studies, literature (including poetry), organizational theory, and law. We also seek to include athletes, martial artists, chess players, and other skilled practitioners of improvisation. How does the meaning of the term differ between domains and how is it similar? What are some of the different ways improvisation functions in these domains and what can be learned from their comparison?

Discussion sessions will be held 3 or 4 times per semester, two hours per session. We aim to assemble a core group of consistent attendees, but all are welcome to come to any meeting. Sessions will take one of three possible formats: invited performer(s)/speaker(s) followed by roundtable discussion, particular literature that will be discussed, or a guiding discussion question for everyone.

Please see the side menu for information about upcoming and past meetings, speakers, and suggested readings.

In Spring 2016, Andrew and Marc published an article in the American Music Review (Vol. XLV, No. 2), “The Challenge of Comparing Improvisation across Domains.”

Our list of guest speakers thus far represent a variety of scholarly areas and institutions: in chronological order, Chris Stover (The New School), Jaan Altosaar (Princeton), Steven Loza and his Intercultural Improvisation Ensemble (UCLA), Paul Steinbeck (Washington University in St. Louis), Tomie Hahn (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Clément Canonne (IRCAM), Martin Norgaard (Georgia State University), Roger Beaty (Harvard), Graeme Wilson (Edinburgh College of Art), Chisa Hidaka (Barnard), David Rothenberg (New Jersey Institute of Technology), Michelle Yom (The City University of New York), Julia Hyland Bruno (The Center for Science and Society, Columbia University), Edgar Landgraf (Bowling Green), Michael Veal (Yale), Eric Lewis (McGill), Marian Jago (Edinburgh), Elizabeth Margulis (University of Arkansas), Simon Barker, Wadada Leo Smith, Sara Ramshaw (University of Victoria), Lucy Suchman (Professor Emerita at Lancaster University), Harald Kisiedu (Osnabrück University), Jason Herbeck (Boise State), Raymond MacDonald (Edinburgh), Fred Moten (NYU), Angelica Sanchez (Princeton University), Yoko Suzuki (University of Pittsburgh), Eddie Prevost, Andrew Pickering (University of Exeter), Psyche Loui (Northeastern University), Lydia Goehr (Columbia University), Ritwik Banerji (Iowa State University), Dorian Wallace, DeMarisa Steeley, Paul Steinbeck (Washington University), Peter Vuust (Aarhus), Sora Han (Berkley), David Borgo (UCSD), Kyra Gaunt (Albany), Vijay Iyer (Harvard), James L. Green (NASA), and Alexandra Vazquez (NYU).