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 the Fritz Reiner Fund. The group is currently run by  Jessie Cox 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.

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.”

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


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), Nicola Hein, Paul Steinbeck (Washington University in St. Louis), Tomie Hahn (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Clément Canonne (IRCAM), Martin Norgaard (Georgia State University), Roger Beaty (Harvard University), Graeme Wilson (Edinburgh College of Art), Chisa Hidaka (MD, Lecturer and instructor of the course Applied Anatomy of Human Movement at 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, Polyfold, and Wadada Leo Smith.