Meeting on March 28, 2022—Dr. Ritwik Banerji

March 28 2022 ONLINE
3pm ET

We are pleased to welcome invited speaker, Dr. Ritwik Banerji.

Ritwik Banerji is a social scientist of music, interactive media artist, and saxophonist. Since completing his Ph.D. in music at the University of California, Berkeley in 2018, he has since been teaching film and media studies at the University of Cincinnati. In the fall, he will start a new position as Assistant Professor in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Iowa State University. Banerji’s publications appear in Jazz and Culture, Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference, the Oxford Handbook of the Phenomenology of Music Cultures, and New Directions in Human-Computer Interaction, among other venues. He is currently writing an ethnographic monograph on the relationship between freedom and knowledge in the practice of free improvisation.


Improvising Sexism: Post-Feminist Ideologies in Free Improvisation
While John Corbett claims that free improvisation is “open to everyone” (2016, 1), the vast majority of performers active in contemporary scenes of this practice are cisgendered men. While male dominance is nothing unique to free improvisation, this talk examines the relationship between this demographic skewedness and the fact that these scenes foreground improvisation. In order to do so, it draws on several years of ethnographic participant-observation as a woodwind performer and interactive media artist in free improvisation scenes in Berlin, Chicago, and San Francisco. On one level, gender imbalance manifests itself in these scenes not only in the numerical breakdown of active performers, but through a post-feminist ideology in which cisgendered male members of these scenes assert that the scene has achieved gender equity despite the easily verifiable fact of male dominance. On another, sexism reveals itself to be an improvisatory behavior in the context of an experimental ethnographic methodology in which I have designed a variety of virtual performers of free improvisation and asked improvisers to compare them to a human being. In my work with one such virtual improviser, whom I have given the gendered name “Maxine,” performers find that this system exhibits a broad array of deficiencies in comparison to human improvisers. Rather than revealing a uniform stereotype of female-gendered performance, criticisms of this system are a chaotic mix of contradictory ideas about femininity as it might manifest itself in real-time musical interaction. In other words, commentary on this system suggests that sexist prejudice is improvised in the sense that male participants invent sexist evaluations impromptu rather than necessarily relying upon fixed ideas about the essence of particular gender identities.