Fragment of a Theory of Musical Improvisation

Philosopher Gareth Evans (1946 – 1980), obviously a man of the 1970s 😉

The following reflections were inspired by José Bermúdez‘ and Arnon Cahen’s article Nonconceptual Mental Content for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Version 2015-08-07. That’s why I’m writing in English here. The idea of „Nonconceptual Mental Content“ was brought up in the 1970s by the largely unknown British philosopher Gareth Evans, who died in 1980 at the age of 34. He also remarkably discussed the impossibility of „ontological vagueness“.

Improvising music is a conscious outlet of states of mind that are nonconceptual. This is not to confuse with „unconscious“ contents of mind that „want to be“ expressed or „are looking for“ expression, like psychodynamic or psychoanalytic models would name it.

All one can express in a musical improvisation is based on past and processed perceptions of the mind. But these varied perceptions were experienced completely independent of „having“ any concept for them. They were qualia, „individual instances of subjective, conscious experience.“ (Wikipedia). So – for me – qualia are the universal basis of musical improvisation, hence for my compositions.

Qualia are neither simple nor complex, they can’t be quantized. But they are also not mystic or metaphysical or a hint to some otherwordly entity. They just occur or emerge when a contingent embodied mind (mine e. g.) sees / feels / hears / tastes / smells etc. something that he believes to be not a part of his own system (a thought is not a quale).

Nonconceptualists argue that, while propositional attitudes represent the world in digital form, perceptual states represent the world in analog form. If this and the above said is true, producing a piano improvisation is literally a process of „qualia digitalization“.

Fragment of a Theory of Musical Improvisation