Understanding improvisation through music, neuroscience & psychology

© Music Art Sculpt, Philippe Spiesser, 2022

© Music Art Sculpt, Philippe Spiesser, 2022

What does it mean to improvise? That’s the question the Music Art Sculpt project has set out to answer, through an experimental concert followed by a panel discussion with experts in neuroscience, psychoanalysis, architecture, the arts and philosophy. The concert will take place at the EPFL Rolex Learning Center Forum at 8pm on Saturday, 10 December.

The concert, led by musicians and scientists, will consist of a piano, electronic music, and sculptured, spatially arranged percussion, all combined to produce giant images projected on a large screen. It’s designed to spur novel forms of improvisation – both auditory and visual – and give rise to key questions surrounding the improvisation process: What occurs inside our brains when the creative act is spontaneous, immediate and unplanned? Are these fertile conditions for unbridled creativity? Do they open up new doors in our imagination?

The roughly 30-minute concert will be followed by a discussion with the audience and a panel of musicians and scientists. These experts will share their views on just what happened during the 30 minutes of improvised concert that was just witnessed.

Artists are used to improvising, and scientists have to improvise too, but in a different way, one that’s not as obvious,” says Véronique Mauron Layaz, the head of CDH-Culture and the event organizer. “With Music Art Sculpt, we hope to gain insight into that process.”

“We’re honored to work with EPFL in launching this project,” says Richard Rentsch, a musician and composer and the music project manager for the Agalma Foundation. He teamed up with Philippe Spiesser, the head teacher in charge of percussion studies at HEM Geneva Superior Conservatory of Music, to manage it.

A laboratory of the subconscious

By initiating this dialogue between art, science and technology, the Agalma Foundation is seeking to better understand how our subconscious works, especially when it comes to the most creative forms of expression, like improvisation.

The upcoming performance aims to demonstrate just how capable we are as human beings of aggregating and structuring numerous elements – in this case, in the form of music – in our daily lives. “We can create music, painting or literature,” says Prof. François Ansermet, “and we can each create our life and interpret it. The lines are drawn, like a musical score, which each individual interprets in his or her own way.” The aim is to reveal the creative potential of humans.

The artists riff off each other and build something together. They work not as individuals but as a collective whole.

Prof. François Ansermet, psychoanalyst

Drawing on neuroscience and psychoanalysis, scientists from Agalma posit that, as individuals, our path is genetically determined not to be determined, resulting in the free will we ultimately enjoy.

Music without harmony or rhythm

Music Art Sculpt is built around one of Spiesser’s projects, called GeKiPe, which explores how human movement itself can be construed as a musical instrument. “I play invisible percussion instruments and my movements create sounds along with a series of images,” says Spiesser. The concert starts with soft, simple electronic music, and the artists build on it together through improvisation.

The visual effects for the performance were designed byThomas Köppel. Rentsch and Nathan Evans, a neurobiologist and multi-instrumentalist, designed sound effects to allow for choreography, while Spiesser reacts to the music and its rhythm.

Artists and musicians

Scientists and panel experts

  • François Ansermet, child psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and emeritus professor at the Universities of Geneva and Lausanne
  • Sonia Curnier, architect and urban sociology scientist, EPFL
  • Pierre Magistretti, neurobiologist and professor emeritus, EPFL
  • Lucienne Peiry, art historian specialized in outsider art
  • Claude Welscher, philosopher and anthropologist

Moderator: Véronique Mauron Layaz, head of CDH-Culture

Saturday, 10 December 2022, at 8pm
Rolex Learning Center Forum, EPFL
Length: 90 min.
Entrance free of charge; open to everyone
Register at go.epfl.ch/music-sculpt

Author: Virginie Martin

Source: College of humanities | CDH

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