What is it we see when we see musical interaction?

Research output: Other contribution

Abstract / Description of output

We know from long-standing research into the pragmatics of social interaction that when it comes to face-to-face communication, pretty much all behaviour is communicative whether it appears expressive in its intention or not. We can’t get a full picture of the event by isolating the actions of the individuals involved, since the communicative behaviour of one party is contingent upon the behaviour of the other. As musicians, we all know that music is a special case of human interaction - and yet there is significant overlap between everyday social interaction and jointly-performed acts of music-making (Schutz, 1951). While music-making creates the more tangible joint output, both forms of interaction need to be facilitated and negotiated by the participants on a moment-to-moment, communal basis. Both such musical (let’s imagine jamming a jazz standard with a friend; or singing a song with your child while they take a bath) and everyday (paying for groceries at the corner shop; meeting an acquaintance in the street) encounters rely on gesture and other nonverbal, expressive acts in order to achieve a successful outcome, whether that outcome is the purchase of your breakfast croissant, the extrication from a potentially tedious conversation with someone you don’t know very well, or the hint and supply of forgotten words and melody to the nursery rhyme that your child began to sing. Both forms are also similar in that the interaction itself – the coherence of the individuals’ joint behaviours – is (in some cases) apparent or visible to third-party observers (Moran, Hadley, Bader & Keller 2015). The parallels between musical and everyday social interaction that I’ve proposed here are most evident in the case of improvised, or non-notated music performance, particularly of the sort that arises non-formally, away from sites of conventional music performance (concert halls, stadiums, recital rooms, etc.). In this seminar we will ponder two things: Firstly, what are the implications of observers being able to ‘see’ musical interaction and coherence in joint performance? Secondly, as scholars of musical interaction, how should we handle the relationship between musical interaction as it takes place in non-formal musical play, versus musical interaction as it appears to us in conventional music performance scenarios?
Original languageEnglish
TypeInvited seminar
Media of outputIPEM (Ghent University) specialist course in musical expression (October-November 2015)
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • social interaction
  • music performance
  • improvisation


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  • Agency in embodied music interaction

    Moran, N., 20 Apr 2017, The Routledge Companion to Embodied Music Interaction. Lesaffre, M., Maes, P-J. & Leman, M. (eds.). New York; Abingdon: Routledge, p. 105-112 8 p.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

    Open Access

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