McGill Colloquium 2016

IPLAI + IICSI poster

May 27-29, 2016
La Sala Rosa, 4848 Boul. St-Laurent, Montréal, QC H2T 1R5
Free and open to the public

“If You Have to Ask”: The Cultural, Cognitive, and Neural Underpinnings of Improvisatory Behavior in the Arts and Beyond

IPLAI/IICSI McGill Colloquium

Almost all forms of behavior contain an improvisatory component. Although the options for action are often constrained by the implicit rules of the behavioral domain, particular actions are underspecified; agents have to fit their actions to the specifics of the environment—especially the social and cultural environment—and to the actions that have come before. Psychology and cognitive neuroscience, of course, exclude the improvisatory in the study of behavior both in an effort to simplify the object of study and because the underpinnings of improvisation are notoriously difficult to articulate explicitly. Humans appear to learn how to improvise by means of enculturation rather than explicit learning; improvisation is acquired as know-how rather than explicit knowledge. If we are to understand the creativity and spontaneity of behavior, however, we have to try to direct the methods of psychology and cognitive neuroscience at improvisation, from jazz to the quotidian interchanges of social life. The purpose of this conference is to take some first steps in that direction. We will ask about the psychological and neural processes that underlie the improvisatory in behavior. Louis Armstrong famously said that if you have to ask what improvisation is, you’ll never know. The time has come to ask, but what precisely is the question, or questions, and how are they best addressed?

This conference aims to bring together neuroscientists, psychologists, music cognition specialists, anthropologists, social scientists, scholars of creativity, improvising artists across art-forms, and scholars of improvisation, all directed towards understanding how minds-in-bodies-in-cultures interact to produce improvisatory gestures and acts often rich with social, communicative, political, aesthetic, interpersonal and cognitive meaning and value. What should a culturally informed neuroscience of the improvisatory look like? What do practicing improvisers have to contribute to the questions we ask, the places to look for answers, and the answers themselves? What are the similarities and differences between culturally specific improvisatory actions in the arts versus those not operating within a particular artistic discourse and practice? Can the improvisatory be defined positively, and not just as an absence against the backdrop of some normatively defined practice? Is improvisatory cognition embodied in ways that distinguish it from other forms of cognition? Does collective improvisation and the distributed forms of understanding at play problematize atomic and individualist conceptions of the mind?

The Schedule

Day 1: Friday May 27, 9:00 – 16:00

  • 9:00-9:15 Introduction: Eric Lewis
  • 9:15-10:00 The Madness Hotel and Street Theatre
    Dr. Vitor Pordeus, Rio de Janeiro
  • 10:00-10:45 Sounding the Discomposed: Approaching Embodied Cognition Through the Music of Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith
    Kevin McNeilly, University of British Columbia
  • 10:45-11:00 Coffee break
  • 11:00-12:00 Keynote: The Ensemble as Plural Subject: Jazz Improvisation, Collective Intention and Group Agency
    Garry Hagberg, Bard College
  • 12:00-1:00 Lunch
  • 1:00-1:45 From Evaluating to Appreciating a Jazz Solo: Notes on an Embodied Aesthetic Stance
    Kevin Ryan, Univ. of Memphis
  • 1:45-2:30 Improv, Hermes’ Farts, and the Arts
    Dr. Randy Fertel, Fertel Foundation
  • 2:30-2:45 coffee break
  • 2:45-3:45 Keynote: Chivalry and Balance
    Dr. Stephen Nachmanovitch, Freeplay Productions
  • 3:45-4:00 Summary Remarks: Ian Gold, Laurence Kirmayer and Eric Lewis

Day 2, Saturday, May 28, 9:00 – 17:30

  • 9:00-9:45 The Purpose of Playing: Neocybernetics and Improvisation in the Stanislavski System of Acting
    Tom Scholte, University of British Columbia
  • 9:45-10:30 Dancing and Improvising with Parkinson’s
    Joanabbey Sack, Maura Fisher, Zuzana Sevcikova, Tania Lazuk, (Parkinson en Mouvement), Concordia University
  • 10:30-10:45Coffee break
  • 10:45-11:30 “You have to sweat”: Creating Embodied Capacities in Freestyle Hip Hop Dance
    Claire Lyke, McGill University
  • 11:30-12:15 Contact Improvisation as a Structure of Attention
    John Faichney, University of Waterloo
  • 12:15-1:30 Lunch
  • 1:30-2:30 Keynote: Vijay Iyer, Harvard University
  • 2:30-3:15 Drift—from a Movement Perspective
    Nilan Perera, Executive director, Circuit; Julie Lassonde, performance artist; Zoe Alexis-Abrams, performance artist
  • 3:15-3:30 Coffee break
  • 3:30- 5:30 Exploring the Emergence of Meaning in Dance through Neuroimaging and Joint Improvisation Practice
    Asaf Bachrach, University of Paris 8

Day 3, Sunday, May 29, 10:00 –14:15

  • 10:00-10:45 Reflections on Collage Making by a Therapist: Hybrid Identity as an Endless Transitional Process
    Jaswant Guzder, McGill University
  • 10:45-11:30 Don Cosmic: The Madness of a Maestro
    Frederick Hickling, University of the WestIndies
  • 11:30-11:45 Coffee break
  • 11:45-12:30 The Moment-to-Moment ‘Therapist’: What Emerges from Following a Child with Autism?
    Kevin Lee, McGill University
  • 12:30-1:15 Dreaming as Improvisation
    Elizaveta Solomonva, Université de Montreal
  • 1:15-2:00 Improvisation and Rigidity: The Case of Schizophrenia
    Lars Siersbæk Nilsson, University of Copenhagen
  • 2:00 – 2:15 Closing Remarks
    Laurence Kirmayer, McGill University

Download a PDF version of the IPLAI/IICSI McGill Colloquium schedule.