Rehearsing the unrehearsed: discovering the skilful adaptability of human behaviour through the study of music improvisation
A seminar by Adnan Marquez-Borbon, Matthew Rodger and Paul Stapleton
13 November 2015
1-2pm, Multimedia Room
Sonic Arts Research Centre
ABSTRACT: Many skilful activities require adapting existing know-how to unrehearsed or changeable situations, whether in driving on an unfamiliar journey, competing in a sporting match, or jamming with a group of musicians. In all such cases, the agent must adapt his/her behaviour to new situations and dynamically changing task parameters in a manner that is both flexible and effective. While this ability, which we here call skilful adaptability, is a hallmark of proficient human performance, it has tended to be overlooked in scientific research on skill acquisition across different domains, where the focus has instead been on how learners encode and reproduce mental programmes for practiced action. We intend to address this shortcoming by investigating the aspects of behaviour that characterise skilful adaptability in performance, and how skilful adaptability might be influenced by different factors during practice. We will do this by focussing on musical improvisation as an exemplar domain for understanding skilful adaptability, given that music cuts across traditional boundaries of psychological enquiry: perceptual-motor, cognitive, social, and cultural.
In this presentation, we will first critique dominant approaches to skill acquisition research, before moving to consider some alternative accounts which are more fruitful to understanding skilful adaptability. We will then present our own proposed project for studying skill acquisition in musical improvisation. This involves the development of a novel audio-haptic interface that gives us control over the landscape of affordances available to the user, the parameters of the task at hand, and the degree to which the interface supports or disrupts the user’s goals. By experimentally manipulating these aspects we can measure their effects on learning and subsequent improvised performance, and start to build an empirically-grounded account of the factors that influence skilful adaptability in musical improvisation. Finally, we will sketch the beginnings of a theoretical framework with which we hope to better understand skilful adaptability, both within the context of the proposed project and more general applicability. This framework draws on insights from philosophy, psychology, anthropology and critical theory.