Performance Studies: ‘Skillful Coping’ in Improvised Jazz Performance / The Houses of God and Fabricated Dreams: When dramaturgy inhabits clinical experiences
‘Skillful Coping’ in Improvised Jazz Performance
Understanding the processes which underlie skilful action is a hotly debated, cross-disciplinary puzzle currently at the forefront of numerous fields of research. Philosopher and educator Hubert Dreyfus has been a prominent voice in these debates from the mid 1960s until his death in 2017. Dreyfus’ account of ‘Skillful Coping’ opposes any view positing mental content as the first step in a linear, causal chain of events resulting in skilful action. However, in the context of improvised musical performance practice, there exists a pervasive view suggesting that expert musicians are guided by just such representational mental content in the form of audiation. My proposed thesis will unpack Dreyfus’ work alongside several contrasting accounts of skilful action with a view of re-examining the factors at play for improvising musicians. By taking the double bassist as a case study, this project aims to produce a phenomenology of the improvising bassist as they generate/express musical ideas in the act of performance. Insights will be gleaned from phenomenological interviews with several improvising bassists (Høffding, 2018), as well as descriptions of my own experience in this field (Sudnow, 1978/2001; Sheets-Johnstone 2011). While Dreyfusian ‘Skillful Coping’ and the problem of mental content in action will be used as a starting point, it is my intention to allow the phenomenon to guide the direction of this study, resulting in what I hope to be a rigorous, unbiased, and compelling phenomenology of the improvising double bassist.
Samuel Dobson is a Sydney based double bassist, improviser, and composer. He attained both honours and master’s in jazz performance through the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. His current research interests include skill acquisition, skilful action, improvisation, phenomenology, and creative process in performance.
The Houses of God and Fabricated Dreams: When dramaturgy inhabits clinical experiences
The title of this presentation stages the meeting of two Houses, the first of one Samuel Shem (Stephen J. Bergman) who wrote the iconic “warts and all” account of medical interning House of God (1978), the second that of Brecht’s Dramaturg in his Der Messingkauf (trans. Willet 2014 p 11). Both texts satirise as they educate, their authors speaking through brazen voices to affect a playful form of ‘skillful revelation of skilled concealment’ (Taussig 2016 p 455). Between these Houses, this presentation consists of segments written for a book chapter that reframe negotiated observation in a teaching hospital as a dramaturgical exploration. Through four sequences – a bedside tutorial, a long case interview, a lesson on breaking bad news, and the irruption of a supernumerary body – this presentation responds to the central question “how does a theatre-maker make sense of medical students in the middle of a hospital?”.
James Dalton is happy to know that the word ‘distraction’ comes from the Latin distrahere meaning ‘drawn in different directions’. He is a theatre-maker, educator, driving instructor, and PhD candidate depending on the time of day.
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