Performance Studies: A Merleau-Pontian Critique of the Mind-Body-Instrument Model of Improvisation (MBI)
A Merleau-Pontian Critique of the Mind-Body-Instrument Model of Improvisation (MBI)
The Mind-Body-Instrument Model of Improvisation (MBI), in the simplest of terms, suggests that improvised musical content originates in the musician’s mind, before being translated into bodily movements, and finally into musical outputs, providing the basis for many standard accounts of musical performance. Maurice Merleau-Ponty is one of the earliest scholars to seriously challenge the axiomatic foundations underpinning this line of thinking, and his embodied-embedded account of perception and action remains the philosophical foundation for many contemporary theories of embodiment. I here take up his seminal Phenomenology of Perception (and a little bit of The Structure of Behavior) in detail in order to outline and disambiguate several key terms and concepts put forth by Merleau-Ponty in these texts. Many of these ideas provide the conceptual groundwork on which my current critical interpretation of MBI depends. As we shall see, Merleau-Ponty’s explanation of human perception and action contrasts starkly with the “intellectualist” model of cognition presupposed by MBI and his work is here presented as one of the first in a rich scholarly tradition critiquing this line of thinking.
Samuel Dobson is an improvising double bassist, composer, and music researcher living on unceded Dharug Country, west of Sydney. As a performer, Samuel has collaborated with an eclectic range of ensembles including performances with Wadada Leo Smith, Geoff Bull, Kate Wadey, Cope St Parade, Prophets, Cor Fuhler, The Pocket Trio, Monica Trapaga, Bob Henderson, Jon Rose, Dale Gorfinkel, Chris Gudu, Sinally Papis Diabate, George Washingmachine, The Basement Big Band, Hi-Tops Brass Band, The Splinter Orchestra, Novak Manojlovic, Tilly Street, The Corridors, Arthur Washington, Triceratops, and The Truffle Boils. Samuel is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney and his current research interests include skill acquisition, skilful action, improvisation, phenomenology, and creative process in performance.
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