Berlin, July 12 & 13, 2018

A conference with discussions, workshops and concerts

opening in




The Conference is hosted by the Institute for Critical Theory (Zurich University of Arts) - Prof. Dieter Mersch and by matralab (Concordia University Montréal) - Prof. Sandeep Bhagwati.


Maschinenhaus Kulturbrauerei, Berlin


July 12 and 13, 2018

Improvisation, the spontaneous and creative reaction to unexpected situations, behaviours, incidents, constraints and circumstances, is one of the oldest cultural techniques and plays a significant part in the repertoire of aesthetic skill set of new music, modern dance theatre, performance art and visual practice, and also in the popular cultural context (jazz, rock, hip-hop, rap). However, there is no consensus on what improvisation means from a philosophical point of view. The international conference "Improvisation. Philosophical Re-Scriptions" wants to address this question. In a format that intertwines, in various ways, philosophical and artistic practice on the one hand and reflection on the circumstances and conditions of improvisation on the other, this conference explores the preconditions of improvisation and asks for the specific insight that improvisation allows into the condition humaine. Is the practice of free improvisation where music performers start playing with each other without the need for previous agreements or rules, a metaphorical expression of the way in which humans behave towards themselves and their peers? Are such improvisations truly free - or are their rules and regulations merely more implicit than explicit, latent in socio-cultural influences and ethics? Wouldn't it be better to speak of "comprovisations" instead of "improvisations"? Musical improvisations are predominantly anchored in a specific stylistic practice - are improvisations across stylistic, cultural, traditional and genre boundaries possible at all - and if so, to which aspects of practice can the concept of improvisation be applied sensibly in such constellations?

Responses to such questions would have consequences far beyond the aesthetic field. The musically realized relationship between musician and musician mirrors the relationship between human and human as one that is not a later add-on, but rather an essential feature how and what human beings are and have to be: always already in relation to something else, to others and to another, who draw upon them and to whom they answer before anything else. Improvising thus emerges, constitutes itself through such answers, by presupposing the other, as well as by listening to others: a' primordial' passivity which both Blanchot and Lévinas claim is older than any differentiation between active and passive. It is this perspective that enables improvisation as an open-minded and creative interstitial event; an event which - as in the relationship between language and communication - involves an exchange of answers and answers to answers; an exchange which begins or has always begun with others, and thus creates a 'responsive-dialogue' field of tension. It opens up scope for behaviour in which coincidence and alterity play into one another and in which a fundamental feature of human action can be demonstrated: the emergence of subjectivity in close corporeal proximity to one another, whether, quite literally, as ' re-sonance' – or whether as conflict (interruption, disintegration of dialogue, fragility).

At this conference, philosophers, improvisers, musicologists and composers will encounter each other in different constellations, through philosophical and musical discourse. In lectures, panels, interviews, workshops, and moderated concerts, various registers and possibilities of improvisational and philosophical dialogues will be explored.



Daniel Martin Feige Akademie der bildenden Künste, Stuttgart
Silvana Figueroa-Dreher Universität Konstanz
Aaron Finbloom Concordia University
Reinhard Gagel Exploratorium Berlin
Fabian Goppelsröder Freie Universität Berlin
Christian Grüny Universität Witten-Herdecke
Sebastian Kiefer Researcher, Berlin
Simone Mahrenholz University of Manitoba, Winnipeg
Matthias Mashat Exploratorium Berlin
Michael Mayer Universität Konstanz
Dieter Mersch Zurich University of the Arts
Gary Peters University of York
Jörg Sternagel Zurich University of the Arts


Sandeep Bhagwati Comprovisation, Montréal
Joseph A Browne Live-Electronics, Montréal
Alexandra Cardenas Live-Coding, Berlin
Christopher Dell Percussion, Berlin
Felix Del Tredici Bass Trombone, Montréal
Alexander Hawkins Piano, London
Sylvia Hinz Recorders, Berlin
Carl Ludwig Hübsch Tuba, Köln
Klaus Janek Bass, Berlin
Isabel Mundry Composer, Zürich
Lucas Niggli Percussion, Zürich
Deniz Peters Piano, Graz
Simon Rose Saxes, Berlin
Farhan Sabbagh Ud, Riqq, Berlin
Gebrüder Teichmann Live-Electronics, Berlin


Improvisation. Philosophical Re-Scriptions
Improvisation. Philosophische Um-Schreibungen
Maschinenhalle Kulturbrauerei Berlin
Day 1 (Thursday, July 12, 2018)
Time Event Participants
14:30h Doors open, Registration, Coffee/Juice

15:00h Opening Statements (15 min each) Dieter Mersch
Sandeep Bhagwati

15:30h Concert 1 Lucas Niggli
Alexander Hawkins

16:30h Panel 1 (10 min Statements each ): What is Improvisation: Musical Features and Social Aspects / Was heißt Improvisation. Musikalische Eigenschaften und soziale Aspekte. Simone Mahrenholz
Gary Peters
Christian Grüny
Jörg Sternagel

17:30h Refreshments

18:00h Philosophen fragen Musiker (auf Deutsch) Dieter Mersch + Simone Mahrenholz ask
Carl Ludwig Hübsch + Sylvia Hinz

18:45h Panel 2 (10 min Statements each): The Cultural Impact of Improvisational Practices / Die kulturelle Bedeutung improvisatorischer Praxis. Michael Mayer
Reinhard Gagel
Sebastian Kiefer
Isabel Mundry

20:00h Dinne

21:00h Concert 2

Simon Rose / Deniz Peters
22:00h First Day ends



Day 2 (Friday, July 13, 2018)
Time Event Participants
10:00h Doors open, Registration, Coffee/Juice

10:30h Lecture-Demonstration: Scores for Thinking Aaron Finbloom & 6 participants

12:30h Concert 3 Native Alien (Del Tredici, Browne)
Alexandra Cardenas – Live-Coding

13:30h Lunch

14:30h Musicians ask Philosophers

Sandeep Bhagwati + Alexandra Cardenas ask Gary Peters + Silvana Figueroa-Dreher

15:30h Lecture - Demonstration/Jam Ensemble Extrakte & Friends
(Sabbagh, Janek, Gebrüder Teichmann, Hübsch, Del Tredici, Hinz)

16:15h Panel 3 (10 min Statements each): Towards a General Theory on Improvisation / Für eine generelle Theorie der Improvisation. Fabian Göppelsröder
Matthias Maschat
Daniel Martin Feige
Silvana Figueroa-Dreher

17:00h Refreshments

17:30h Concert 4

Jam with Christopher Dell
18:30h Open Discussion Moderators: Mersch, Bhagwati

20:00h Communal Dinner