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Improvised Music and Decolonisation

Project description

Understanding musical improvisation in a postcolonial context

During the 20th century, musical improvisation emerged as a form of expressive freedom in music, symbolising emancipation. In the 1960s, European improvisers distinguished their improvisatory music from jazz by calling it "non-idiomatic." However, the exclusion of "idiomatic" playing styles may have excluded musicians of colour from participating in this musical genre. Funded by the European Research Council, the IMPRODECO project aims to understand the politics embedded in free improvisation in a European postcolonial context. It will investigate the musical practice of improvising musicians from former Dutch colonies in the Netherlands from 1945 to 2000 and analyse how they negotiated their position between the idiom of jazz and their musical traditions. Project findings will contribute to a more inclusive and equitable musical landscape.

Objective

In the course of the 20th century, musical improvisation became strongly associated with emancipatory politics, as expressive freedom in music symbolised forms of societal, cultural, and political freedom more generally. In the 1960s, European improvisers distinguished their 'free improvisation' from jazz and other improvisatory music by calling it 'non-idiomatic', i.e. not drawing on previously existing musical styles. Although the genre of free improvisation has formed a unique space of transnational and intercultural collaboration, such a utopian understanding risks an erasure of actual forms of inequality and exclusion. After all, to draw on one's own musical tradition inevitably means to play in a specific idiom. To what extent has this definition of freedom as non-idiomatic playing excluded the participation of musicians of colour?

The aim of this proposal is to understand the politics imbedded in free improvisation in a European postcolonial context. We investigate the hypothesis that non-idiomatic music constructed a form of musical whiteness in the spheres of musical practice, discourse, and institutions. We develop a novel understanding of musical idiom in terms of differentiation rather than convention, and we describe how questions of freedom and idiom were negotiated in musical practice. As a case study, we investigate the musical practice of improvising musicians from former Dutch colonies active in the Netherlands after World Warr II (ca. 1945-2000) and analyse how they negotiated their position between the idiom of jazz, a supposedly 'universal' non-idiomatic form of improvisation, and their own musical traditions.

Through archival research, oral history, and the analysis of musical practices, IMPRODECO will make a fundamental contribution to jazz historiography, postcolonial perspective on Dutch music history, musicological theories of improvisation, and to current debates about racial inequality in Dutch music and society.

Host institution

UNIVERSITEIT UTRECHT
Net EU contribution
€ 1 500 000,00
Address
HEIDELBERGLAAN 8
3584 CS Utrecht
Netherlands

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Region
West-Nederland Utrecht Utrecht
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Links
Total cost
€ 1 500 000,00

Beneficiaries (1)