The space between
: exploring spontaneity, group interaction and social context in improvised performances of motivic compositions

  • Matthew Jacobson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This practice-based thesis explores non-structured improvisational performances of motivic compositions. The research is undertaken in the thematic framework of historical development, group interaction, freedom versus constraints and social context, all of which have been investigated through a multi-disciplinary literature review. The performance approach explored is connected to improvised music innovations in the 20th century that have developed into the current practice of creative music particularly associated with the downtown New York music scene. This investigation has driven formulation of research questions focussed on the balance between composition and improvisation, performance context, the medium of compositional motifs and instrumental functionality. Motivic compositions have been created, performed and documented with various ensembles and in multiple performance contexts around the world. This documentation is divided into four categories: the same composition performed by different ensembles; the same composition performed by the same ensemble in different contexts; non-musical motifs (image and text-based) as vehicles for improvised performances; and the non-standard performance of jazz standards. Performances within each of these categories have been analysed using hybridised mixed-method methodologies including descriptive and transcriptive analysis, fully adapted Schenkerian analysis, graphs representing comparative levels of elaboration and a semi-structured qualitative interview series with participants involved in the documented performances. A full portfolio of audio and video documented performances is included in the output of this research, featuring tracks from three commercially released albums that present performances of these compositions. The analysis of this output has produced findings connecting degrees of structure and complexity, bandleader intention, instrumental functionality and social context to levels of elaboration. These findings are discussed in conjunction with the research questions, the literature review and the interview summaries.
Date of AwardAug 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorFrank Lyons (Supervisor) & Brian Bridges (Supervisor)


  • Music
  • Performance
  • Improvisation
  • Music studies
  • Critical musicology
  • Music analysis

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