Anatomy of a (Musical) Ethics Lab at SAR

Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim


In interdisciplinary projects that integrate artistic research, how do teams

  • calibrate zoomed in (“practical”) and zoomed out (“observational”) perspectives?
  • balance the generative and comparative aspects of practice-informed research over time?
  • negotiate formats and priorities in individual and group publication outputs?

In this presentation, we — an artistic researcher in music, an anthropologist, and a phenomenologist — address these questions as we unpack the methods of “”(Musical) Improvisation and Ethics,” a four-year interdisciplinary project funded by the Austrian Science Fund (grant ZK93). The aim of the project is to investigate the improvisatory foundations of ethical behaviour and processes across a range of human activity. A series of seven “”(Musical) Ethics Labs,” with live experimental improvising music ensembles, offers case studies for examining and experimenting with key ethical phenomena such as listening, habituation, and value-formation. The Labs interlock three perspectives in a holistic research process with artistic practice at its core. In each ten-day Lab, musical ensembles improvise with and against given situations, structures, and interventions. We interact with the musicians creatively in rehearsal, as well as through phenomenological interviews, focus groups, and participant observation. Musicians also propose their own methods and collectively program two public concerts. Each Lab is professionally documented from beginning to end. The goals of this artistic-scholarly assemblage are to bring out the ethical phenomena of interest for the benefit of the musical process itself, verbal exchange, and documentation and later analysis. Analysis of each Lab informs the design of the next and will cumulatively ground a generalisable conceptual framework for understanding the ethical significance of improvisation beyond music and art. The project collaborators include Christopher A. Williams, Caroline Gatt and Joshua Bergamin