George Lewis

The Secret Love between Interactivity and Improvisation

Date 10/15/01

Affiliation Musician, University of California, San Diego


Computer programs, like any texts, are not "objective" or "universal"; interactions with these systems inevitably reveal characteristics of the culture that produced them. Prevailing discourses in the field tend to erase this cultural embeddedness. In particular, narratives surrounding computer-based cultural production, such as interactivity, virtual reality and new media, consistently describe processes and practices that strongly resemble improvisation, yet the word "improvisation" itself rarely appears.

Asking why this obvious connection is so consistently overlooked, this talk will analyze a particular set of metaphors that mediate contemporary discourses and historical accounts surrounding interactivity, improvisation, art, music and computers, along lines suggested by contemporary critical race theory. Also proposed are avenues for future theorizing in the production of new forms of computer-based art and music.


George Lewis is Professor of Music in the Critical Studies/Experimental Practices area at the University of California, San Diego. An improvisor-trombonist, composer and computer/installation artist, Lewis has explored computer music, multimedia installations, text-sound works, and notated forms. His work as composer, improvisor, performer and interpreter is documented on more than one hundred recordings, and his articles on music and cultural studies have appeared in Leonardo Music Journal, Contemporary Music Review, Black Music Research Journal and Lenox Avenue. A member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)since 1971, Lewis has served as music curator for the Kitchen in New York, as Darius Milhaud Professor in Composition at Mills College, as lecturer in computer music at Simon Fraser University's Contemporary Arts Summer Institute, and as Visiting Artist/Lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has received Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and is the 1999 recipient of the CalArts/Alpert Award.

-- As of 10/15/01

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