Contingent Encounters

Improvisation in Music and Everyday Life

Subjects: Music, Musicology, American Studies
Paperback : 9780472039197, 260 pages, 6 illustrations, 6 x 9, August 2022
Hardcover : 9780472133154, 260 pages, 6 illustrations, 6 x 9, August 2022
Open Access : 9780472903115, 260 pages, 6 illustrations, 6 x 9, August 2022
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Investigates the relationship between improvisation in music and in everyday life

Table of contents

1. Introduction: Improvisation as Contingency

Part One: Contingent Music

2. Out to Lunch
3. Waves, Linens, and White Light
4. Gunweep | Elephant in the Room

Part Two: Contingent Life

5. The Structure of Everyday Life
6. Everyday Practices
7. Perception, Situation, Orientation

8. Conclusion: On Aesthetics and Politics
Epilogue: Improvisation, Cultural Analysis, and Collective Action


Contingent Encounters offers a sustained comparative study of improvisation as it appears between music and everyday life. Drawing on work in musicology, cultural studies, and critical improvisation studies, as well as his own performing experience, Dan DiPiero argues that comparing improvisation across domains calls into question how improvisation is typically recognized. By comparing the music of Eric Dolphy, Norwegian free improvisers, Mr. K, and the Ingrid Laubrock/Kris Davis duo with improvised activities in everyday life (such as walking, baking, working, and listening), DiPiero concludes that improvisation appears as a function of any encounter between subjects, objects, and environments. Bringing contingency into conversation with the utopian strain of critical improvisation studies, DiPiero shows how particular social investments cause improvisation to be associated with relative freedom, risk-taking, and unpredictability in both scholarship and public discourse. Taking seriously the claim that improvisation is the same thing as living, Contingent Encounters overturns long-standing assumptions about the aesthetic and political implications of this notoriously slippery term.

Dan DiPiero is an Assistant Professor of Music Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“Dan DiPiero molds a convincing narrative and provides the theoretical groundwork for future studies of improvisation. This is a bold undertaking that melds two worlds (the musical and the social) often segregated in scholarship.”
—David Arditi, University of Texas at Arlington

- David Arditi

“Dan DiPiero deviates from the familiar tune that improvisation is necessarily rare, unpredictable, liberatory, and free. Instead, he locates improvisation where few ever think to look: ‘in the habitual, the pre-given, the mundane, or the ordinary.’ In other words, he finds it in the unrepeatable singularity that is each moment of life. Writing with the authority of both a musical improvisor and a theorist, DiPiero argues that improvisation is not special, but rather the very condition of humanity.”
—Mack Hagood, Miami University

- Mack Hagood

“In this bold and lucid book, Dan DiPiero writes, ‘There is improvisation anywhere there is contingency, and there is never not contingency.’ DiPiero has tackled head-on a central problem in improvisation studies, the field’s tendency to ‘defer defining improvisation directly,’ yet to often assume an ‘ideal’ version or ‘improvisation at its best.’ DiPiero supports his broad claim step by step, demonstrating why it is important we recognize improvisation as ubiquitous. When we acknowledge that improvisation occurs for nefarious as well as positive ends, in spaces of relative freedom and of crushing constraint, and is practiced by bond traders, contingent laborers, warriors, artists, indeed by everyone, all the time, in different, yet ultimately the same ways—as the play of contingency—we can move away from using improvisation in the service of our own theoretical projects and gain clarity on the very nature of being human.”   
—Tracy McMullen, Bowdoin College

- Tracy McMullen

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Watch: Book talk presented by Popular Music Books in Process | 03/21/2023
Listen: Interview on New Books Network | 02/27/2023
Read: Author Q&A | 08/24/2022
Listen: Interview on Her Music Academia | 09/07/2022 
Read: A conversation with CalArts on Contingent Encounters | 11/23/2021
Watch: Contingent Encounters Book Talk with Author Dan DiPiero | 11/10/2021 
Read: Interview with Music Journalism Insider | 10/31/2021