All that jazz

In an earlier post on Computer programming as performance, I raised the possibility of writing computer software as an act of performance in front of a live audience. More recently, in discussions with colleagues, I’ve come to realize that this is just one example of a much more general idea.

First, consider the distinction between “composition” and “performance”. Composition is generally done in solitude, without the constraints of immediate results. A play, a symphony, a novel, a 3D CG model, these are generally created “at leisure”. In contrast, a performance often takes place in front of a live audience. Acting on stage, playing a musical instrument or manipulating a puppet fall into this category. “Rehearsal” provides a bridge between these two modes, by providing a way for the performer to study and develop best ways to translate composition into performance.

All compositions are built from some sort of system of grammatical rules that are mutually understood between author and audience. Those rules may be musical, linguistic, cultural or other. Things get more interesting when such constructions happen not at composition time, but at performance time.

A few kinds of performance, such as jazz improvisation and improv comedy, involve creating novel grammatical constructions. In such cases, the performers are generally well practiced experts, and the grammatical variations are constrained and very well understood (eg: in jazz, “12 bar blues”, or in Improv comedy, “A man walks into a psychiatrist’s office with a chicken on his head”).

It would be interesting, in the context of any type of performance, to consider how to support new grammatical constructions during the course of a performance for a live audience. For example, are there meta-rules for such constructive performances? Do jazz and improv comedy have some underlying structural similarities with each other, simply because both allow the performer, during a live performance, to improvize new work?

3 Responses to “All that jazz”

  1. sally says:

    do it!

  2. sally says:

    and ask Jaron to provide the musical accompaniment!

  3. sally says:

    or you guys could tag team it–he plays and you program, then you switch!

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