Spending warm sunny days indoors

‘Resilience’ is one of those austerity/ scarcity buzzwords. Our cities and communities must learn resilience and self-sufficiency! We must learn how to cope with and absorb the ‘shocks’ of an inherently dysfunctional economic system so that it may continue to expand and accumulate.

I worry about using resilience to talk about the social practice of improvisation, even though in practice I believe it does help communities be more resilient: it strengthens social bonds largely through the creation of novel forms of communication.

Noise, gesture, gibberish and the relational/ vibrational qualities of sound can become especially meaningful in improvised encounters. Conflict may be transmuted in a flurry of rhythms that combine, separate and co-exist; energy can be generated and dispensed—those who make it share the creative, communicative encounter.

Of course such outcomes are not guaranteed, and perhaps need to be lovingly facilitated; someone must signal that it is safe and possible to communicate in this way. Yet those who enter into such improvisational acts are bound together; they exit altered, yet integrated.

A key skill improvisers can acquire is to be comfortable ‘in the moment’: the ability to respond to a sound, gesture or rhythm change immediately. Such responsive qualities are undoubtedly important for surviving in any neoliberal workplace and environment. How well can you quickly and effectively adapt to change?

Yet the social practice of improvisation is not solely about learning how to be responsive; it is also about listening and responding with another, and to whatever emerges through the encounter.

The practice is the end in itself; it has no input/ output logic. It arrives, circulates and disappears. It leaves a memory and creates a structure of relational feeling. That structure is often weird, unrecognisable and indeterminate, sometimes beautiful but often ugly (what is aesthetics after all?)

The improvised activity appeals to the memory of freedom, understood here as the capacity to aimlessly wander, interact and exit where one chooses, or feels compelled to. This social conception of freedom is disappearing in the networked control of the digital world.

Perhaps it only existed for a privileged few anyway, or never really existed for anyone. Freedom oh but a dream, appearing as accidental fissures in the monolithic march of history, wedded always to the victory of the powerful.

The fundamental non-presence of freedom doesn’t mean we should not fight—with technique—to protect it. And the freedom that can be glimpsed through improvised practice—a freedom that always emerges with others—is tangibly delicious—if unquantifiable—in any unitary sense.

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