The Aesthetics of Imperfection

This project explores a central issue of creativity in music and other arts: understanding improvisation and spontaneity.

A key aim is to challenge received views in philosophy and music that improvising is merely ‘making it up as you go along’ and therefore of lower artistic status than interpreting composed works.


In his 2000 article 'The Art of Improvisation and the Aesthetics of Imperfection', Hamilton puts forward an ‘aesthetics of imperfection’ that values the spontaneous process of improvising over the final product.

With energised performance at its heart, the aesthetics of imperfection can also apply to the interpretation of composed music, and its microscopic acts of spontaneity.

This project brings together creative practitioners from music and various other forms, plus writers and promoters, to discuss their own practice with reference to the aesthetics of imperfection.

The Aesthetics of Imperfection related links.

Philosophy of Improvisation Workshop 2016

St Marys Gateshead. Photo: Lara Pearson.

Andy Hamilton with legendary jazz improviser Lee Konitz

New York, September 2018. Photo: George Schuller.


Philosophy of Improvisation: The Aesthetics of Imperfection

5th-6th October 2019, Newcastle

The latest in the Aesthetics of Imperfection workshop series features a stellar lineup of guest presenters: improvising musicians, interpreters and researchers from jazz and beyond.

Talks and demonstrations explore contrasts between process and product, the unfinished and finished work, spontaneity and structure.

Part of the Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music - full festival programme here.

​With thanks to support from Durham University and British Society of Aesthetics.

Free entry on the door


Contact Samuel Horlor at s.p.horlor@durham.ac.uk for more information.

Alex Hawkins. Photo: Francesca Patella.

Tony Buck. Photo: Holimage.

Provisional programme (subject to change)

Saturday 5th October: Literary and Philosophical Society, Newcastle, NE1 1SE


09.45-10.00:    Introduction by Andy Hamilton (Philosophy Dept, Durham University)

10.00-10.30:    Lara Pearson (music researcher)

                        'The Aesthetics of the Musical Challenge: Games and Play in Karnatak Music'

10.30-11.00:    Shelly Knotts (data musician and researcher)

                        'Live Coding and Failure'


11.00-11.15:    Break


11.15-12.00:    Brodie West & Evan Cartwright (saxophone and drums improv duo)

                        'How to Play out of Tune'

12.00-12.30:    Guy Dammann (music journalist and researcher)

                        'Imperfection and the Sense of Necessity'


12.30-13.30:    Lunch


13.30-14.30:    Achim Kaufmann (improvising pianist)

                        Performance and Q&A

14.30-15.00:    Liila Taruffi (music psychology and aesthetics researcher)

                        'The Benefits of Spontaneous Thought for the Creative Brain'

Sunday 6th October: Literary and Philosophical Society, Newcastle, NE1 1SE


10.00-10.30:    Nina Kümin (music researcher)

                        'Reintroducing the Improvised Cadenza: A Case Study in Vivaldi's Violin Concertos'

10.30-11.00:    Pablo Seoane (aesthetics researcher)

                        'Naturalness and Artifice: Notes on Authorship and Musical Improvisation'

11.00-11.30:    Márcio Steuernagel (music researcher)

                        'Imperfect Becomings: The Praxis of Musical Imperfection in Notated Composition'


11.30-11.45:    Break


11.45-12.15:    Evan Parker (improvising saxophonist)

                        'Solo Improvisation – A Special Case?'

12.15-12.45:    Raymond MacDonald (music psychology and improvisation researcher)

                        'This Is Not Improvised But That Is: False Dichotomies and Imperfection'

12.45-13.15:    Alex Hawkins (improvising pianist)



13.15-14.15:    Lunch


14.15-14.45:    Katherine Hambridge (music researcher)

                        'Fixity and Imperfection in 19th-century (Music) Theatre'

14.45-15.15:    Tony Buck (improvising percussionist)

                        Interview with Andy Hamilton

15.15-15.45:    Laura Leante (music researcher)

                        'Aesthetics of Imperfection: Responses'


Philosophy of Improvisation: The Aesthetics of Imperfection

6th-7th October 2018, Newcastle

In this two-day event, the idea of the aesthetics of imperfection was explored by jazz and improvising musicians in Western and non-Western music, plus practitioners from visual art, architecture, garden design and dance.

​The workshop was funded by Durham University and was part of the Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music - full festival programme here.

Read full details of the event or contact Samuel Horlor at s.p.horlor@durham.ac.uk for more information.

Kris Tiner (trumpet) and Mike Baggetta (guitar)

2016 workshop, Durham University Music Department. Photo: Lara Pearson.

Video clips and full audio recordings of selected talks from the workshop

Plus links to commentaries written by Elisabet Dijkstra


Workshop with Garibaldi Plop, April 2017

Garibaldi Plop performed a short set, which was followed by workshop discussion led by Andy Hamilton. The event continued to address and challenge the received view that improvisation in musical performance is a kind of ʻinstant compositionʼ with lower artistic status than that of composed works.

While such an aesthetics is expressed most clearly in the work of improvising musicians, it is also necessary for creative performance while following a score. The concept thus deepens our capacity to understand and appreciate both improvised and composed music.​

The event was held at the Sage Gateshead’s Barbour Room, and was presented in collaboration with Jazz North East Improvisors' Workshop.


Workshop, April 2016

This workshop brought together performers, promoters, producers, researchers, teachers and jazz enthusiasts.


Participants included improvising musicians Louise Gibbs and Steve Beresford from the UK; Mike Baggetta and Kris Tiner from the US; Alípio C. Neto from Brazil; writers Philip Clark and Andy Hamilton; and promoters and record producers.

The event was held at St Mary’s Gateshead and the Music Department at Durham University.

More details about this event.