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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.

An edited volume of essays written by participants in previous events is currently in preparation. 


Philosophy of Improvisation

6th-7th October 2018, Newcastle

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


The contrast is between process and product, the unfinished and finished work, spontaneity and structure. We will explore the compositional aspects of improvisation, and the improvisatory aspects of composition.

The event will include some performances by participants. It highlights the energy and spontaneity of improvisation, with contributors drawing on their individual artistic visions to explore contrasts and continuities between spontaneous kinds of creativity and the search for perfection that guides composed forms of art.

With thanks to funding from Durham University.

The workshop is part of the Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music.

It is a free but ticketed event. Please contact Sam Horlor at for more information.

Provisional Programme (subject to confirmation)

Saturday 6th October: The Black Swan, Newcastle Arts Centre, NE1 1SG


09.45-10.00:   Andy Hamilton (jazz writer and philosophy academic)


10.00-10.30:   Claire Zakiewicz (visual artist)

                     ‘Struggle and Surrender: Process and Material in Painting’ 

10.30-11.00:   Martin Mayes (improvising horn player and alphornist)

                     ' "Stardust": Seeing and Imagining What Isn't There'


11.00-11.15:   Break


11.15-11.45:   Corey Mwamba (improvising vibraphone player)

                     ‘The Mistake as Material’

11.45-12.15:   Elizabeth Baldwin Gray (architecture and design academic)

                     ‘Architecture of Imperfection: Unfinished Sketches and the Sublime’


12.15-13.15:   Lunch


13.15-13.45:   Annie Kloppenberg (theatre and dance academic)

                     ‘Moving Principles and Principled Movements: Ethics and Embodiment in Dance Improvisation’

13.45-14.15:   Graeme Wilson (free improv researcher and performer)

                     ‘Cross Purposes: Imperfect Interactions When Improvising with Others’

14.15-14.45:   Philip G. Robinson (author, editor, working gardener, and researcher)

                     ‘Still Water Moves’ 


14.45-15.00:   Break


15.00-15.30:   David Brown (improvising guitarist and composer)

                     ‘Rarely Heard, Small Unwanted Sounds Form the Focus’

15.30-16.00:   Dave Lloyd (rock guitarist and recording engineer)

                     'Perfection and Authenticity: Editing Improvised Recordings' 

16.00-16.30:   Ilias Giannopoulos (music researcher)

                     'Stockhausen’s Flexible Concept of the Musical Work: Between Improvisation and Composition'


Sunday 7th October: Literary and Philosophical Society, Newcastle, NE1 1SE


10.00-10.30:   Pak Yan Lau (improvising pianist)

                     ‘The Aesthetics of Possibilities’

10.30-11.00:   Víctor Durà-Vilà (philosophy academic)

                     ‘Risk, Failure and Courage: Improvisation and Stand-up Comedy’


11.00-11.15:    Break


11.15-11.45:   John Snijders (pianist and music researcher)

                      ‘ “That's Not Freedom, That's Taking License”: The Pitfalls in Interpreting Morton Feldman's Graphic Scores’

11.45-12.15:   Adam Fairhall (improvising pianist)

                     ‘The Instrumental Impulse: Developing an Improvisation Vocabulary for Unconventional Keyboard



12.15-13.15:   Lunch


13.15-13.45:   Chris Corsano (free improv drummer)

                     ‘The Present Imperfect’

13.45-14.15:   Joe McPhee (improvising multi-instrumentalist)

                     Interview with Andy Hamilton

14.15-14.45:   Kiku Day (shakuhachi Japanese flute player)

                     ‘Learning Music Aesthetics through Imperfection: The Transmission of Shakuhachi Music’


14.45-15.00:   Break


15.00-15.30:   Nate Wooley (improvising trumpeter)

                     ‘Built from the Root, Ever-changing at the Bloom: The role of Imperfection in the Processes of Musical

                     Phonology, Morphology, and Syntax’

15.30-16.00:   Mark Hanslip (improvising saxophonist)

                     ‘Processes and Outcomes: Generative Systems for Improvised Music’

16.00-16.30:   Otto Willberg (improvising bassist)

                     ‘Evading Manipulation and Control: Playing with Perspectives’


This edited volume is the result of a pioneering collaboration between musicians, arts practitioners and academics. Its theme is a central aspect of artistic creativity: understanding improvisation and spontaneity in music and other arts.


At the heart of the book is the idea of the aesthetics of imperfection, which brings into the spotlight the spontaneity and energy most clearly associated with improvisation. Contributors draw on their vision as practitioners to explore in novel ways the contrasts between this aesthetics of imperfection and the perfection held up as the ultimate goal in many forms of art.


The volume also features the perspectives of composers and artists not usually thought of as spontaneous creators, bringing ground-breaking insights into how the imperfect and the improvised have far greater roles in creativity than generally imagined.


A rich and varied set of viewpoints comes from across different artistic media, not only Western and non-Western music, but also visual art, dance, comedy, architecture and design.

Contributors include:

The Aesthetics of Imperfection:

Improvisation and Spotaneity in Music and the Arts

Edited by Andy Hamilton and Lara Pearson


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.

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