Improvisation on the Move: Metaphors, Wanderings, and Musical Mobilities

Forbes, Melissa ORCID: and Cantrell, Kate ORCID: (2022) Improvisation on the Move: Metaphors, Wanderings, and Musical Mobilities. In: 5th Australasian Jazz and Improvisation Research Network 2022 Conference: Space is the Place (AJIRN5), 6 May - 8 May 2022, Brisbane, Australia.


This paper combines the critical framework of mobilities studies with a phenomenological approach to music experience as captured through metaphorical descriptions of vocal improvisation. When wandering is used metaphorically to describe an interior journey that cannot be expressed directly, it becomes synonymous with the conceptual act of wondering, with one often materialised or prompted by the other. The obvious implication of this coupling is that the described wandering can be literal or figurative. This movement, whether real or imagined, is typically open, drifting, and boundless, and often marked by 'expansiveness, prodigality, and improvisation' (Lawrence, 1994, p. 50).

Wandering, then, in both in its literal and figurative meaning, is a way of challenging what we might notice as movement (Cantrell, 2021), and by extension, what we might recognise as the cognitively embodied dimension of musical participation. The case of vocal improvisation has been conceptualised metaphorically as a 'an adventure', with ontological correspondences that demonstrate the abstract act of improvisation through embodied activities that are unusual, exciting, or dangerous (Forbes & Cantrell, 2021). The various meanings, metaphors, and ideologies attached to wandering can help us understand the complex entanglements of the body, mind, and environment in the jazz singer’s experiences of improvisation. This provides greater insight into the way that improvised musical participation is conceived, not only as social performance, but also in the performer’s mind. In other words, applied to musical improvisation, wandering is a new critical term that allows us to interrogate the inner creative life, and the felt experience of moving and being moved (Horrocks, 2020) through music.


Cantrell, K. (2021). Reluctant Wandering: New Mobilities in Contemporary Australian Travel Writing. In J. Gildersleeve (Ed.), The Routledge Companion to Australian Literature (pp. 353–364). New York: Routledge.

Forbes, M. & Cantrell, K. (2021). 'Choose Your Own Adventure: Vocal Jazz Improvisation, Conceptual Metaphor, and Cognitive Embodiment.' Musicae Scientiae.

Horrocks, I. (2017). Women Wanderers and the Writing of Mobility, 1784–1814. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lawrence, K. R. (1994). Penelope Voyages: Women and Travel in the British Literary Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Speech)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Files associated with this item cannot be displayed due to copyright restrictions.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Creative Arts (1 Mar 2019 -)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Institute for Resilient Regions - Centre for Heritage and Culture (1 Aug 2018 -)
Date Deposited: 13 May 2022 05:46
Last Modified: 02 Aug 2022 05:23
Uncontrolled Keywords: improvisation, conceptual metaphor theory, embodied cognition, mobilities studies, musical mobilities
Fields of Research (2020): 36 CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 3603 Music > 360302 Music composition and improvisation
Socio-Economic Objectives (2020): 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280116 Expanding knowledge in language, communication and culture

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