Enacting a Jazz Beat: Temporality in Sonic Environment and Symbolic Communication

British Journal of Aesthetics 61 (4):485-504 (2021)
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What does it mean to enact a jazz beat as a creative performer? This article offers a critical reading of Iyer’s much-cited theory on rhythmic enaction. We locate the sonic environment approach in Iyer’s theory, and criticize him for advancing a one-to-one relationship between everyday perception and full-fledged aural competence of jazz musicians, and for comparing the latter with non-symbolic behaviour of non-human organisms. As an alternative, we suggest a Merleau-Ponty-inspired concept of rhythmic enaction, which we call the enactive communicative approach. Key to this approach is the fact that jazz musicians play by ear, and that the beat emerges because of reciprocal, real-time aural communication. From this perspective, we outline the temporality of a jazz beat as a holistic and dialectical temporal structure. Throughout the discussions, we use John Coltrane’s ‘Trane’s Slo Blues’ as a point of reference.



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Thomas Netland
University of Agder