Modes and Manifestations of Improvisation in Urban Planning, Design, Theory
By Dean C. Rowan

Celebrations of Urbanity - The Urban Reinventors, Issue Nr. 2, December 2007

In arguing that improvisation and noise-making are effective and inevitable modes for conducting urban interventions, I begin with a digression, a dilatory vamp on musical themes. Its point is to provide a framework for showing how urban development may be considered in terms of musical categories and also composed through musical actions, as well as through political actions whose elements of strategy and spontaneity find analogs in musical discourse. One theme reverberating throughout the paper pertains to anarchy, the political disposition whose musical analog might seem to be dissonance or noise. Music without law, the analogy would go, is dangerously, even violently clamorous and chaotic, as would be a society without law. It is a corollary of this paper that dissonance instead reflects unsettled law – but law nonetheless – and can also signify the advent of a new music whose unexpected cadences, temporarily abrasive and jarring, are nonetheless musical.

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This paper was first published on Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation, Vol 1, No 1 (2004).

Dean C. Rowan is a Reference Librarian at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt Hall). Among other projects, he maintains the law school's Disasters and the Law: Katrina and Beyond database. His interests include the socio-legal aspects of musical improvisation, restitution and unjust enrichment law, and laws pertaining to indigenous peoples.

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