Dan DiPiero (Music MFA 12, Critical Studies MA 13) is the author of the forthcoming book Contingent Encounters: Improvisation in Music and Everyday Life, which compares work in musicology, cultural studies, critical improvisation studies, and DiPiero’s own performing experience to question how improvisation is typically recognized. “Taking seriously the claim that improvisation is the same thing as living, Contingent Encounters overturns longstanding assumptions about the aesthetic and political implications of this notoriously slippery term,” according to the synopsis.
In anticipation of the 2022 release of Contingent Encounters, 24700 corresponded with DiPiero and got the chance to learn more about his experience at CalArts.
24700: How was your book informed by your experience at CalArts?
DiPiero: My book has been very informed by my experience at CalArts, in numerous ways. In fact, it was at CalArts that I took my tentative first steps into scholarship in the first place. At the time, I had been pursuing music full-time and was finishing my MFA in jazz studies. When I needed one last nonmajor credit, I stumbled into Arne De Boever’s “Contemporary Aesthetic Theory” course and became immediately hooked on the reading list.
I had never encountered anything like that work before, so I stuck around and did an MA in the Aesthetics and Politics program the following year. For my master’s thesis, Arne encouraged me to bring together my musical experience with the political theory I was reading about in the program, and that binary structure—between music and politics—became the earliest form of what is now my book.
24700: Were there any texts you read or courses you took while at CalArts that were particularly inspiring?
DiPiero: Yes, both “Contemporary Aesthetic Theory” and “Contemporary Political Thought” were very inspiring to me. For one thing, it was in those courses that I first read Jacques Rancière. Additionally, Martín Plot’s class on Merleau-Ponty has stayed with me through the years. Both Rancière and Merleau-Ponty figure significantly in Contingent Encounters, and I was also able to contribute a chapter to a recent edited collection called Rancière and Music.
Finally, my experiences in the music department have come to retroactively shape a lot of my work in a way that I couldn’t have foreseen at the time. I was focused on being a good musician initially—but now those experiences find their way into my writing as well. Joe La Barbera, Charlie Haden, Wadada Leo Smith, and Vinny Golia, in particular, taught me lessons I still think about every day.
Contingent Encounters is available to pre-order from the University of Michigan Press.
DiPiero is a musician and a lecturer of Comparative Studies at The Ohio State University. He is also the host of the new podcast Public Cultural Studies, an interview series that brings the humanities into public discourse, advocates for public education, and thinks seriously about culture.