What Is At Stake With Ergonomics in Guitar Design


What Is At Stake With Ergonomics in Guitar Design:
Fretboard Cognition, Embodiment, Collective Intelligence

Kellen Auditorium, Parsons The New School for Design
66 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY
Monday, December 2, 2013       7.00pm until 10.00pm
Free and Open to the Public
Seating is limited: Please register on Eventbrite

Dr. Martin E. Rosenberg
Ratzo Harris–Bass     Dom Minasi–Guitar
Ed Keller, Director, CTM—Respondent

This talk seeks to use as a point of departure the question of ergonomics in guitar design, or, how the body couples with an instrument, to reflect on the neuroscience of musical performance during improvisation.  By shifting attention away from the instrument to the player, we can reflect on how processes within the brain and body enable the performance of music on the guitar.  I wish to focus on jazz improvisation, because the specific training in spontaneous composition required for it, which can be applicable to other musical genres, places the greatest demands upon the player.  Contemporary research in cognitive science, and more specifically in the neuroscience of musical listening and performance, give us new ways to think about fretboard cognition as both top-down and bottom-up cognitive performance.  Paradoxically, practicing and performing jazz requires both unerring precision and maximum flexibility.  During preparation, it requires meticulous visual mapping of pathways onto the fretboard, which, through diligent practice, form internal schema and proprioceptive memories involving fretting and plucking strings, to instigate performance.  During performance, it requires precipitous decisions beneath the threshold of awareness by which one of any number of internal schema and corresponding proprioceptive actions might be enacted from one instant to the next.  I call these two stages top-down “Projective Apprehension” and bottom-up “Proprio-Sentience.”  Finally, while examining the emergent neuronal behavior within the individual during the performance of jazz, we must also confront how the feedback loops between the individual and the ensemble during performance can alter the individual’s choices as well as the ensemble’s musical trajectory. This reciprocity mimics emergent neuronal behavior at a larger scale.  The guitar fretboard, and its cognition, becomes the circumstance by which we may inquire into an embodied form of collective intelligence at work.  With the help of guitarist Dom Minasi and bassist Ratzo Harris, we will demonstrate both “projective apprehension” and “proprio-sentience,” and offer “conventional” and “free” jazz performances that will, through a concluding panel discussion, enable us to muse on the relationship between embodiment and collective intelligence that begins with the cognition of pathways onto the fretboard of a guitar cradled in the arms of a player.
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Martin E. Rosenberg wrote his dissertation on the cultural work across the arts of the scientific concept of emergence, beginning with Henri Poincaré, Henri Bergson, and Marcel Duchamp, and ending with Gilles Deleuze and Flix Guattari, Ilya Prigogine, Francisco Varela and Thomas Pynchon. He recently published on emergent behaviors, visible in music notation, in jazz improvisation and composition, and currently researches the cognitive neuro-science of improvisers. Originally trained in jazz composition at the Berklee College of Music, he has returned (after thirty years) to performing in the Pittsburgh area.

Ratzo Harris, one of the worlds few six-string upright bassists, has had a stellar career as a jazz performer, composer, educator and journalist. His forty-year career as a performer includes recording and touring with Joe Henderson, Kenny Werner, Mose Allison, Joe Lovano, Bobby Hutcherson, Charles Lloyd, Jim Pepper, Bob Moses, Joanne Brakeen, Arturo OFarrill, Betty Carter, Karl Berger, Lee Konitz, Jane Ira Bloom, Dave Liebman, and many, many others. His compositions have been recorded by pianist Kenny Werner, trombonists Bob Brookmeyer and Ed Neumeister, and guitarists Bruce Arnold and Royce Campbell, among others. Additionally, he has many performances and composing credits in film and television, as well as dance recitals. Harris has taught at many colleges and universities in Europe and the United States, including Rotterdam University and the University of Ludwigsburg, the New School for Jazz, New York University, the Manhattan School of Music, Berklee College of Music, Indiana University and Rutgers University. Although a high school dropout, he earned his Masters Degree from Rutgers in Jazz History under Coltrane biographer Lewis Porter, and is now considered an important emerging scholar. He currently writes a widely-acclaimed blog for NewMusicUSA, which appears every Friday: http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/a-bird-uncaged/.

Dom Minasi has been a professional jazz guitarist, educator and composer for fifty years. Largely known as an avant-gardist who leans outside, Minasi began his career as a mainstream jazz guitarist who worked with such luminaries as Arnie Lawrence, George Coleman, Frank Foster, Jimmy Heath and Dave Brubeck, and recorded several albums as a leader with Blue Note Records. Parallel to his performing career, Minasi has taught thousands of students, published a number of music education books for both guitar and voice, and, in conjunction with his work teaching song writing to youngsters through Young Audiences New York, has composed over three hundred children’s songs. Inspired by the work of Roger Kellaway, Minasi began serious study of composition, contributing significantly to M.I.C.E. (Manhattan Improvisational Chamber Ensemble), which specialized in “through-composed” music with improvisation. He continues to compose all the music for his various current ensembles. He and his wife Carol Mennie formed CDM Records, and Minasi became a fixture in the avant-garde community with his acclaimed album Takin The Duke Out: Live at the Knitting Factory (2001), which was followed by several others. In 2006 his most ambitious release in two discs, The Vampires Revenge, was highlighted by a number of European and American journalists as one of the best recordings of 2006. Since 2006, he has released albums on re:KonstruKt Records: Dissonance Makes The Heart Grow Fonder (2009), The Bird, The Girl and the Donkey (2010); followed by a solo effort Looking Out/Looking In. Nacht Records released Synchronicity (2011), with Creative Music Studio founder Karl Berger on vibes and piano, and he awaits the imminent release of a double disc of improvisations with Anthony Braxton, called A Moment in Time.

In 2013-14, CTM presents a series of lectures, workshops, & performances focusing on the cutting edge present and future of guitar and instrument design. Co-sponsored by Mannes School of Music, functioning as a platform to build cross divisional collaboration at The New School, and opening exclusive external collaborations, this series will bring internationally renowned luthiers, designers, builders, materials innovators, composers, performers, theorists, and sound designers together to explore points of connection between the traditions of musical instrument design and sound production, and new forms of design thinking facilitated by materials science, emergent materials, parametric design, the internet of things, physical computing, networked sound, and the politics of noise.

In the fall of 2013, our first guests in this project include some of the most internationally recognized and innovative guitar designers of recent decades [with more guests TBA for Spring 2014]:
Ken Parker, Ned Steinberger, Ola Strandberg, and Gary Lee. As part of the series, CTM presents theorists and performers speaking on the current and future envelope of instrument design.