Dr. Eric Lewis

Dr. Eric Lewis


“There is a curious yet enormously fruitful duality in the way that improvisation plays on our expectations and perspectives.”

Tracey Nicholls, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Lewis University

“Improvisation implies a deep connection between the personal and the communal, self and world. A “good” improviser successfully navigates musical and institutional boundaries and the desire for self-expression, pleasing not only herself but the listener as well.”

Rob Wallace, improvising drummer

On Saturday afternoon the conference’s final speaker is philosopher Eric Lewis from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, CANADA. He presents “My Favorite Things: Performance, Paraphrase and Representation,” a chapter from his forthcoming book titled Intents and Purposes: Afrological Aesthetics and Improvisation . This chapter argues that the best model for capturing the relationship of performances to works of music with improvised performances is not any sort of type/token model, but one should instead draw upon the visual arts and theories of representation. John Coltrane is not instancing “My Favourite Things,” in his song of the same name, rather he is representing it.


  • Dr. Lewis earned honors B.A.’s in the history of philosophy and classical Greek literature at Cornell University.
  • Ph.D. in the history of philosophy at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

  • Associate Professor of Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, CANADA.
  • Director of the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas (IPLAI)
  • McGill Site coordinator for International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI)
  • Former McGill site coordinator for Improvisation, Community and Social Practice (ICASP), a major international research project with primary funding from the SSHRC MCRI program

    Current research focuses on the philosophy of improvised music.

  • Presently completing two book projects:

    — one on the ontology of improvised music titled Intents and Purposes: Afrological Aesthetics and Improvisation.

    — a second edited collection: Improvisation and Social Aesthetics (with Georgina Born and William Straw), Duke University Press, 2017.

  • Proactively involved in the creation and curation of improvised art exhibits.
  • An active improvising musician on trumpet in Montreal’s flourishing improvised music scene.
  • Broader research interests include the philosophy of music more generally, aesthetics, philosophy of copyright, and a host of interdisciplinary approaches to art, culture and society. Dr. Lewis’s research focuses on the intersection of the aesthetics, metaphysics and ethics of improvised music.

  • “Ontology, Originality and the Musical Work: Copyright Law and the Status of Samples” in New Perspectives on Copyright (2007) in: Intellectual Property at the Edge: New Approaches to Intellectual Property in a Transsystemic World, Éditions Yvon Blais, 2007.
  • “Appel, Ellington, and the Modernist Cannon,” Review/article of ‘Jazz Modernism, From Ellington and Armstrong to Matisse and Joyce,’ Alfred Appel Jr., Critical Studies in Improvisation, No. 2, 2005
  • “We Won’t Get Fooled Again – Music and Politics in Paris and Woodstock the Summer of ‘69” in Proceedings of the 12th Biennial International Association for the Study of Popular Music (2003).
  • SELECT INVITED PRESENTATIONS since 2003 (a sampling):

  • “Diaspora, Migration and Borders—the Roled of Improvising Artists”, OCC, Athens, Greece, 2016
  • “Improvising Labour—Experimental Music in Montreal”, Music and Labour Conference, McGill University, 2016
  • “Music, Motion, Mind”, Rice University, 2016
  • “John Zorn, at the Crossroads of Musical Genres”, CIRMMT, McGill University, 2016.
  • “The Future of the Humanities Doctoral Dissertation”, Conference on the future of the Humanities Ph.D., Montreal, 2015 (workshop co-leader)
  • “Do We Ever Really Improvise with Others? What Machines Tell us about Improvisation and Imagination”, UBC, 2015
  • “Back To the Future: Creativity in Music in our (perhaps) Post-Humanist Age”, Keynote, Creativity in Music Conference, University of Toronto, 2015.
  • “Interdisciplinarity as a model of Improvisation”, Queens University, Faculty of Law, Belfast, 2014.
  • “AI, Improvisation and Imagination—The Case of Improvising Machines”, Goldsmith’s College, London, 2013.
  • “Performance, Bodies and Improvisation”, Electric Nights, Beton 7, Athens, Greece, 2012
  • “What if the Ghost in the Machine…Is A Machine?”, CIRMMT Inaugural Talk, McGill University, 2012.
  • “Human—Machine Improvisations: Some Philosophical Problems and Perspectives,” Across The Great Divide, Human—Machine Improvisations, Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens, Greece, 2012
  • “Towards a Representation Theory of Improvised Performance,” Perspectives on Musical Improvisation Conference, Oxford University, 2012
  • “Human—Machine Improvisations: Some Thoughts on the State of the Art,” Concordia University, 2012.
  • “What was Coltrane Doing When He Performed My Favorite Things?” Amherst College/Five College Consortium on Music and Philosophy, 2012.
  • “Irony in Jazz, the Case of Mingus”, IPLA Irony in the Arts International Conference, 2012.
  • “New Frontiers in Improvising Technologies: What are These Softwares Doing?,” University of Sao Paolo, Brazil, Dept. of Music, 2011
  • “Improvising Machines: The case of Voyager,” Guelph Jazz Festival and Colloquium, 2011
  • “Across the Great Divide, Xenakis and Wright on Improvisation, Composition and Architecture,” CCA, 2010
  • “Copyright and Improvised Music,” Woodrow Wilson Center, Princeton University, 2010
  • “Improvisation as Representation,” Queen’s University, 2009
  • “Improvisation and Philosophy,” Cornell University, Society of the Humanities 2008
  • “What is Jazz?” SUNY Stony Brook, 2008
  • “The Work Concept and Improvisation—Is Music Just Melody, Harmony and Rhythm?” University of East Anglia, 2007
  • “Originality and Musical Works in the Digital Age—What is a Sample a Sample of?”, Meredith Memorial Lectures, Intellectual Property at the Edge: New Approaches to Intellectual Property in a Transsystemic World”, McGill University, Faculty of Law, 2006
  • “Why I Hate World Music—Expression, Culture and Improvisation’, Unik
  • “Ontology, Originality, and the Musical Work—The Law on Improvisation and Composition”, Dept. of Philosophy UQAM, 2005
  • “Musical Works, The Law, and the Tyranny of the Score”, UCLA, Dept. of Music, May, 2005
  • “The Sounds of Silence: Cage, Smith and Oliveros”, Guelph Jazz Festival and Colloquium, Depts. Of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph, 2004
  • “What is a Musical Work? James Newton vs. The Beastie Boys”, McGill Faculty of Law, Intellectual Property Colloquium Series, 2003
  • “Improvisation and Composition, Some Thoughts,” Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, Montreal, 2003
  • “The Right to Improvise—Memory Construction, Improvisation and Morality,” Guelph Jazz Festival and Colloquium, Depts. Of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph, 2003
  • FILMS:

  • Koumaria: Improvising New Media Art and Community, executive producer, co-director and video artist, 2014.
  • From Both Sides Now—Improvising Across Communities, Hour-long documentary on trans-art improvisation. Created, directed, shot, edited and produced, 2009.

  • “If You Have to Ask”: The Cultural, Cognitive and Neural Underpinnings of ​​Improvisatory Behavior in the Arts and Beyond, 2016
  • Improvisation, Migration and Multiculturalism, 2016 (Athens, Greece)
  • Jazzing the Data, On Digital Jazz Discographies, 2016
  • Improvisation and Community health, 2015
  • Improvisation and the Politics of Everyday Sounds: Cornelius Cardew and ​​​Beyond: 2014
  • Improvising Community, 2014 (Athens, Greece)
  • Time Forms: The Temporalities of Aesthetic Experience, 2013
  • Skin-Surface- Circuit: Embodying the Improvisatory, 2012
  • Across the Great Divide, Machine—Human Improvisations, 2012 (Athens, ​​​Greece)
  • The Ghost in the Machine: Technologies, Performance, Publics, 2011
  • Improvisation and Social Aesthetics, 2010
  • Lex Non Scripta, Ars not Scripta, 2009
  • Text, Media and Improvisation, 2008
  • Improvisation and Architecture, 2007 (with the CCA)
  • New Frontiers of Improvisation, 2006

  • An active brass and electronics improviser who has performed with Pauline Oliveros, Joe McPhee, Jean Derome, Lori Freedman, Matana Roberts, Malcolm Goldstein, Roger Dean, Joe Girudullo, among many others.
  • Regular member of: The Murray Street Band, The Ratchet Orchestra, The Instant Synthesis Ensemble, and Medea Electronique.
  • Performs regularly and leads workshops on improvising.
  • Help run and organize the annual Koumaria improvising arts residency under the auspices of Medea Electronique, in collaboration with the Onassis Cultural Center.
  • Performed at international festivals such as The Sunni per Il Popolo, FIMAV, The Guelph Jazz Festival, Sound Symposium, Electric Nights, and Sights and Sounds, among others.
  • http://www.improvcommunity.ca/about/people/eric-lewis