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In this mainly conceptual, ground-clearing chapter, the author develops thinking on the articulation between music and the social. This task responds to the long-standing demand issued by scholarship in popular music studies, ethnomusicology, and music sociology for clarity in theorizing the heterogeneity, the different scales and orders of music’s social mediation. But the social dimensions of music have also come to the fore in musicology in the past decade. A second goal of the chapter is to put this thinking into dialogue with the influential recent concepts of relational aesthetics and participation, which are often taken as paradigms for the analysis of contemporary art practice in terms of their welcome attempt to rethink the relation between aesthetic and social processes. A third goal of the chapter is to ask precisely how it is that improvisation as a socio-musical practice adds to or departs from non- (or less) improvised music in terms of the articulation of music and the social. Is there some special way that improvised music enacts a social aesthetics, and if so, in what form? In the last part of the chapter, Born exemplifies her arguments through two outstanding cases of improvised music ensembles with strongly developed social (and political) aesthetics: the Art Ensemble of Chicago, as it participated in the larger Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and the Feminist Improvising Group.

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