Forgetting That Which We Play:
On Improvisation, Analysis, and Forgetfulness
in Relation to Playing and Replaying from Memory

Andreas Hiroui Larsson


As a researcher in the artistic research project Lethe (Jutterström, Larsson, & Lindal, Ongoing), which explores forgetfulness as an artistic method, I have reflected on the concept of analysis in relation to our research method: to play a piece of improvised music, to let time pass and analyse the playing without partaking in the documentation of the music nor discuss the music with the research group, and then to replay the music from memory.

I have assembled concepts into a map deduced from my experiences of playing, analysing, and replaying, in an attempt to articulate and open up my experiences and thoughts on the subject of forgetfulness in relation to our research method.[1] The map can be read from any direction, and the lines in between concepts are the links by which the concepts are connected, e.g., short-term memory is directly linked to time, but only indirectly connected to form, by way of time, narrative, and coherence/correspondence.

[1] See “The Map” under the Process Menu at the upper right corner of the current page.
As artistic researchers, we play and reflect, in endless tandem. As I play and replay from memory, I have experienced the difficulty of remembering the details of how, what, and why I played the way I did. After having applied neurological, psychological, and philosophical research on forgetfulness to my analysis, and reflected on locating the forgetting within our method, my intention is to provide a map with which we can articulate the forgetfulness as we are playing, and replaying from memory.

In this short article, I elaborate on the concepts assembled into the map, as well as elucidate how I see them as integrated when operative. Below I go through and elaborate on the three overarching categories of the map: ImprovisationAnalysis, and Forgetfulness, as well as the concepts under each category: [Improvisation] Short-term, declarative, and working memory, [Analysis] Time; Narrative; Coherence/Correspondence; Form, [Forgetfulness] Return; Suspense; Rebeginning.

Keywords: forgetfulness, improvisation, analysis, short-term and long-term memory, the self-memory system, narrative, temporality, in-time, over-time, objectivity, artistic research
I., Improvisation: Playing and Replaying from Memory

I have chosen to focus on short-term, declarative, and working memory under the first category of the map – improvisation – because scientific neurological research shows that these types of memory are more active during musical improvisation than, e.g., when playing from a score (Bengtsson, Csíkszentmihályi, and Ullén 2007; Dean & Bailes 2016; Faber & McIntosh 2018).

As I am engaged in musical improvisation, my consciousness and attention are mostly directed to creating sounds and listening to sounds. This act relies on instant assessments and adjustments of my executive control that is monitored by my particular perception of the particular room that I am in, i.e., short-term, working, and procedural memory (Izquierdo 2015).

In short, as I am engaged in playing (and replaying), my mind is forming short-term memories that only last seconds, minutes, or a few hours, as well as developing more lasting memories of procedural kind, i.e., goal-oriented movement. Procedural memories are long-term memories, which allow for consolidation and retrieval over longer periods of time. However, there is another reason as to why also the procedural memories are forgotten despite being long-term, which we will see below in the chapter IIb., Coherence over Correspondence: Subjectively biased Narrative.

Both of these kinds of short- and long-term memories are difficult to translate to our personal narrative with which we construct and represent our personal identity, because the short-term memories do not last long enough to be consolidated into retrievable memory files (Dudai 2006; Sara 2008), and procedural memories are of a non-linguistic nature. How can we then make sense of our experiences playing and replaying, and communicate them in other ways than artistic? This leads us to the second category of the map: Analysis.


In contemporary civilization where everything is standardized and where everything is repeated, the whole point is to forget in the space between an object and its duplication. If we didn't have this power of forgetfulness, if art today didn't help us to forget, we would be submerged, drowned under those avalanches of rigorously identical objects (For the Birds, 1981).  -John Cage