Transmission in Motion

Seminar Blogs

“The Language of Serendipity” – Hannah Harder

The authors of “Interdisciplinary Research Boosted by Serendipity,” (2014) describe the concept of serendipity, or unplanned discovery, as productive in interdisciplinary endeavors. Allowing for serendipitous discovery is not only facilitated through an open mind, but one that has the cognitive and creative drive to draw connections between seemingly disparate events (Darbellay, Moody, Sedooka & Steffen 2014, 5). Weaving “…unexpectedness, chance, and sagacity,” together allows opportunities for serendipitous discovery to emerge (Ibid). The scholars from the TiM seminar “Designing for Serendipity” describe serendipity as an “epistemological paradox” since the hierarchical logic of academia rejects associative, creative connections. However, this concept is relevant in pushing the disciplinary boundaries, as novel connections can be created to meld disciplines and incite novel scholarly investigations. To even discuss serendipity as an academic concept feels as if a new code of knowledge production is being put forth that reveals the complex and entangled ‘blackbox’ of activity behind epistemological insights. “Serendipity” as a concept recognizes the capriciousness of human cognition, along with rich potentiality of discovery.

Serendipity invites a new language of knowledge that creates a new world of knowing situated on intuition, instability and networked association. In his text, “Composition, Improvisation, Constitution: Forms of Life in the Music of Pierre Boulez and Ornette Coleman” (1998), Timothy Murphy explores musical movements as opening new worlds of meaning. He quotes Ludwig Wittgenstein with the following statement: “To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life” (Wittgenstein 1958, 8e, as cited by Murphy 1998, 75). Pierre Boulez is a formally trained French composer with a fascination towards serialism, atonality and “controlled chance.” His compositional framework played with the structural elements of western notation to create a highly conceptual language of composition. Ornette Coleman, on the other hand, was a self-trained proponent for free improvisation, standing in opposition to Boulez. However, both artists created a new language of music through novel musical ontologies. Murphy acknowledges their radical musical differences also seem to fold into agreeable meeting points of structure and theory that the author describes as “momentary harmony.” Although their music falls outside traditional musical logic and form, the momentary convergence of serendipitous harmonies creates new musical worlds of non-linearity, chance and improvisation.

Composers that creatively notate musical scores or improvise new structures of sonic coherence expand the language of music composition, effectively creating new worlds of meaning and logic. Whether compositional practices of free improvisation or controlled chance work towards new conceptions of musicality, they act as unique musical ontologies in their far-reaching and constitutive goals. Their serendipitous music creates productive spaces for provoking thought and newness that emerge from the musical conflicts. Both wild improvisation and rational randomness of music composition rely on the language of serendipity, trusting in the capacity for creativity and curiosity to make the music enjoyable.


  • Darbellay, Frédéric, Zoe Moody, Ayuko Sedooka, and Gabriela Steffen. 2014. “Interdisciplinary Research Boosted by Serendipity.” Creativity Research Journal 26 (1): 1–10.
  • Murphy, Timothy S. 1998. “Composition, Improvisation, Constitution: Forms of Life in the Music of Pierre Boulez and Ornette Coleman.” Angelaki 3 (2): 75–102.

*Image credits: GanMed64 , spectral music scores is licensed under (CC BY 2.0)