Michael Hicks and Christian Asplund University of Illinois Press, 2012 Library of Congress ML410.W814H53 2012 | Dewey Decimal 780.92
In this first interpretive narrative of the life and work of Christian Wolff, Michael Hicks and Christian Asplund trace the influences and sensibilities of a contemporary composer's atypical career path and restless imagination. Written in full cooperation with Wolff, including access to his papers, this volume is a much-needed introduction to a leading avant-garde composer still living, writing music, and speaking about his own work.
Wolff has pioneered various compositional and notational idioms, including overtly political music, indeterminacy, graphic scores, and extreme virtuosity. Trained as a classicist rather than a musician, Wolff has never quite had both feet in the rarefied world of contemporary composition. Yet he's considered a "composer's composer," with a mind ensconced equally in ancient Greek tragedy and experimental music and an eccentric and impulsive compositional approach that eludes a fixed stylistic fingerprint.
Hicks and Asplund cover Wolff's family life and formative years, his role as a founder of the New York School of composers, and the context of his life and work as part of the John Cage circle, as well as his departures from it. Critically assessing Wolff's place within the experimental musical field, this volume captures both his eloquence and reticence and provides insights into his broad interests and activities within music and beyond.
Composer, performer, instrument builder, teacher, and writer Gordon Mumma has left an indelible mark on the American contemporary music scene. A prolific composer and innovative French horn player, Mumma is recognized for integrating advanced electronic processes into musical structures, an approach he has termed ""Cybersonics.""
Musicologist Michelle Fillion curates a collection of Mumma's writings, presenting revised versions of his classic pieces as well as many unpublished works from every stage of his storied career. Here, through words and astonishing photos, is Mumma's chronicle of seminal events in the musical world of the twentieth century: his cofounding the Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music; his role in organizing the historic ONCE Festivals of Contemporary Music; performances with the Sonic Arts Union; and working alongside John Cage and David Tudor as a composer-musician with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. In addition, Mumma describes his collaborations with composers, performers, dancers, and visual artists ranging from Robert Ashley and Pauline Oliveros to Marcel Duchamp and Robert Rauschenberg.
Candid and insightful, Cybersonic Arts is the eye-opening account of a broad artistic community by an active participant and observer.
An engaging argument about what experimental music can tell us about being human.
In Experimenting the Human, G Douglas Barrett argues that experimental music speaks to the contemporary posthuman, a condition in which science and technology decenter human agency amid the uneven temporality of postwar global capitalism. Time moves forward for some during this period, while it seems to stand still or even move backward for others. Some say we’re already posthuman, while others endure the extended consequences of never having been considered fully human in the first place. Experimental music reflects on this state, Barrett contends, through its interdisciplinary involvements in postwar science, technology, and art movements.
Rather than pursuing the human's beyond, experimental music addresses the social and technological conditions that support such a pursuit. Barrett locates this tendency of experimentalism throughout its historical entanglements with cybernetics, and in his intimate analysis of Alvin Lucier’s neurofeedback music, Pamela Z’s BodySynth performances, Nam June Paik’s musical robotics, Pauline Oliveros’s experiments with radio astronomy, and work by Laetitia Sonami, Yasunao Tone, and Jerry Hunt. Through a unique meeting of music studies, media theory, and art history, Experimenting the Human provides fresh insights into what it means to be human.
In Extended Play, one of the country's most innovative music writers conducts a wide-ranging tour through the outer limits of contemporary music. Over the course of more than twenty-five portraits, interviews, and essays, John Corbett engages artists from lands as distant as Sweden, Siberia, and Saturn. With a special emphasis on African American and European improvisers, the book explores the famous and the little known, from John Cage and George Clinton to Anthony Braxton and Sun Ra. Employing approaches as diverse as the music he celebrates, Corbett illuminates the sound and theory of funk and rap, blues and jazz, contemporary classical, free improvisation, rock, and reggae. Using cultural critique and textual theory, Corbett addresses a broad spectrum of issues, such as the status of recorded music in postmodern culture, the politics of self-censorship, experimentation, and alternativism in the music industry, and the use of metaphors of space and madness in the work of African American musicians. He follows these more theoretically oriented essays with a series of extensive profiles and in-depth interviews that offer contrasting and complementary perspectives on some of the world’s most creative musicians and their work. Included here are more than twenty original photographs as well as a meticulously annotated discography. The result is one of the most thoughtful, and most entertaining, investigations of contemporary music available today.
“PURGE the world of dead art, imitation, artificial art. . . . Promote living art, anti-art, promote NON ART REALITY to be grasped by all peoples,” writes artist George Maciunas in his Fluxus manifesto of 1963. Reacting against an elitist art world enthralled by modernist aesthetics, Fluxus encouraged playfulness, chance, irreverence, and viewer participation. The diverse collective—including George Brecht, Robert Filliou, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Benjamin Patterson, Takako Saito, Mieko Shiomi, Ben Vautier, and Robert Watts—embraced humble objects and everyday gestures as critical means of finding freedom and excitement beyond traditional forms of art-making.
While today the Fluxus collective is recognized for its radical neo-avant-garde works of performance, publishing, and relational art and its experimental, interdisciplinary approach, it was not taken seriously in its own time. With Fluxus Forms, Natilee Harren captures the magnetic energy of Fluxus activities and collaborations that emerged at the intersections of art, music, performance, and literature. The book offers insight into the nature of art in the 1960s as it traces the international development of the collective’s unique intermedia works—including event scores and Fluxbox multiples—that irreversibly expanded the boundaries of contemporary art.
In its open improvisations, lapidary lyrics, errant melodies, and relentless pursuit of spontaneity, the British experimental band Henry Cow pushed rock music to its limits. Its rotating personnel, sprung from rock, free jazz, and orchestral worlds, synthesized a distinct sound that troubled genre lines, and with this musical diversity came a mixed politics, including Maoism, communism, feminism, and Italian Marxism. In Henry Cow: The World Is a Problem Benjamin Piekut tells the band’s story—from its founding in Cambridge in 1968 and later affiliation with Virgin Records to its demise ten years later—and analyzes its varied efforts to link aesthetics with politics. Drawing on ninety interviews with Henry Cow musicians and crew, letters, notebooks, scores, journals, and meeting notes, Piekut traces the group’s pursuit of a political and musical collectivism, offering up its history as but one example of the vernacular avant-garde that emerged in the decades after World War II. Henry Cow’s story resonates far beyond its inimitable music; it speaks to the avant-garde’s unpredictable potential to transform the world.
Hold On to Your Dreams is the first biography of the musician and composer Arthur Russell, one of the most important but least known contributors to New York's downtown music scene during the 1970s and 1980s. With the exception of a few dance recordings, including "Is It All Over My Face?" and "Go Bang! #5", Russell's pioneering music was largely forgotten until 2004, when the posthumous release of two albums brought new attention to the artist. This revival of interest gained momentum with the issue of additional albums and the documentary film Wild Combination. Based on interviews with more than seventy of his collaborators, family members, and friends, Hold On to Your Dreams provides vital new information about this singular, eccentric musician and his role in the boundary-breaking downtown music scene.
Tim Lawrence traces Russell's odyssey from his hometown of Oskaloosa, Iowa, to countercultural San Francisco, and eventually to New York, where he lived from 1973 until his death from AIDS-related complications in 1992. Resisting definition while dreaming of commercial success, Russell wrote and performed new wave and disco as well as quirky rock, twisted folk, voice-cello dub, and hip-hop-inflected pop. “He was way ahead of other people in understanding that the walls between concert music and popular music and avant-garde music were illusory,” comments the composer Philip Glass. "He lived in a world in which those walls weren't there." Lawrence follows Russell across musical genres and through such vital downtown music spaces as the Kitchen, the Loft, the Gallery, the Paradise Garage, and the Experimental Intermedia Foundation. Along the way, he captures Russell's openness to sound, his commitment to collaboration, and his uncompromising idealism.
Microgroove continues John Corbett's exploration of diverse musics, with essays, interviews, and musician profiles that focus on jazz, improvised music, contemporary classical, rock, folk, blues, post-punk, and cartoon music. Corbett's approach to writing is as polymorphous as the music, ranging from oral history and journalistic portraiture to deeply engaged cultural critique. Corbett advocates for the relevance of "little" music, which despite its smaller audience is of enormous cultural significance. He writes on musicians as varied as Sun Ra, PJ Harvey, Koko Taylor, Steve Lacy, and Helmut Lachenmann. Among other topics, he discusses recording formats; the relationship between music and visual art, dance, and poetry; and, with Terri Kapsalis, the role of female orgasm sounds in contemporary popular music. Above all, Corbett privileges the importance of improvisation; he insists on the need to pay close attention to “other” music and celebrates its ability to open up pathways to new ideas, fresh modes of expression, and unforeseen ways of knowing.
Through archival work and storytelling, Musical Migration and Imperial New York revises many inherited narratives about experimental music and art in postwar New York.
From the urban street level of music clubs and arts institutions to the world-making routes of global migration and exchange, this book redraws the map of experimental art to reveal the imperial dynamics and citizenship struggles that continue to shape music in the United States.
Beginning with the material conditions of power that structured the cityscape of New York in the early Cold War years, Brigid Cohen looks at a wide range of artistic practices (concert music, electronic music, jazz, performance art) and actors (Edgard Varèse, Charles Mingus, Yoko Ono, and Fluxus founder George Maciunas) as they experimented with new modes of creativity. Cohen links them with other migrant creators vital to the city’s postwar culture boom, creators whose stories have seldom been told (Halim El-Dabh, Michiko Toyama, Vladimir Ussachevsky). She also gives sustained and serious treatment to the work of Yoko Ono, something long overdue in music scholarship. Musical Migration and Imperial New York is indispensable reading, offering a new understanding of global avant-gardes and American experimental music as well as the contrasting feelings of belonging and exclusion on which they were built.
Following his investigation into experimental music and sound recording in Records Ruin the Landscape, David Grubbs turns his attention to the live performance of improvised music with an altogether different form of writing. Now that the audience is assembled is a book-length prose poem that describes a fictional musical performance during which an unnamed musician improvises the construction of a series of invented instruments before an audience that is alternately contemplative, participatory, disputatious, and asleep. Over the course of this phantasmagorical all-night concert, repeated interruptions take the form of in-depth discussions and musical demonstrations. Both a work of literature and a study of music, Now that the audience is assembled explores the categories of improvised music, solo performance, text scores, instrument building, aesthetic deskilling and reskilling, and the odd fate of the composer in experimental music.
Founded in 1965 and still active today, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is an American institution with an international reputation. George E. Lewis, who joined the collective as a teenager in 1971, establishes the full importance and vitality of the AACM with this communal history, written with a symphonic sweep that draws on a cross-generational chorus of voices and a rich collection of rare images.
Moving from Chicago to New York to Paris, and from founding member Steve McCall’s kitchen table to Carnegie Hall, A Power Stronger Than Itself uncovers a vibrant, multicultural universe and brings to light a major piece of the history of avant-garde music and art.
John Cage's disdain for records was legendary. He repeatedly spoke of the ways in which recorded music was antithetical to his work. In Records Ruin the Landscape, David Grubbs argues that, following Cage, new genres in experimental and avant-garde music in the 1960s were particularly ill suited to be represented in the form of a recording. These activities include indeterminate music, long-duration minimalism, text scores, happenings, live electronic music, free jazz, and free improvisation. How could these proudly evanescent performance practices have been adequately represented on an LP?
In their day, few of these works circulated in recorded form. By contrast, contemporary listeners can encounter this music not only through a flood of LP and CD releases of archival recordings but also in even greater volume through Internet file sharing and online resources. Present-day listeners are coming to know that era's experimental music through the recorded artifacts of composers and musicians who largely disavowed recordings. In Records Ruin the Landscape, Grubbs surveys a musical landscape marked by altered listening practices.
Kyle Gann University of Illinois Press, 2012 Library of Congress ML410.A798G36 2012 | Dewey Decimal 780.92
This book explores the life and works of the pioneering opera composer Robert Ashley, one of the leading American composers of the post-Cage generation. Ashley's innovations began in the 1960s when he, along with Alvin Lucier, Gordon Mumma, and David Behrman, formed the Sonic Arts Union, a group that turned conceptualism toward electronics. He was also instrumental in the influential ONCE Group, a theatrical ensemble that toured extensively in the 1960s.During his tenure as its director, the ONCE Festival in Ann Arbor presented most of the decade's pioneers of the performing arts. Particularly known for his development of television operas beginning with Perfect Lives, Ashley spun a long series of similar text/music works, sometimes termed "performance novels." These massive pieces have been compared with Wagner's Ring Cycle for the vastness of their vision, though the materials are completely different, often incorporating noise backgrounds, vernacular music, and highly structured, even serialized, musical structures.
Drawing on extensive research into Ashley's early years in Ann Arbor and interviews with Ashley and his collaborators, Kyle Gann chronicles the life and work of this musical innovator and provides an overview of the avant-garde milieu of the 1960s and 1970s to which he was so central. Gann examines all nine of Ashley's major operas to date in detail, along with many minor works, revealing the fanatical structures that underlie Ashley's music as well as private references hidden in his opera librettos.
A groundbreaking study of the trailblazing music of Chicago’s AACM, a leader in the world of jazz and experimental music.
Founded on Chicago’s South Side in 1965 and still thriving today, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is the most influential collective organization in jazz and experimental music. In Sound Experiments, Paul Steinbeck offers an in-depth historical and musical investigation of the collective, analyzing individual performances and formal innovations in captivating detail. He pays particular attention to compositions by Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell, the Association’s leading figures, as well as Anthony Braxton, George Lewis (and his famous computer-music experiment, Voyager), Wadada Leo Smith, and Henry Threadgill, along with younger AACM members such as Mike Reed, Tomeka Reid, and Nicole Mitchell.
Sound Experiments represents a sonic history, spanning six decades, that affords insight not only into the individuals who created this music but also into an astonishing collective aesthetic. This aesthetic was uniquely grounded in nurturing communal ties across generations, as well as a commitment to experimentalism. The AACM’s compositions broke down the barriers between jazz and experimental music and made essential contributions to African American expression more broadly. Steinbeck shows how the creators of these extraordinary pieces pioneered novel approaches to instrumentation, notation, conducting, musical form, and technology, creating new soundscapes in contemporary music.
In recent decades, experimental music has flourished outside of European and American concert halls. The principles of indeterminacy, improvisation, nonmusical sound, and noise, pioneered in concert and on paper by the likes of Henry Cowell, John Cage, and Ornette Coleman, can now be found in all kinds of new places: activist films, rock recordings, and public radio broadcasts, not to mention in avant-garde movements around the world.
The contributors to Tomorrow Is the Question explore these previously unexamined corners of experimental music history, considering topics such as Sonic Youth, Julius Eastman, the Downtown New York pop avant-garde of the 1970s, Fluxus composer Benjamin Patterson, Tokyo’s Music group (aka Group Ongaku), the Balinese avant-garde, the Leicester school of British experimentalists, Cuba’s Grupo de Experimentación Sonora del ICAIC, Pauline Oliveros’s score for the feminist documentary Maquilapolis, NPR’s 1980s RadioVisions, and the philosophy of experimental musical aesthetics.
Taken together, this menagerie of people, places, and things makes up an actually existing experimentalism that is always partial, compromised, and invented in its local and particular formations—in other words, these individual cases suggest that experimentalism has been a far more variegated set of practices and discourses than previously recognized. Asking new questions leads to researching new materials, new individuals, and new contexts and, eventually, to the new critical paradigms that are necessary to interpret these materials. Gathering contributions from historical musicology, enthnomusicology, history, philosophy, and cultural studies, Tomorrow Is the Question generates future research directions in experimental music studies by way of a productive inquiry that sustains and elaborates critical conversations.
The voice in the headphones says, “you’re rolling” . . .
The Voice in the Headphones is an experiment in music writing in the form of a long poem centered on the culture of the recording studio. It describes in intricate, prismatic detail one marathon day in a recording studio during which an unnamed musician struggles to complete a film soundtrack. The book extends the form of Grubbs's previous volume Now that the audience is assembled, sharing its goal of musicalizing the language of writing about music. Mulling the insight that “studio is the absence of pushback”—now that no audience is assembled—The Voice in the Headphones details one musician's strategies for applying the requisite pressure to the proceedings, for making it count. The Voice in the Headphones is both a literary work and a meditation on sound recording, delivered at a moment in which the commercial recording studio shades into oblivion. It draws upon Grubbs's own history of several decades as a recording artist, and its location could be described as every studio in which he has set foot.
In The Williamsburg Avant-Garde Cisco Bradley chronicles the rise and fall of the underground music and art scene in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn between the late 1980s and the early 2010s. Drawing on interviews, archival collections, musical recordings, videos, photos, and other ephemera, Bradley explores the scene’s social, cultural, and economic dynamics. Building on the neighborhood’s punk DIY approach and aesthetic, Williamsburg's free jazz, postpunk, and noise musicians and groups---from Mary Halvorson, Zs, and Nate Wooley to Matana Roberts, Peter Evans, and Darius Jones---produced shows in a variety of unlicensed venues as well as in clubs and cafes. At the same time, pirate radio station free103point9 and music festivals made Williamsburg an epicenter of New York’s experimental culture. In 2005, New York’s rezoning act devastated the community as gentrification displaced its participants farther afield in Brooklyn and in Queens. With this portrait of Williamsburg, Bradley not only documents some of the most vital music of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries; he helps readers better understand the formation, vibrancy, and life span of experimental music and art scenes everywhere.