Industry: Bang on a Can and New Music in the Marketplace. Oxford University Press, forthcoming Feb 2021 – preorder here!
Amidst the heated fray of the Culture Wars emerged a scrappy festival in downtown New York City called Bang on a Can. Presenting eclectic, irreverent marathons of experimental music in crumbling venues on the Lower East Side, Bang on a Can sold out concerts for a genre that had been long considered box office poison. Through the 1980s and 1990s, three young, visionary composers–David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe–nurtured Bang on a Can into a multifaceted organization with a major record deal, a virtuosic in-house ensemble, and a seat at the table at Lincoln Center, and in the process changed the landscape of avant-garde music in the United States.
Bang on a Can captured a new public for new music. But they did not do so alone. As the twentieth century came to a close, the world of American composition pivoted away from the insular academy and towards the broader marketplace. In the wake of the unexpected popularity of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, classical presenters looked to contemporary music for relevance and record labels scrambled to reap its potential profits, all while government funding was imperilled by the evangelical right. Other institutions faltered amidst the vagaries of late capitalism, but the renegade Bang on a Can survived–and thrived–in a tumultuous and idealistic moment that made new music what it is today.
I’m writing a weekly newsletter about my book project, Industry, which you can read and subscribe to here!
“A Scene Without A Name: Indie Classical and American New Music in the Twenty-First Century.” PhD diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2016.
This dissertation represents the first study of indie classical, a significant subset of new music in the twenty-first century United States. The definition of “indie classical” has been a point of controversy among musicians: I thus examine the phrase in its multiplicity, providing a framework to understand its many meanings and practices. Indie classical offers a lens through which to study the social: the web of relations through which new music is structured, comprised in a heterogeneous array of actors, from composers and performers to journalists and publicists to blog posts and music venues. This study reveals the mechanisms through which a musical movement establishes itself in American cultural life; demonstrates how intermediaries such as performers, administrators, critics, and publicists fundamentally shape artistic discourses; and offers a model for analyzing institutional identity and understanding the essential role of institutions in new music.
Three chapters each consider indie classical through a different set of practices: as a young generation of musicians that constructed itself in shared institutional backgrounds and performative acts of grouping; as an identity for New Amsterdam Records that powerfully shaped the record label’s music and its dissemination; and as a collaboration between the ensemble yMusic and Duke University that sheds light on the twenty-first century status of the new-music ensemble and the composition PhD program. Combining archival and digital research, reception history, interviews, and fieldwork, I uncover the flows of cultural and economic capital that govern how classical and new music operate in the present day.
“Horizons ’83, Meet the Composer, and New Romanticism’s New Marketplace.” Musical Quarterly, fall 2019.
In June 1983, the New York Philharmonic mounted its first Horizons festival for contemporary music, titled “Since 1968, A New Romanticism?” That question mark functioned as a provocation. For festival curator and Philharmonic composer-in-residence Jacob Druckman, this new Romanticism represented his belief that, in the wake of Luciano Berio’s 1968 Sinfonia, new music had embraced “sensuality, mystery, nostalgia, ecstasy, and transcendence.” For music critics, the new romanticism was synonymous with neo-Romanticism, a return to tonal harmony and large-scale symphonic form among American composers like David Del Tredici. And for the Philharmonic’s administrative staff, a new Romanticism signaled the potential for listener-friendly contemporary music. This disagreement, however, represented a productive tension: it generated enough “buzz” that the festival became an unprecedented box-office phenomenon.
This article argues that Horizons ’83, and the success of its New Romanticism, served as the flagship project of a major turn of American new music towards the marketplace and a broad, non-academic audience. Drawing on previously unexamined archival material, interviews, and reception, I analyze the New York Philharmonic’s 1983 Horizons festival to reveal how this turn to the audience was not only the result of stylistic shifts, but also of fundamentally institutional transformations. Indeed, a marketplace turn was the explicit goal of Meet the Composer in underwriting Horizons and other orchestral residencies across the United States. Examining how Druckman and the Philharmonic curated, publicized, and marketed New Romanticism provides an understanding of how the new marketplace imagined by Meet the Composer was executed in practice.
“Balance Problems: Neoliberalism and New Music in the American University and Ensemble.” Journal of the American Musicological Society, fall 2018.
Between 2013 and 2015, the ensemble yMusic collaborated with graduate student composers in a residency at Duke University. This article positions the residency as a result of the transformation of the university and the new-music ensemble from a technocratic Cold War paradigm to their contemporary status under the market- and branding-oriented logics of neoliberalism. The works written for yMusic by the Duke composers were deeply informed by the ensemble’s musical brand, including its idiosyncratic instrumentation, preexisting repertory, collaborative ethos, and relationship to popular music. In accounting for the impact of these institutional developments on the production of musical works, this article argues that the economic and ideological practices of neoliberalism have discernible aesthetic consequences for American new music. Given the key role of the ensemble and the university in the contemporary music landscape, the issues raised by my ethnographic and historical analysis have significant implications for new music in the twenty- first century, and for the way composers work in the United States and beyond.
“The Rise and Fall of ‘Indie Classical’: Tracing a Controversial Term in Twenty-First Century New Music.” Journal of the Society for American Music, spring 2018.
In its inaugural 2007 press release, New York–based New Amsterdam Records announced its mission to “foster a sense of connection among musicians and fans in this ‘indie classical’ scene.” New Amsterdam’s publicity apparatus brought “indie classical” into widespread media circulation, but by 2013 the label had ceased using the term. In the intervening years, the meaning of indie classical had been hotly contested by the community of musicians it was meant to champion. Drawing on more than fifty interviews, archival research, and reception history from traditional publications and new online sources, I recreate the rise and fall of indie classical as it transpired over a decade. Tracing the background of the composers and performers who first labeled themselves as indie classical, unveiling the origins of the term and how it was disseminated, and examining the debates that surrounded it and its subsequent decline reveals how the aesthetic discourse of new music is constructed in the twenty-first century.
“Traveling with ‘Ancient Music’: Intellectual and Transatlantic Currents in American Psalmody Reform.” Journal of Musicology 32, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 246–78.
In reforming psalmody in early nineteenth-century New England, participants in the so-called “Ancient Music” movement imported the solemnly refined hymn tunes and scientific rhetoric of Europe. This transatlantic exchange was in part the result of European travels by a generation of young members of the American socioeconomic and intellectual elite, such as Joseph Stevens Buckminster and John Pickering, whom scholars have not previously associated with hymnody reform. This study asserts that non-composers, particularly clergy and academics, played a crucial role in the “Ancient Music” movement, and offers a fuller picture of a little-examined but critical period in the history of American psalmody. Tracing the transatlantic voyages of figures like Buckminster and Pickering reveals that the actions and perspectives of active participants in the Atlantic world shaped “Ancient Music” reform and that hymnody reform was part of a broader project of cultural and intellectual uplift in New England.
“Formalizing a ‘Purely Acoustic’ Musical Objectivity: Another Look at a 1915 Interview with Stravinsky.” In The Rite of Spring at 100. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.
A reassessment of Stravinsky’s views on musical objectivity through the 1910s. In light of rediscovering an unknown interview from 1915––in which the composer declared that “La musique est trop bête pour exprimer autre chose que la musique”––I argue that the origins of Stravinsky’s 1930s rhetoric of musical expression (most famously articulated in the statement “Music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all”) most likely dates back to his Swiss period in 1914–15.
“Totalism, Indie Classical, and the Politics of Naming in American New-Music Criticism.” In Music Criticism in the Twentieth Century, conference proceedings forthcoming 2018.
A brief comparative examination of the history and dissemination of the terms “indie classical” and “totalism” in U.S. new music in the 1980s–2000s; will be published in French.
MUSC 699P syllabus Graduate seminar, University of Maryland, College Park, spring 2017.
This was my first time teaching the seminar, and much will change next time I teach it, but the reading list is solid.