Industry (book)

My first book, Industry: Bang on a Can and New Music in the Marketplace, is now available from Oxford University Press.

You can order it from Oxford’s website here. You can also purchase it from your local bookstore, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

“In the past decade, William Robin has established himself not only as one of America’s most formidable younger musicologists but also as an incisive, eloquent writer in the public sphere. His study of Bang on a Can gives lavish evidence of his multisided brilliance: it is at once an absorbing historical narrative and an exacting work of critical analysis. No scholar or fan of contemporary American music can do without it.” — Alex Ross, author of The Rest Is Noise and Wagnerism

“William Robin breaks important new ground with this thick historical and ethnographic description of how networks of ensembles, institutions, listeners, and new technologies come together to forge new experimental music communities and marketplaces. Much more than a history of a new music ensemble, this book incisively chronicles a larger movement aimed at revitalizing expression, reception, and diversity in contemporary American classical music.” — George E. Lewis, author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music

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 imperiled 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.

Press:

“Diversity, Inclusion, and Funding New Music in the ’90s”: a long adaptation of a section of the book, in NewMusicBox, 7 April 2021.

“Booking Bang on a Can”: a review in the Albany Times-Union, by Joseph Dalton, 2 April 2021.

Praise from Ethan Iverson, at his blog Do The M@th.

Kind words from Alex Ross, at his blog The Rest Is Noise.

“How Bang on a Can helped remake the world of new music”: A feature on the book in the San Francisco Chronicle by Joshua Kosman, 16 February 2021.

“To Boo or not to boo”: Joshua Kosman’s reflections on booing at the 1983 Horizons festival and my book in the San Francisco Chronicle, 2 March 2021.

“How a Scrappy Arts Group Survived the ’90s”: An adapted excerpt from the book, in the New York Times, 18 February 2021.

A review in The Wire, issue 445, March 2021, by Vanessa Ague (behind subscriber paywall)

“5 Questions to William Robin”: An interview with me by Tracy Monaghan, in I Care If You Listen, 15 February 2021.

A few resources for readers:

Here’s a playlist of music discussed in the book (direct link here):

And here’s a companion playlist I wrote for VAN Magazine, which includes the world premiere of the 1981 archival recording of Michael Gordon’s The Tree Watcher, which I discuss in Chapter 1 of the book.

Here’s an episode of my podcast Sound Expertise, where I talk about my book with my friend and producer D. Edward Davis:

Here’s a conversation I had with Anne Midgette about the book, for the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System:

Here’s a conversation I had with Alex Ross about the book, for the Popular Music Books in Process series:

From 2018 to 2021, I published a Substack newsletter, Industry, focused on the research and writing of the book; you can read and subscribe here. A few posts that might be particularly relevant for readers:

Bang on a Can maintains its own excellent archive of audio and visual materials, Canland, which you should definitely check out!

Additional essays related to the book, including a longer exploration of the New York Philharmonic’s 1983 Horizons festival, and my dissertation and journal articles on the indie classical scene, are available here.