My first book, Industry: Bang on a Can and New Music in the Marketplace, will be published on February 22, 2021 by Oxford University Press.
You can pre-order it from Oxford’s website here.
“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.
A few resources for readers:
Here’s a playlist of music discussed in the book (direct link here):
Since 2018, I have 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:
- On New Music America
- On Meet the Composer/Horizons research
- On NYSCA’s archives (and how to use them)
- On presentism
- On the introductory chapter
- On the late, great K. Robert Schwarz
- On Sheep’s Clothing and the aging of the ’60s
- On how I draft a chapter
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.