26 March 2020. “Multiculturalism, Neoconservatism, and New Music’s Marketplace Turn amidst the Culture Wars.” Society for American Music national conference, Minneapolis.
“Are you apprehensive about what the politics of ‘multiculturalism’ is going to mean to the future of our civilization?” asked a 1990 mailer for The New Criterion. The neoconservative journal was seeking out new subscribers amidst the Culture Wars, a referendum on the role of government funding of the arts. And though the focal point of right-wing ire was visual artists like Robert Mapplethorpe, the Culture Wars and conservative attacks on multiculturalism had significant consequences for American composition, which have not yet been scrutinized by scholars.
This paper examines how the Culture Wars were refracted in new music, through an analysis of a major debate around the New York State Council for the Arts. In the early 1990s, the Council introduced program guidelines advocating for grantees to take a multicultural and audience-focused approach, which incited indignation among musicians such as the neoconservative composer Charles Wuorinen. Drawing on archival research, interviews, and reception, I trace how these changes in government funding shaped the differing fates of two new-music institutions: the decline of the Group for Contemporary music, a pioneering ensemble co-founded by Wuorinen that emerged during the ’60s wave of funding for academic new music; and the ascent of Bang on a Can, a market- and multicultural- friendly organization that expanded dramatically in the early ’90s. Examining the intertwined paths of these two institutions, I argue, reveals the decline of Cold War logics that shaped midcentury American modernism and the rise of a marketplace turn in American composition.
13–15 March 2020. “Bang on a Can and New Music America: Competing Festival Visions for Contemporary Music.” Music Festival Studies: Current Perspectives, Future Directions, MIT.
“These impresarios have an insight, a point of view, a vision,” the Village Voice critic Kyle Gann wrote of the recently-established Bang on a Can festival in 1989. “BoaC isn’t splintered by the favors to repay, the factions to satisfy, that have diluted New Music America and made it so disappointing (if necessary).” In the late 1980s, contemporary music was divided into two festival experiences in the United States: the upstart Bang on a Can, a twelve-hour marathon concert held in downtown New York since 1987; and the establishment New Music America, a massive, multi-day endeavor that rotated between major cities since 1979. These two festivals offered competing visions in a moment of transition for American new music.
Drawing on archival research, interviews, and reception, this paper compares three key aspects of the festivals circa 1989, when both were held in New York. First, I consider how they offered different definitions of “new music” as a genre: New Music America represented a scene of experimental improvisers and composer-performers that critic John Rockwell dubbed a “post-literate vanguard,” whereas Bang on a Can advocated for composers who wrote conventionally notated works for virtuoso classical musicians. Second, I compare the distinct “festival cultures” each institution provided: New Music America dispersed its offerings over many events in multiple venues, thus fragmenting its audience, whereas Bang on a Can empathically sought to create a singular audience experience through its marathon format. Finally, I examine the governance of each festival: the nimble Bang on a Can was run out of the kitchens of three young composers (Gann’s “point of view”) whereas New Music America was organized by a rotating committee and attendant bureaucracy that served many constituencies (Gann’s “factions to satisfy”). The success of Bang on a Can, which grew into a multi-million-dollar organization in the 1990s, alongside the decline of New Music America, which held its final iteration in 1990, reveals how different festival formats structured contemporary music at the close of the twentieth century.
20–21 March 2020. “Multiculturalism, New Music, and the Culture Wars.” Keynote, AMS South Central Chapter, Georgia Highlands College
8 March 2020. “Multiculturalism, Neoconservatism, and New Music’s Marketplace Turn amidst the Culture Wars.” Keynote, Rutgers University Musicological Society (RUMS) Graduate Student Music Conference.
21 February 2020. “Multiculturalism, Neoconservatism, and New Music’s Marketplace Turn amidst the Culture Wars.” Bowling Green State University.
1 November 2019. “‘There’s Money in New Music’: Bang on a Can and the Post-Górecki Record Industry in the 1990s.” American Musicological Society national conference, Boston.
29 May 2019. “‘There’s Money in New Music’: Bang on a Can and the Post-Górecki Record Industry in the 1990s.” University of Chicago.
“The classical-record industry has made a startling discovery,” proclaimed New York Magazine in March 1994. “There’s money in new music.” An unforeseen, smash hit success had ignited the revelation: Nonesuch’s 1992 recording of the Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, which would ultimately sell a million records. In response, RCA/BMG, Philips, and Sony all launched their own contemporary music lines. For the classical industry, Górecki’s Third participated in the same phenomenon as crossovers like the “Three Tenors,” projects aimed towards yielding substantive profits amidst a landscape of corporate consolidation and declining CD sales. One beneficiary of this moment was the upstart composer collective Bang on a Can, which netted a major contract with Sony Classical in 1995.
This paper reveals, first, how recordings of contemporary music in the U.S. transitioned from a non-commercial service for composers in the 1980s into a potentially profit-making enterprise in the 1990s and, second, how Bang on a Can used the recorded medium to strongly assert its institutional identity in this newly speculative marketplace. I trace the history of Bang on a Can on record, from its early participation in Composer Recordings Inc.’s edgy imprint Emergency Music; through its two Sony albums; to its reinterpretation of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports; and, finally, to the founding of its own independent label, Cantaloupe Music. More broadly, I argue that this new dialogue between contemporary music and the record industry presents a clear example of how neoliberalism transformed new music in the United States. Just as Congress was arguing over whether the National Endowment for the Arts should be eliminated and American artists left to compete in the free market, major record labels were newly extracting profits from a traditionally non-profit sector.
4 April 2019. “‘There’s Money in New Music’: Bang on a Can and the Post-Górecki Record Industry in the 1990s.” Wesleyan University.
1 March 2019. “Public Musicology and Public Writing.” Public Intellectuals in A Changing World, Oberlin Center for Languages and Cultures, Oberlin College.
28 February 2019. “‘There’s Money in New Music’: Bang on a Can and the Post-Górecki Record Industry in the 1990s.” Oberlin College Conservatory.
18 November 2018. “Training Musicians Today, Tomorrow and Beyond.” Panel participant, National Association of Schools of Music Annual Meeting, Washington, DC.
1 November 2018. Panelist on “Music, Disability, and the Environment: Bridging Scholarship with Activism.” American Musicological Society annual meeting, San Antonio (view program here).
5 October 2018. “Lining Up the All-Stars: Bang on a Can and the American New-Music Ensemble in the ’90s.” Joint Meeting of the Allegheny, Capital, and Mid-Atlantic Chapters of the AMS, University of Delaware.
In a 1991 New York Times report, directors of longstanding new-music ensembles including Speculum Musicae and the Group for Contemporary Music complained about dwindling audiences, cutbacks to grants, and increased competition in the contemporary music marketplace. These ensembles had first formed at universities in the 1960s and early 1970s, in the midst of a Sputnik-era wave of funding directed towards specialized musical research and, by the 1980s, were a central part of new-music culture. But around the turn of the 1990s such legacy groups suffered significant losses of revenue, as non-profit funders expressed new concerns about their inability to attract audiences. At the same time, in 1992, the composer collective Bang on a Can launched its All-Stars, a touring group that played rock-inflected music and was marketed deliberately to capture new listeners. A close study of the origins of the Bang on a Can All-Stars unveils the complex relationship between audience building, publicity, and funding among new-music ensembles in this period. And despite its spiritual indebtedness to downtown groups like the Philip Glass Ensemble and Steve Reich and Musicians, the All-Stars––overseen by composers Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe but comprising freelance musicians who had little input into the ensemble’s decisions––re-inscribed traditional composer-performer hierarchies. The All-Stars dressed like a rock band but behaved like a traditional classical ensemble, providing a “cool” repackaging of the enduring ontology of composer, performer, and notated musical work. Their ascent as established groups like Speculum Musicae declined reveals how the marketplace in the 1990s increasingly prized such attempts to revamp familiar classical music tropes in order to reach new publics.
27 September 2018. Artist talk with Tyshawn Sorey. Rhizome DC.
15 September 2018. “New Music and the Media.” New Music DC, Georgetown University.
May 2018. “An Oral History of New Amsterdam Records.” Panel moderator and participant, New Music Gathering, Boston Conservatory.
April 2018. “Opera for the 80s and Beyond, the Orchestra Residencies Project, and Institutional Experiments in American New Music in the 1980s.” Experiments in Opera Today, Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University.
April 2018. “Public Musicology and Public Writing for Graduate Students.” Yale University.
Feb. 2018. “‘A New Romanticism?’ The New York Philharmonic’s 1983 Horizons Festival and the Composer in the Marketplace.” Society for American Music, Kansas City.
Feb. 2018. “A New Romanticism? The New York Philharmonic’s 1983 Horizons Festival and the Composer in the Marketplace.” Catholic University of America.
Nov. 2017. “In Search of New Music.” Panel chair and participant, American Musicological Society, Rochester.
Sept. 2017. “Indie Classical and the Branding of American New Music.” Branding “Western Music,” Bern University.
June 2017. “Bang on a Can and Minimalism.” Sixth International Conference on Music and Minimalism, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
May 2017. “Scholarly Perspectives on Supporting New Music.” Panel participant, New Music Gathering, Bowling Green State University.
May 2017. “Failure.” Panel organizer and participant, New Music Gathering, Bowling Green State University.
March 2017. “‘A Little Taste of the Way the Institutional World Works’: The Academic and Orchestral Pre-History of Bang on a Can.” Society for American Music, Montreal.
Feb. 2017. “Public Musicology and Writing for the Public.” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Sept. 2016. “What They Talk About When They Talk About New Music.” What We Talk About When We Talk About New Music, University of Massachusetts Amherst.
June 2016. “Totalism, Indie Classical, and the Politics of Naming in American New-Music Criticism Since 1990.” Music Criticism in the Twentieth Century in America and the English Speaking-World, Paris.
March 2016. “The Rise and Fall of Indie Classical: Branding An American New-Music Scene, 2007–2013.” Society for American Music, Boston.
March 2016. “Indie Classical and Its Limits: The Contested Politics of Naming an American New-Music Scene, 2007–2013.” Yale Graduate Music Symposium, Yale University.
Feb. 2016. “The Rise and Fall of Indie Classical.” University of Maryland, College Park.
Jan. 2016. “Disseminating ‘A Scene Without A Name’: New Amsterdam, yMusic, and the Pathways of Indie Classical.” University of South Carolina.
Jan. 2016. “Scholarly Perspectives on American New Music Since 1960.” Panel organizer and participant, New Music Gathering, Peabody Institute.
Oct. 2015. “Paying For and Playing With Indie Classical: The Branding of an American New-Music Scene, 2007–2013.” Frederick Loewe Symposium in American Music, University of Redlands.
Nov. 2014.“Towards a Theory of Music Patronage Post-1900.” Panel participant, American Musicological Society, Milwaukee.
May 2014. “Songs for Shara: Pop-Classical Collaboration as Process.” Music as Process: Nief-Norf Research Summit, Furman University.
May 2014. “Capturing Cross-Genre Sounds: Shara Worden, Pop-Classical Collaboration, and Recording Technology.” Technology in Music: Production, Preservation, and Dissemination, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
April 2014. “Songs for Shara: The Cosmopolitan Pop Voice as New Performance Technique.” Northwestern New Music Conference, Northwestern University.
Oct. 2013. “Post-Prohibitive or Post-Minimalist? Minimalism as Model for Muhly, Mazzoli, and Greenstein.” Society for Minimalist Music: 4th International Conference, Cal State Long Beach.
May 2013. “Stravinsky in America: The 1910s and the 2010s.” Musical College of the Moscow Conservatory.
March 2013. “‘A More Graceful Style’: Pleyel’s Second and American Psalmody Reform.” Society for American Music, Little Rock, March 2013.
June 2012. “Prater His First Love: Arnold Schoenberg’s Op. 43 and the Austrian Military Band Tradition.” Arnold Schoenberg Summer Academy, Arnold Schoenberg Center.
Sept. 2011. “Staging the Apocalypse: The Atomic Bomb in B. A. Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten and Les Rondeaux.” Music in Divided Germany, UC Berkeley.