Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and Its Limits

Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and Its Limits

Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and Its Limits

Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and Its Limits

Synopsis

In Experimental Otherwise, Benjamin Piekut takes the reader into the heart of what we mean by "experimental" in avant-garde music. Focusing on one place and time--New York City, 1964--Piekut examines five disparate events: the New York Philharmonic's disastrous performance of John Cage's Atlas Eclipticalis; Henry Flynt's demonstrations against the downtown avant-garde; Charlotte Moorman's Avant Garde Festival; the founding of the Jazz Composers Guild; and the emergence of Iggy Pop. Drawing together a colorful array of personalities, Piekut argues that each of these examples points to a failure and marks a limit or boundary of canonical experimentalism. What emerges from these marginal moments is an accurate picture of the avant-garde, not as a style or genre, but as a network defined by disagreements, struggles, and exclusions.

Excerpt

This book tells the stories of four disastrous confrontations within the world of New York experimentalism in 1964, plus one more about the extension of experimentalist techniques out of the city’s avant-garde community and into the foreign realm of popular music a few years later. in February, the New York Philharmonic gave their notorious performance of John Cage’s Atlas Eclipticalis, during which the musicians reportedly played scales, chatted among themselves, and even destroyed the composer’s contact microphones. in April and September, the composer and activist Henry Flynt led raucous public demonstrations against Karlheinz Stockhausen and the American artists who performed his works in concert. Also in September, the cellist and impresaria Charlotte Moorman premiered her full version of Cage’s 26′ 1.1499″ for a String Player, in an interpretation that the composer would liken to “murder.” in October, the trumpeter Bill Dixon formed the Jazz Composers Guild, an organization that forcefully, albeit briefly, proclaimed its independence from the exploitative jazz marketplace. Finally, that autumn the composer Robert Ashley premiered his sonically assaultive vocal piece The Wolfman at a Moorman-produced festival. He would take this work back with him to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where it became the inspiration for a young Iggy Pop to experiment with avant-garde techniques in his band, the Stooges.

I was guided to and through these stories by an appreciation of what the literary scholar Fred Moten refers to as “the very intense relationship between experimentalism and the everyday.” Anyone familiar with the . . .

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