A few years back, the saxophonist and electronic musician Steve Coleman was in constant communication with my UCSD graduate students. One of his e-mails to them contained the reminder that in evaluating the impact of a musical movement (or perhaps any movement), one was obliged to consider not only what the movement did, but also what it tried (and perhaps failed) to do. As we have seen, one major thing that AACM musicians “tried” to do was to survive and even thrive while (a) pursuing their art and (b) controlling the means of its production. These goals are, in fact, intertwined with another important goal—that of affecting the discourses surrounding and mediating the activity of the African American artist.
In fact, none of these goals are likely to be realized without pursuing the others, and I'd like to invoke James Clifford's influential essay “On Ethnographic Authority” as a touchstone for establishing my working method for an interim evaluation of the collective's legacy. “One increasingly common way to manifest the collaborative production of ethnographic knowledge,” Clifford writes, “is to quote regularly and at length from informants.”
But such quotations are always staged by the quoter, and tend to
serve merely as examples, or confirming testimonies. Looking