April 21st, 2011 | Published in Blog
A new book by Benjamin Piekut, Lecturer in Music at the University of Southampton, has just been published by the University of California Press. Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and its Limits appears in the series California Studies in Twentieth-Century Music, edited by Richard Taruskin.
Focusing on one place and time — New York City, 1964 — Piekut examines five related 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.
Praising the book, Georgina Born (Oxford) writes, “Benjamin Piekut takes scholarship on late twentieth century music to new heights with this inventive and compelling study of the networks of experimental music. Weaving a historical ethnography of performances, practices, sounds, and subjectivities together with insights from recent social and anthropological theory . . . , he gives us ‘actually existing experimentalism’ free from idealization or dilution.”