Remember all those past newsletter when I would say things like, “The book is done” and then tell you about how there were actually five things left to do, like proofing the index or editing the acknowledgements or scrubbing the fitzhugh or whatever? (OK that last one I made up, but if someone had told me three years ago to make sure, in the end phase of the book process to make time for “scrubbing the fitzhugh” I would have believed them.) Anyway, it’s done done done done done done, which is to say that it’s at the printers/being/been printed and I cannot do anything about it. I even requested a tiny change a couple weeks ago, and was turned down; it’s gotta go in the second edition, because this first one’s already done. It’s done!
Which means, of course, there’s still more to do! Lol.
I am someone who, for better or worse, feels not as much shame about self-promotion about a lot of other kind of people (hence, cough, this newsletter) so I am gearing into self-promotion mode to try to make sure this book will get read by all the people I would ideally like to read it. I’ve emailed all of the music/book critics I can think of who might be interested to see if they’d like an advance copy (if you are one of those, and haven’t heard from me, reach out!). I’m working on a launch event of some kind for Feb 22, which all of you will of course be invited to. And I’ve got a few other talks in the work for this spring, either more informal conversations about the book or more formal academic talks.
In fact, the first of those is coming up next week! Since June, Eric Weisbard, Kimberly Mack, and Carl Wilson have been organizing Popular Music Books in Process (a co-production of several different pop music scholar outfits), a series of Zoom talks in which various scholars talk about their forthcoming/in-progress/recently-released manuscripts. They’re really great events, and I didn’t attend nearly as many as I would have liked when they ran last summer/fall. They’re back this evening with a conversation between some of the smartest people in the world, Daphne A. Brooks, Farah Jasmine Griffin, and Gayle Wald, talking about Brooks’s book Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound (which I just realized comes out the day after my book — TBH I’d buy that one first! Also, have you read Brooks’s “Crazy Blues” essay in the Times? So good). Anyway, I have the very intimidating job of going the week after that, on Jan 26, to talk about Industry. Fortunately I’ve brought along my own very smart interlocutor — Alex Ross, who has been a close friend and great mentor for many years, has been reading this book since the beginning, and we’ll be talking about it together. If you want to attend, details are on their website; it’ll also be on YouTube afterwards.
I’m also giving a few academic talks in the spring that try to condense a bunch of parts of the book into 40-ish minutes. This was not an easy task, to pick and choose what components of what chapters might be central to a larger argument about Bang on a Can and new music’s marketplace turn. What I’ve settled on is, basically, a talk that traces a few different junctures in Bang on a Can’s early history alongside its support from other institutions — talking briefly about Bang’s origins and its early funding from Meet the Composer and NYSCA, then the formation of the All-Stars, then what the All-Stars helped lead to: the collaborations with Lincoln Center and Sony Classical. Here’s the abstract:
“The Bang on a Can Festival, the 8-year-old irreverent New York forum for new music, is invading the mainstream,” wrote Billboard in May 1995. The magazine was pointing out a major moment in the festival’s history: that season, what had begun as a quirky, do-it-yourself marathon of contemporary music in downtown New York was now playing a run of concerts at Lincoln Center and releasing an album on the major label Sony Classical. Bang on a Can’s remarkable growth in the early 1990s—as it expanded with an in-house ensemble and collaborations with major classical music organizations, its budget grew by more than twentyfold––can be traced to the entrepreneurial ingenuity of its three founding composers. But it was also a result of significant structural shifts: a “marketplace turn” in American new music in the late twentieth century, in which institutions and musicians came to believe that the survival of contemporary composition depended on reaching a broad, non-specialist audience. A reversal of Cold War-era attitudes, the marketplace turn profoundly reshaped the institutional landscape for the American avant-garde: the granting organization Meet the Composer facilitated contact between composers and the public; government funders like the New York State Council on the Arts encouraged grantees to focus on audience outreach; presenters like Lincoln Center saw contemporary music as a means to attract new ticket buyers; and the record industry looked to new music as an opportunity to amass profits. In this talk, I trace Bang on a Can’s expansion in this period, as it traipsed through these developments and found new ways to grow the listenership for contemporary composition.
We’ll see how it works live. I’ve got a list of talks up on my website, and if any of these end up being public I’ll make that clear there!
I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it here before, but I was extraordinarily lucky to be on parental leave for fall 2020, to be hanging out with Ira rather than teaching. I’m very grateful to UMD for having a strong parental leave policy, and to my department colleagues for their help and work. It’s going to be very weird going back to teaching in an online environment, having missed out on the fall and knowing online mostly from the disaster/emergency final weeks of last spring. I’m teaching the music appreciation class I’ve written about before here, which I’m adapting into an asynchronous (aka not meeting any given specific time) format in which students will read through pages of text I’ve written/created each week. I’m lifting this idea from an excellent pedagogue, my colleague Pat Warfield. I’m a better writer than I am video-editor, and I worry that students are tired of watching a ton of pre-recorded lecture videos, so I’m hoping this will be a successful format for the course and what I hope to do with it. I’m also teaching a grad seminar on minimalism (synchronous over Zoom), which I’m excited about as an opportunity to workshop ideas from the book that Kerry and I are working on.
Fingers crossed that we are in-person in the fall: I’m teaching two new classes that would both really benefit from not being online! We’ll see.
Some of you may have noticed that I have been mostly absent from social media for more than a month — I think this is my longest hiatus from Twitter since I started tweeting more than ten years ago, which is wild. Obviously online discourse has been corrosive and toxic and awful and doomscroll-y for years now, but it took having a kid to realize that I was spending too much time on Twitter, and then when I was off Twitter, too much time thinking about Twitter. I’m still logging in semi-frequently to check my mentions, and then I’ll see like three tweets and realize I immediately want to log off, which has been healthy for me so far.
I used to find those people who left Twitter and talked about how good it was to leave Twitter very annoying, so I’ll try not to become one of those people. Everyone has their own reasons for being on social media, and there are lots of good reasons. But I’ve been hanging with Ira and reading more books (just finished Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, holy crap!).
I’ve also playing this crazy semi-broken home organ that I got from a neighbor for free, so that’s fun. It’s a Conn Prelude Spinet from the ‘70s, and I basically just crunch through Bach chorales with very mediocre keyboard abilities in my basement, and the lower Gs don’t work and the pedals are literally a half-step sharp, but it gets real loud and sounds real rich. If you know anything about this kind of organ, let me know! There’s very little info online. Many thanks to Siv Lie and Davindar Singh for helping me haul it home.
Ira is 6.5 months old, and it is wild how much he has grown! He keeps getting cuter, I do not understand how.
We’ve got twelve episodes of Sound Expertise recorded, and two more to record in the next couple weeks, and that should be Season 2. I’m pretty excited about it — I had a list of dream guests, and got *all* of them to talk to me. I’m keeping the guest list a secret until the season starts, but a couple people have teased their appearances already on social media.
I feel like I’ve gotten a much better hand around how to craft and direct each interview: the episodes will be longer than Season 1, but also more cogent, I hope. We’re going to hold off on launching Season 2 until March, so I don’t get my book and podcast publicity too intertwined, but we’ll drop a bonus pre-season episode sometime in February in which my producer Eddie interviews me about my book. So stay tuned for that!
Despite being mostly off Twitter, I am very aware of the contemptible recent actions of a certain music theorist, part of a pattern of unethical behavior in which he threatens his professional colleagues and then claims himself as the aggrieved party.
He is one among many, many privileged white men out there who have constructed for themselves a fiction of grievance, who have decided they are victims and deserve their own civil rights movement. They are not and do not. The differences among these men are differences in degree, not in kind. They poison our workplaces, our social fabric, and our democracy. They have been emboldened, even celebrated, by the federal government for the last four years, but they will not go away when a new president steps into office.
Those who lack their power — who are from marginalized groups, and/or are students/contingent faculty — who stand up against them, even and especially if it's on social media, deserve our respect, support, and solidarity. In a time when we need to wear masks to keep each other alive, these men have chosen to unmask themselves. They have earned, at the very least, all of the shame they will receive.