a full manuscript

So maybe you saw yesterday's tweets!

Yes, that's right folks, Industry is Industry-ed. (There was a really interesting conversation in the replies about wordcount vs. page length, fyi!). Well, not really. There is a lot more to do. But now my "All chapters" folder looks like this:

(Astute observers will notice I've tweaked chapter titles a bit.) I still have a lot of revisions ahead, both terms of adding some new-ish stuff from the "to add" documents into the main chapters, and looking at the whole manuscript and seeing how things fit together.

I'm pretty happy with my Epilogue, for now at least. It was never going to be a Conclusion: it's less a "here's a big summing up" than a "here's a look forward." I had originally imagined it to be some massive, 45-page chapter that took every aspect of the previous chapters, which all stop by 2000, and trace what happened to them in the 19 years since (here’s six pages on arts funding post-2000! here’s six pages on the record industry! etc etc). Then I started writing it, and realized I didn't need to say as much as I thought it did, and now it's only about 10 pages. It takes us to the twenty-first century, in brief, and gives a sense of what Bang on a Can has been up to, and the legacy of the marketplace turn. As I say in the epilogue, my book tells only the first half of Bang on a Can's story, but I do think it tells the full story of the marketplace turn. My concluding paragraphs offer what I consider to be the book's only real "call to arms." I won't be writing about it here; it only makes sense after you've read the few hundred pages. But I'm happy with what I have imagined for the end of the reader's journey.

So here's what's next:

  • Transcribing a couple more interviews and adding them to the "to add" files

  • Mashing the bits still in the "to add" files into the chapters

  • Getting feedback from friends on a couple chapters

  • Looking at the chapters in comparison to each other and seeing how it holds up as a full manuscript (that's a big project!)

  • Editing my bibliography

  • Obtaining photographs I want to use, getting permissions for them, figuring out where they go in the manuscript, etc etc

  • Obtaining permissions for various other materials I'm quoting from in the book

  • A ton of other publication related stuff -- front matter, back matter, etc etc etc etc (Oxford has a long list of stuff that needs to be submitted)

But actually next, fortunately, is a break. I'll be traveling for a couple weeks, so no newsletters for a bit. Here's something interesting you can read in the interim: a 1991 conversation between James Jordan of the New York State Council for the Arts, John Duffy of Meet the Composer, and David LL Laskin of EAR Magazine (printed in EAR Magazine 16, no. 1, April 1991). It's really an incredibly interesting discussion that gets to key questions about new music, political action, popularity, and patronage that still resonate today. Here’s one of many fascinating passages:

Click here and you can read the whole thing.

Georgia really, really loves her bone.

process and ideology

We haven't talked much about process lately, so a little update. Recall, if you will, the state of my manuscript:

Each chapter has a full, solid draft; each chapter also has a supplemental file that contains a list of everything I want to add to it. At first, I had the "stuff to add" in comment boxes in Word, but the documents would become incredibly over-encumbered with comments, and I couldn't keep anything straight. So now, when I realize that something needs to be dropped into an existing chapter -- an anecdote from a new interview, a bit of material I uncover while researching something else -- I add it in to the relevant “to add” file.

The major revisions I've been doing over the past month have basically been mashing the "to add" and the "draft" documents together. I start by going through the entire "to add" document, removing material and placing it in the relevant section in the actual chapter draft. The "to add" documents are often huge -- a couple of them were 50+ pages, containing all matter of interview transcripts, archival material, random musings, etc. It takes a while. Once they're all in the chapter draft itself, I work on weaving the new material into the prose, slowly kneading it in (is this the right metaphor? whisking it?) until it makes sense. Sometimes this has led to a full-on rethink of the chapter. That's the case with the one I just finished up, Chapter 5, on the All-Stars. I didn't love how the chapter was framed, or how the major sections I had in it were laid out; as I brought in the new material, I reworked everything. It used to start with a boring anecdote about earned income; now it starts with a riveting description of when Julia Wolfe's Lick was performed at Tanglewood in 1994. Maybe.

And now I’ve moved on to some busy work, before tackling writing my lengthy conclusion/epilogue (I’ve been gathering my thoughts on it for a while, and the writing will want to spill out very soon). I spent the last couple days going through every chapter and double-checking and correcting quotes from my interviews (70+ interviews for the manuscript, FWIW); compiled a full bibliography (that’s still a very rough draft, but we’re getting there) of secondary literature, interviews, and archival sources; and started gathering and thinking about what photos I’ll want to use, and reaching out to various folks to get more.

One thing I’m thinking about all the time, if it’s not clear from the past few newsletters, is pinpointing the ideologies of the many people and institutions I’m writing about: what, at their core, they believe, and how it links up or doesn’t to the politics of the day. This isn’t easy, and it requires precision. Much of the really fascinating recent work on new music that’s done so tends to focus on the ‘60s. There is so much political foment in the air in that decade, so many composers aligning themselves with utopian movements or not doing so, that it can become quite clear where various composers stand on an ideological spectrum, and how they see their music’s relationship to politics. That gets a bit foggier, I think, as we move into the ‘80s and ‘90s; there just hasn’t been as much writing on (contemporary classical) music and politics in this period, political stances can seem more opaque, social movements aren’t in the forefront of the American imagination, and the Cold War’s over-ish. That David Lang essay from last week is an exception: it fits extremely neatly within a political moment around the turn of the 1990s. Charles Wuorinen is another exception: he wears his politics on his sleeve, and in my funding chapter I examine how clearly his pubicly argued thoughts in this period (e.x. this) align with the neoconservatism articulated by the critic Samuel Lipman (in his writing for Commentary and The New Criterion).

The “ideology” of “Bang on a Can” is more complicated, less straightforward, and in many ways the subject of my entire book, so again, you’ll have to wait to find out my full take on it. But it was helpful for me, in revising Chapter 5—and thinking about the All-Stars as not just a touring, rock-inflected chamber ensemble, but also an “ideological project” that instantiates an idea of what new music should be and how a new-music ensemble should work—to revisit Robert Adlington’s fantastic work on the politics of new music in ‘60s Amsterdam. This article is a nice short version (respond and I’ll email you a PDF), and I highly recommend his book on Andriessen’s De Staat as well as Composing Dissent. Adlington carefully breaks down the politics of Louis Andriessen, one of the most important musical influences on Bang on a Can, and those of the Orkest de Volharding, the ensemble that Andriessen co-founded, which represents a big influence on the Bang aesthetic. Here’s the gloss I have on Adlington in Chapter 5:

While living in Amsterdam in 1992, Wolfe wrote Arsenal of Democracy, an abrasively antiphonal work, for the Dutch group Orkest de Volharding, who had visited Bang on a Can’s festival in 1990. In a program note, she described the ensemble as “loud and tough” and “organized in a socialistic framework—everyone has equal say, everyone arrives at consensus decisions.”[1] Andriessen had co-founded Volharding in 1972 as a political street band, one that prized itself on self-determination and the working rights of its performers. Volharding had emerged from the “Movement for the Renewal of Musical Practice,” a grassroots association of Dutch musicians who, inspired by the militant socialist activism that swept through the Netherlands in the late 1960s, sought to replace the authoritarian orchestral establishment of the Netherlands with a more democratic culture of small ensembles.[2] “The music must be the property of the guys who play,” Andriessen said in 1973. “It should not be that as the composer you are the employer and they are the employees.”[3]

[1] Wolfe, Arsenal of Democracy, undated program note, https://juliawolfemusic.com/music/arsenal-of-democracy.  
[2] See Robert Adlington, “Organizing Labor: Composers, Performers, and ‘the Renewal of Musical Practice’ in the Netherlands, 1962–72,” Musical Quarterly 90, no. 3–4 (Fall–Winter 2007): 539–77.  
[3] Quoted in Adlington, “Organizing Labor,” 567.  

The British new-music ensemble Icebreaker maintained a similarly democratic ethos (they had a whole manifesto they gave to composers to wrote for them!) and Michael Gordon wrote Yo Shakespeare for them right around the time that the All-Stars were formed (1992).

But do the All-Stars share the politics of Volharding or Icebreaker, even as they share their general aesthetic orientation? Is Bang on a Can a democracy?

Georgia knows.

the new politeness

I’m only sharing bits and pieces of all of what I have with all of you—in fact, I’m only sharing bits and pieces of all of what I have in the book itself, picking and choosing and sorting and analyzing from a vast amount of material I’ve accumulated over the past few years. I just accumulated this 1990 article, though — David Lang mentioned it when we spoke over the summer, I tracked down a citation, and the UMD library generously found and scanned it. And I’d like to share it with you, because it’s fascinating. Here it is:

Apologies if it’s a little bit small (I blame Substack); you should be able to click to pop it out and zoom in a bit. This is Lang writing in 1990 in Symphony Magazine — well, it’s actually a reprint of an article he wrote for the American Composers Orchestra’s newsletter in October 1989. Lang is writing in the midst of the Culture Wars, as controversy swirls around Piss Christ and The Perfect Moment, as Congressional Republicans and the religious right try to destroy the NEA. I have a whole chapter about this in my book, but I didn’t know about this article until a month ago. In fact, part of the point of the chapter is to say, basically, “Though the Culture Wars were not aimed at contemporary music, which largely escaped controversy, contemporary music still faced collateral damage.” As it turns out, now I have Lang, in print, saying “It is disturbing that so little of this controversy is aimed at composers.” It’s great when the people I’m writing about can make my points for me, thirty years before I want to make them. It’s now in the intro to the chapter.

There’s so, so, so much here — do read the whole thing. The thoughts on Babbitt are definitely going into the book, the theorizing of the marketplace, the clear stance that Lang (and implicitly Bang on a Can) is taking on the idea that composers might capitulate to audiences and write “polite music.” His arguments around musical style are the kind of perennial ones that have been taking place for years — indeed, they could fit neatly within this Twitter conversation I was following yesterday. I’ll have to find places to carefully situate some of these ideas in other chapters. The tone is also, well, very “young David Lang” — irreverent, strident, perhaps a bit impetuous. The kind of composer who wrote music like this:

Large-scale revisions are now complete for Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7. Chapter 5, on the All-Stars, is next on the docket. Chapter 6, on Lincoln Center, comes after that. Then it’s on to writing the big epilogue.


and hair, or the lack of it

So at one point, not all that long ago, Peter Gelb looked like this:

And now, as you probably know, Peter Gelb looks like this:

Image result for peter gelb

This is not a newsletter about male-patterned baldness. But it is a newsletter about a book that’s about the recent past, and Gelb’s hair is representative of something I think about a lot these days as I write Industry. On the one hand, 1995, when that Billboard article is from, isn’t that long ago; on the other hand, it is a really long time ago! 24 years is a long time; Peter Gelb’s hair indexes that, in one way.

One of the main issues when writing history, as pretty much anyone who writes history will tell you, is presentism: seeing the past exclusively through the lens of today, rather than trying to see it as those who were living through it did. It’s a basic issue that pretty much all musicologists think about, whether they’re writing about Beethoven in 1790s Vienna or Duke Ellington in 1920s Harlem. But I’ve found that presentism sometimes isn’t taken as seriously when we talk about the recent past (and especially when we’re talking about non-popular music); it’s really easy to assume that the distance between 1985 and 1995 and 2005 and 2019 isn’t that vast, because it seems relatively recent, and thus we can look at 1995 through a 2019 lens and not lose all that much. Scholars focused on contemporary music can sometimes collapse the late twentieth century and the early twenty-first century into one single era, rather than many discrete ones. This is a mistake that’s easy to make, but it’s a mistake nonetheless. It can be partly rectified by a strong immersion in the documents in the recent past, whether Billboard or the New York Times. You’ll have to get more creative than that, though. Want to know what composers thought in the mid-80s? See if your library has old issues of EAR Magazine, or the American Composers Forum’s newsletter. That’s where you’ll get stuff like this:

(That’s from the March 1990 issue of EAR.)

A few more quick examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Miller Theatre, at Columbia, was called McMillin Theater until 1988. In Chapter 3, I write about where concerts by groups like Speculum Musicae used to take place in the mid-1980s. When I interviewed various people about what kinds of concerts they were seeing in the ‘80s, they would say they went to Miller Theatre. Because that’s where you go now. But they weren’t; they were going to McMillin.

  • Philip Glass used to be known as “Phil Glass”! This one blew my mind. Here’s Alan Rich, in 1972:

    I would love to know when Phil became Philip — Glass scholars, hit me up.

  • David Lang with Apple in 1995 vs. 2015:

Anyway, if we want to understand 1995 in music, we have to see it through the eyes of people who knew then of Peter Gelb as a guy with curly hair and big glasses. Or Lang as long hair and no glasses. If we want to know about Glass in 1972, we have to think about what it meant that critics called him Phil.

And if we want to understand Bang on a Can in 1995, we have to see it through the lens of what Bang on a Can was doing, and saying, and sounding like, in 1995, not in 2019. And 1995 might be different from 1987! In fact, it is: in Chapter 5, about the All-Stars ensemble, I argue that Bang on a Can shifted its agenda in the mid-1990s from an initial focus on resolving the divide between uptown academics and downtown experimentalists, to instead bridging gaps between new classical music and other genres (especially rock). The phrase that embodied the early spirit of Bang on a Can was “eclectic supermix of composers and styles from the serial to the surreal” (a phrase dreamed up the organization’s first publicist, Lynn Garon); the phrase that embodied it a few years later, I think, is a pull quote from a 1995 K. Robert Schwarz review in which he described the All-Stars as “combining the power and punch of a rock band with the precision and clarity of a chamber ensemble.” That’s a pretty big narrative pivot, and one that requires a precise understanding of what Bang on a Can wanted to do at its first festival in 1987, and what it wanted to do when it launched its All-Stars in 1992 (while also considering what it wants to do with its miniature new-music empire in 2019).

Documents will only get you so far. Take this photo, for example, which accompanied an article I wrote for NewMusicBox about the New York Phil’s Horizons festivals:

Lang & Druckman

David Lang responded to that article with this tweet:

Now, I have other pictures of David Lang wearing a tie in the mid-80s, so I know that he’s exaggerating a bit. One way to look at that photo is to say that, before Bang on a Can, Lang seemed to be happily hanging out at Lincoln Center, as his teacher Jacob Druckman’s assistant. But in my conversations with Lang, he’s described how frustrating the experiences with the Philharmonic were, and how he grew jaded with the whole enterprise, which led partly to starting Bang on a Can.

Indeed, as I wrote in that NMB article:

And although Lang was himself writing orchestral music in the mid-’80s, his takeaway from working with the Philharmonic was that this particular corner of the marketplace was not for him. He saw the orchestral world as insular and claustrophobic; as he said in a 1997 interview with Libby van Cleve as part of Yale University’s Oral History of American Music project:

It also was very demoralizing and a very good indication of how narrow the world was, and how for any composer who was saying to himself or herself, “Oh, the secret of my future will be to write one orchestra piece. Every orchestra will play it. I’ll be world famous,” it just showed how impossible, or how narrow, or how unsatisfying that experience would be.

The first Bang on a Can marathon, in 1987, was brainstormed as a direct response to Lang’s dissatisfaction with Horizons. The composer and his compatriots Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe had spent their days in the mid-’80s hanging out at dairy restaurants on the Lower East Side, drinking coffee and complaining about institutional negligence towards contemporary work, before deciding to do something about it. But even if it seemed to offer a model for everything that the scrappy Bang on a Can would attempt to avoid, Horizons did provide new institutional connections that facilitated the upstart organization’s funding: Lang cultivated a relationship with John Duffy during his work for the Philharmonic, and MTC subsequently became the earliest major financial supporter of Bang on a Can.

On the other hand, I have a letter from 1986 in which Lang describes his work with the Phil as rewarding, and that he’s learning a lot while there. So how do we balance all of this? Can we square what Lang says in 2019 with what Lang said back in 1986 with that photo and with Bang on a Can’s origins? I’m still figuring it out, but every time I get a new piece of information — remember what I said last week? — the picture sharpens a bit.

reader response!

So Industry (the newsletter, not the book) has 175 or so subscribers, which is pretty cool! One nice perk is that occasionally people respond to the newsletter, their responses are often very, very enlightening. One of my favorite things about this project is having a back-and-forth not only with fellow scholars, but also with the people who lived through the period I’m writing about as musicians, fans, administrators, etc.

After my last newsletter, for example, I heard from Steven Swartz. You know Steven Swartz, right? He runs dotdotdotmusic, the new-music publicity firm, and has been active in the New York new-music scene since the early ‘80s. I wrote about him in my dissertation, because he was a key player in the dissemination of the term “indie classical.”

Here’s what he had to say about my book’s big argument:

I wonder if saying that the turn toward the marketplace was an ideological project, full stop, isn't overstating the case a bit. Rather, I see a co-evolution. 

Perhaps the greatest force driving this change involved the younger composers' early exposure to 1960s popular music, marked by an explosion of creativity rarely seen before or since in the charts. Not to mention that boomers' demographic clout insured a powerful presence for "underground" sounds in the marketplace. Music for teenagers had been growing in commercial importance since the mid-50s, of course, but the burst of artistic innovation that would later provide a viable connecting point to concert music had yet to arrive until The Beatles, Hendrix, Mothers of Invention (how many 50s pop stars would reference Varèse!), etc. The example of commercially viable experimentation that these artists modeled was certainly vital, but even more crucial was the fact that popular music of a boundary-pushing nature was in the BoaC generation's DNA, and flowed naturally into their compositions.

I've always felt that earlier attempts to integrate rock elements into concert music were embarrassing, like watching your uncle try to "get down" at your Bar Mitzvah. (Now, of course, I am that uncle.) The BoaC generation's attempts to engage with the marketplace would never have borne fruit if not for the energy (and sometimes the language) they un-selfconsciously distilled from 60s rock/pop/funk etc. You could even ask, which came first – the music or the ideology? 

Anyway, perhaps you cover all of this, but I think it's important to mention.

Here’s what I wrote back:

Thanks so much for reading, and for engaging!!

I think your insights are of course totally spot-on, but are not quite germane to my book's argument -- you're talking primarily about musical style, where my book is attempting to tackle the question of the relationship between composers and a broader audience through institutions, with style as a secondary byproduct. So although BoaC is my main focus, I'm also talking about minimalism, Neo Romanticism, and even serialism as they intersected (or didn't) with a big audience. After all, holy minimalism is one of the big success stories of this period, and I don't think Górecki was a big Hendrix fan! The rock angle is an important part of this, but the institutional work of Meet the Composer, say, was not driven by attention to any one musical style. (And even Bang in many ways became more rock-oriented in the '90s, gradually abandoning the weight they placed on uptown/downtown as the point for synthesis -- which I'll trace in my book.)

Otherwise, I think you're totally right. Although what's become gradually clear to me is that there was a pretty interesting pre-Bang rock/new music vanguard, including Branca and Chatham (and even "Blue" Gene Tyranny and others) hanging around New Music America, which is often a bit overlooked in favor of Bang.

What Steven said was spot-on. His response points towards a useful thing that I’ve gradually learned, the more writing that I do: people may read your work and come to a slightly different conclusion than the one you intended. Often, that’s a good thing, as it provokes new insights for them and for you! Occasionally, though, it means that your writing needs more context to make itself emphatically clear to the reader, which is something I’ll think about when I revise my intro.

Anyway, Steven wrote back more:

Ah, that makes sense, and now I understand better about the institutional angle of your book. Good points about New Music America vanguard – which is starting to be reappraised, since Branca passed, and holy minimalism. 

My first real job in New York was in WNYC's music library, in 1986. One of my duties was to field listener calls about music on the air. I also served as an assistant to Tim Page, who was probably the first broadcaster to play the Górecki 3rd in the US (it was this recording, though on vinyl, not cassette). The switchboard always lit up when he played it! It was a few years later that the Upshaw/Baltimore/Zinman recording came out, at which time I was working for Gorecki's publisher, Boosey & Hawkes. Heady times, with that recording hitting the pop charts in the UK 

I'll never forget when Glenn Branca showed up at my next place of work, the New Music Distribution Service, to try to collect for his label, Neutral Records…. Another label NMDS carried was Lovely Music. A very important operation, headed by Mimi Johnson, Bob Ashley's wife. She and her Performing Artservices agency were absolutely crucial to the careers of Ashley, Tyranny, and many others.

I could reminisce all day, but mostly I just feel grateful that you're telling the story of the rise of this ecosystem, which was so vital to everything that's happened since in the field.

After reading a fascinating email like that, I realized I had to interview him. So we spoke yesterday afternoon, and it was a great conversation, filling in some fascinating gaps for me about the New Music Distribution Service (which I’m writing about), Boosey (which I’m not), and New Music America (which I am). I also got his permission to quote from these emails.

As an academic, it’s very tempting to develop your work in private, among fellow scholars, to refine and refine and refine it until you are wholly confident with your vision, and then unleash it as a peer-reviewed manuscript to the world. I don’t really want to do this with this project; in fact, I don’t think I can do it with this project, because if I did, I would risk drawing incorrect conclusions, misinterpreting the period I’m writing about, missing out on a lot of rich detail that can only be learned from the people I’m writing about. Every time I talk to a new person, I learn new details that support, refute, or complicate arguments that I want to make. In the late phases of writing the manuscript, that can make things tricky — especially if I learn things that contradict a hunch I had — but if you want to get it right, you have to be prepared to jettison the points you want to make when they don’t line up with what you learn.

Isn’t he just quoting from these long emails to avoid writing a full newsletter? you ask. Caught me. After doing some intense revising of Chapter 7 (record industry), I’m doing so to Chapter 1 (academy/Yale), and haven’t yet generated the brainpower for a fully new newsletter. Steven’s insights are richer than mine, anyway! I do have some thoughts brewing about presentism, though, so check back next week and perhaps you’ll find out something about that.

Also check out this awesome new album, by Eighth Blackbird, Will Oldham, and Bryce Dessner, that I wrote liner notes for. It’s got music by Dessner, Oldham, and Julius Eastman, and it’s really great, especially this new arrangement of “New Partner”:

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