it's here!

It’s here! Ira did a photo shoot. When Emily dressed him yesterday morning — before the big box of books arrived — it was not with the intention of color coordination! But even the socks match.

The anticipation of getting the book and flipping through it and making sure it looked and felt like a real book has now subsided. It looks, and feels, like a real book! It’s really quite lovely; beautiful cover, nice material. (Thank you, Oxford!) Now there’s a weird feeling of “My book is in my house.” I don’t really know what to do with it besides gaze at it intermittently and remind myself that it has actually become a thing. It’s not like I’m going to read it again! So it just sits there and makes me smile sometimes. Which is not all that different from Ira, I guess, except he does require regular attention and does makes me smile much-more-than-just-sometimes.

Anyway, what’s much weirder is the possibility that other people are receiving this book in the mail and having it in their houses! I’ve been used to, for a while now, people reading things I’ve written on the internet, but the idea of people owning something I’ve written feels like a different thing entirely. It’s…weird.

Fortunately, some of the people who read it are saying nice things! Joshua Kosman, in the San Francisco Chronicle, had a generous take on the book and Bang’s broader legacy. (Their next marathon is this Sunday!)

Also, I did an interview about the book and my scholarship with I Care If You Listen’s Tracy Monaghan, which you can read here if you’d like!

And Sound Expertise is kind-of-back! For purely self-promotional purposes, I conscripted my producer, D. Edward Davis, to read my book and interview me about it. It’s a fun chat — Eddie asks great questions, and also went to Bang on a Can’s summer program so has his own take on them too. Plus, at the end, we’ve got a trailer for Season 2, which begins on March 23!

Finally, one more reminder that the 92nd St Y is hosting a live-streamed event on Feb 22, launch day, in which Allan Kozinn and I will talk about my book, Bang, and the broader world of new music. Get your tickets here!

shipping now!

So the book shipped yesterday! I *believe* that means if you order it from Oxford, right now, it will arrive at some point soon. I’m waiting on my copy!

Oxford tweeted that it was released, but the official release date is Feb 22 — it’s all a bit confusing, too be honest. But basically what I think it means is that bookstores should officially have it to sell to you on the 22nd.

Amazon doesn’t seem to know what’s going on (they say it came out on Feb 1 and is “temporarily out of stock,”) but Amazon is bad for the world, so order your book from Oxford, your local bookstore, or even B&N!

*And* if you want a 30% off discount, bringing the total down to $25 (plus $5 shipping) from Oxford, reply to this newsletter and I’ll hook you up! An Industry subscriber exclusive!

Also, you can also read most of the Intro and Chapter 1 on Google Books, which is cool!


In other exciting news, we’ve got ourselves a launch event! On Feb 22 at 7pm, the 92nd St Y will be hosting a live-streamed online event in which I’ll be in conversation about Bang on a Can and new music with the great critic Allan Kozinn. Allan very generously set this up after I sent him the book, and I’m particularly pumped about talking with him because his writing shows up so frequently in the manuscript itself. Tickets are $10, and I’d love to see you there — there’ll be opportunities to ask questions so this is your opportunity to grill me.

I’m also doing a bunch of academic talks around the book in the coming weeks — I had a fun time giving one at the University of Bristol this morning. (“Giving a talk in England” now involves….going into my basement. Weird.) Info about those will be here. On Feb 24, I’ll also be doing a conversation with Jeremy Ney, of the Philips Collection, about my book as part of the Prince George’s County libraries’ series.


Finally, the reviews are in! Or rather, the first review is in. The great writer Vanessa Ague, who has been doing awesome work on her blog The Road to Sound and in the Toneglow newsletter, wrote up Industry in The Wire. It’s behind the paywall, but here’s a sneak peek. You should subscribe to The Wire!

That’s it for now — I wouldn’t be surprised if you receive a short one of these weekly for the next couple weeks, as various book stuff comes into the world. So far, it’s pretty fun!


OK, one last thing

there's always more to do

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.

cover story

Happy holidays, friends! 2021 is fast approaching. When we last communicated, I reported that my book would ship on Inauguration Day. Alas, pandemic book-production shenanigans have pushed that back a bit; the new shipping date is Feb 8, and the official release date is now Feb 22. Pre-order now!

A more exciting thing that happened, maybe a day or two after the last newsletter, is that my book finally got a cover! It’s pretty great, right?

Figuring out what I’d want my book cover to ideally look like was not an easy task. The basic challenge came from the subject matter: a music festival run by three composers. If you write a biography of one person, then sure, you put their picture on the cover. But if you’re writing a book about three people (and a bunch of other stuff), putting a triple-portrait on the cover is possibly going to look odd. There are lots of fun photos of the Bang founders (check them out on Canland), like this one by Robert Lewis, but it was hard for me to imagine them making a strong book cover.

Especially because the three people are composers, which means you can’t get a cool photo of them actually, say, playing instruments. Plus, the book wasn’t just about three people — it was about their organization, and the larger musical and institutional landscape that was changing around them as their organization grew.

Another logical cover would be some kind of performance photo from a Bang on a Can marathon, and I spent a bunch of time trying to figure out what might work. One of my favorites is this (by the late photographer Lona Foote), which showed up in a New York Times review of the 1991 festival, but it’s from a Harry Partch concert (those are some of his cloud chamber bowls) which unto itself doesn’t scream *Bang on a Can*. Cool image, but not a good fit.

There are plenty of fantastic photos of the All-Stars performing, and I tracked down a couple that will be within the book itself. One potential photo, from Music for Airports at Lincoln Center in 1999 (by Stephanie Berger), seemed like a cool potential cover, but my editor worried it would look too busy, and I ultimately agreed. (I did track down the original, and it’s in the book!)

So, leaving behind people, then, we could look to more abstract designs, which Bang on a Can has had in plenty — they’ve had a strong visual aesthetic since their very first concerts. But again, tricky to figure out what would work best. A gloss on, say, one of their late ‘80s posters wouldn’t really give any music-specific flair.

Or, having already ripped off the title for their 1995 Sony album, I guess I could have tried to rip off the cover, too, but again, no real music connection here.

Ultimately, I could come up with only one image that felt like it would work *really well* and it also happens to be pretty much the first Bang on a Can image that there is: the poster for the 1987 festival.

You have hammers banging on cans, and some staff paper that gives it a specific this-book-is-about-music vibe. The poster was created by the performance artist Papo Colo, who was married to Jeanette Ingberman, who founded and ran the Exit Art gallery where Bang had its first festival. When I visited the Exit Art materials, part of NYU’s Fales Library archives, a couple years back, I found the negatives from the photo shoot (presumably, Colo himself holding up the hammer and can) and a bunch of prints. Here’s a very crappy photo of one of them:

Bang on a Can generously gave me and Oxford permission to mess around with the image for cover purposes.

I also spent a lot of time — in dialogue with my wife Emily Platt, who has a fantastic eye — thinking about the style of the cover, aka looking at a lot of book covers that I felt worked and didn’t work. Here are a bunch that I really liked and sent to Oxford as suggestions (these are all great books too!)

Anyway, that gives some sense of the thought that goes into something like this. I’m grateful to Bang on a Can for granting image permission, and to Oxford’s design team, and specifically Brady McNamara, for what they came up with!


In other book news, I’ve now got a book page up on my website!

https://williamrobin.com/industry/

It includes some links to newsletter entries that might be helpful to readers, as well as a playlist I’ve created for readers. You might as well give it a listen now!

the book will come out soon

in fact, it ships on Inauguration Day

Hello again! What was once a weekly newsletter has now become a once-every-couple months newsletter, but I’m going to be okay with that. I’m spending less and less time with the book — or, rather, this book, as I’m working on a new one — because we are closer and closer to publication.

Peep that ship date on the right!

Inauguration day. New book, new president. (Is Mitch McConnell…Reviewer 2?)

A month or so ago I got back a new round of proofs with the index included, and proofread that and sent it back; I’m guessing there’s one more round of proofs to spot-check and then, perhaps, nothing until the thing actually comes out. I’ve now seen what I believe will be the final cover design, and it’s super cool. I’ll reveal it to you when I can!

And I also just got the two back-cover blurbs in for the book, which I am extremely excited about/flattered by.

I knew from the beginning that I would want to ask Alex Ross and George E. Lewis for blurbs; Alex has been reading the book from the beginning and been enormously generous in his feedback, and I’ve admired Prof Lewis’s work forever and just really really really wanted him to read my book. And he did and even said nice things about it! I’m super grateful.

Anyway, preorder here!


Sound Expertise wrapped up Season 1 back in early October; I’m really proud of the work we did (we being me + my producer D. Edward Davis + my amazing guests). I’m still hearing from folks who are catching up on the backlog of episodes and are also assigning them to students and sharing them with friends. I’ve been watching papers at virtual AMS this past week and been thinking more and more about how, as excellent as the presentations I’m watching are, I often really just want to hear the speakers talk informally about their research, what gets them excited about it, and how and why they do it. And so I’m happily in the midst of recording Season 2 now — I’ve got two interviews in the bank already, and two more scheduled this week, and will send out more invites soon. I’m hoping we’ll launch in early 2021.


Besides raising a four-month-old who is adorable and amazing, I’m also now focused on the new book project: Minimalist Music: A Reader. It’s a collaboration with my friend Kerry O’Brien: we are compiling a ton of fascinating documents that tell the story of musical minimalism from the late ‘50s to the present day. When Kerry and I submitted the proposal to University of California Press a while back, we got some fantastically helpful feedback from peer reviewers that led us to blow up and expand the project even more: we are constantly interrogating and re-interrogating what minimalism is/was, while compiling a huge amount of primary source documents to potentially include in our book. A lot of the project is logistical work, requesting scans of materials from interlibrary loan (who have been AMAZING), putting stuff into folders in Google Drive; and a lot of the intellectual work is logistical too, moving various files between folders to try to imagine how different groupings of interviews, reviews, profiles, etc. might help create a history of minimalism that emphasizes underrepresented voices, complicates traditional authorial models, and reflects recent scholarship.

The book is divided into three big sections — Part I is 1950s-mid1970s Part II is mid-1970s to 1990s, and Part III is post-2000.

The dividing line between Part I and Part II is 1976: the year of Einstein on the Beach and Music for Eighteen Musicians, but also CC Hennix’s The Electric Harpischord. So some canon, and some stuff way off the beaten path.

Within each big part (which will have an introductory essay that we’ll write) there will be 10–12 shorter chapters that are thematic — we wanted to not focus things around composers but instead around groupings of ideas, aesthetic currents, etc. Early chapters in our current imagining of the book, for example, focus on improvisation (Theatre of Eternal Music, yes, but also John Coltrane and Archie Shepp, tapes and loops (Reich, Riley), ensemble culture (Reich/Glass, but also De Volharding), exoticism, altered states, discipleship (Pandit Pran Nath!). Those will probably change!

As we revised our table of contents post-proposal, we tried to go as broad as we could in finding stuff, scouring the footnotes of recent scholarship and long-forgotten dissertations for underknown materials. We created a massive list of minimalist and postminimalist musicians — as broad as we could imagine, and with as expansive a conception of minimalism as we could imagine — to try to make sure we could get stuff that would represent all of them, knowing that we would pare back a lot. We have a huge folder of folders for all of them. A snapshot:

So far, I’ve been able to answer pretty much everyone who has said to me “Oh, are you talking about XYZ composer?” with a resounding yes. If they were ever called a minimalist, they’ll hopefully be on our radar, if not ultimately in the book; if they made music after 1950 that engaged with stasis, repetition, pulses, drones, and/or a few other broadly conceived musical criteria, they’ll hopefully be on our radar, if not ultimately in the book.

We then looked through all the stuff on each composer and flagged some potential themes it engages with that could help find the best place for it in the thematic chapters. (FYI, permission requests, which we’ve already started on, are going to be a total nightmare.) Now we’ve got a joint Scrivener set up where we are transcribing PDFs to actually create the text of the book. It’s a lot of work, but the nice thing is that the “writing” process is, at this moment, a kind of semi-brainless transcription of other people’s words.

I was going to tweet out one of the articles I was transcribing today because it’s so amazing but figured it would be better to include here. In May 1966, Vogue — Vogue!!! — published two (two!!) articles about La Monte Young, both of which are amazing. One is a profile of Young’s music by Jean Vanden Heuvel. The other, by Kate Lloyd, is a vivid description of a Theatre of Eternal Music. An excerpt:

This was in Vogue! The ‘60s. Crazy.

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