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Experimentalism Otherwise

Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and Its Limits

Benjamin Piekut
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Experimentalism Otherwise
    Book Description:

    InExperimental Otherwise, Benjamin Piekut takes the reader into the heart of what we mean by "experimental" in avant-garde music. Focusing on one place and time-New York City, 1964-Piekut examines five disparate events: the New York Philharmonic's disastrous performance of John Cage'sAtlas 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94842-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: What Was Experimentalism?
    (pp. 1-19)

    This book tells the stories of four disastrous confrontations within the world of New York experimentalism in 1964, plus one more about the extension of experimentalist techniques out of the city’s avant-garde community and into the foreign realm of popular music a few years later. In February, the New York Philharmonic gave their notorious performance of John Cage’sAtlas Eclipticalis,during which the musicians reportedly played scales, chatted among themselves, and even destroyed the composer’s contact microphones. In April and September, the composer and activist Henry Flynt led raucous public demonstrations against Karlheinz Stockhausen and the American artists who performed...

  6. CHAPTER 1 When Orchestras Attack! John Cage Meets the New York Philharmonic
    (pp. 20-64)

    The date was Sunday, February 9, 1964, and the New York Philharmonic had just performed Vivaldi’s “Fall” fromThe Four Seasons,followed by Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6. The audience returned from intermission to hear the conductor, Leonard Bernstein, deliver one of his famous concert talks from the podium. The lengthy address—it lasted over eleven minutes—perhaps indicated his anxiety concerning what was about to unfold.¹ He began, “This week we are presenting the last group of avant-garde works in this series,” and was answered by a grateful round of applause from the audience. “This may be good news to...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Demolish Serious Culture! Henry Flynt Meets the New York Avant-Garde
    (pp. 65-101)

    On the evening of April 29, 1964, a group calling itself Action Against Cultural Imperialism (AACI) mounted a picket line in front of Town Hall on West 43rd Street in New York.¹ Inside the hall took place a “gala concert” sponsored by the West German government, with music by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Hans Werner Henze, Paul Hindemith, and a few others. The performers included Stockhausen, the pianist David Tudor, and the percussionist Max Neuhaus. On the sidewalk in front of the hall marched the demonstrators: the philosopher and composer Henry Flynt, artists Ben Vautier and Takako Saito, Ikuko Iijima (wife of...

  8. CHAPTER 3 October or Thermidor? The Jazz Composers Guild Meets New York
    (pp. 102-139)

    In the late afternoon of October 1, 1964, Bill Dixon sat in the home of two friends on West 91st Street after a long week of hard work.¹ The composer and trumpeter had been busy organizing a four-night festival of adventurous music to be called the October Revolution in Jazz and soon to take place across the street at the Cellar Café. Earlier that year, between May and September, Dixon had programmed nearly twenty Sunday afternoon concerts at the café, including performances by the pianists Sun Ra and Paul Bley, saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Albert Ayler, drummers Rashied Ali, Sunny...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Murder by Cello Charlotte Moorman Meets John Cage
    (pp. 140-176)

    Although Henry Flynt and Action Against Cultural Imperialism made quite a racket outside of Judson Hall on September 8, 1964, the commotion was scarcely louder than what was occurring inside the hall that night.Originalewas a large-scale happening that Stockhausen had written in 1961 for his circle of friends and colleagues in Cologne. During the composer’s visit to New York City in the spring of 1964, the cellist Charlotte Moorman (1933–91) persuaded him to allow her to reprise the work as the centerpiece of her Second Annual Avant Garde Festival. (The Festival also included a week of other...

  10. Epilogue: Experimentalism Meets (Iggy) Pop
    (pp. 177-198)

    September 1964. “I was certain that I had drunk the dregs of limited conception and poverty of ideas,” wrote the critic Carl P. Sigmond inMusical America.¹ Howard Klein complained of the “self-conscious artiness” of this “exercise in tediousness” in theNew York Times.² And John Gruen, critic for theNew York Herald Tribune,wondered about the “very special kind of desperation that compels [someone] to stand in front of a microphone [and] scream his lungs out.”³ In the absence of evidence to the contrary, one might mistake these statements to be descriptions of the late-1960s, early-1970s band the Stooges,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 199-250)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 251-272)
  13. Index
    (pp. 273-283)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 284-284)