New Music, New Subjects: the Situation of a Creole
Sir Donald Francis Tovey’s 1949 essay “The Main Stream of Music” posited an end to the history of music. “At the present day,” Tovey lamented, “all musicians feel more or less at sea,” foreshadowing theorist Leonard Meyer’s 1967 notion of “fluctuating stasis,” an absence of stable canon that Tovey, at least, evidently hoped would be a temporary condition. However, by 2004, experimentalist Alvin Curran’s buoyant 1994 prediction of a New Common Practice “freed of all rules, stylistic conventions, codes, and even ethics” appeared to musicologist Benjamin Piekut to amount to no common practice whatsoever—and this is to say nothing of the vast changes in both musical practices and audiences occasioned by immigration, the World Wide Web, and globalization. Now that we’ve been in the new century for a while, we can see that Sir Donald’s eschatological interregnum has been actually rather welcome to many—though by no means all. But will the metaphor of limbo suffice, or have some more purposive tropes or features appeared that already mark the musical condition of the new century’s musical experimentalism?
George E. Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University, and Area Chair in Composition. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, Lewis’s other honors include a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Alpert Award in the Arts. A member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971, Lewis’s work in electronic and computer music, computer-based installations, and notated and improvisative forms is documented on more than 150 recordings. His work has been presented by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonia Orchestra, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, Mivos Quartet, London Sinfonietta, Spektral Quartet, Talea Ensemble, Ensemble Pamplemousse, Wet Ink, Ensemble Erik Satie, and others, with commissions from American Composers Orchestra, International Contemporary Ensemble, Ensemble Either/Or, Turning Point Ensemble, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, and others.
Lewis has served as Fromm Visiting Professor of Music, Harvard University; Ernest Bloch Visiting Professor of Music, University of California, Berkeley; Paul Fromm Composer in Residence, American Academy in Rome; Resident Scholar, Center for Disciplinary Innovation, University of Chicago; and CAC Fitt Artist in Residence, Brown University. Lewis received the 2012 SEAMUS Award from the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, and his book, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press, 2008) received the American Book Award and the American Musicological Society’s Music in American Culture Award; Lewis was elected to Honorary Membership in the Society in 2016. Lewis is the co-editor of the two-volume Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies (2016), and he holds honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Edinburgh and New College of Florida. See https://music.columbia.edu/bios/george-e-lewis