Beyond Definitions: Personal Accounts of the Meaningfulness of Experimental Music

This paper will reflect on a range of responses from practitioners to the question, “What is it that is compelling to you about experimental music, and how does it connect with your experience more broadly?” Experimental Music since 1970 (2016) was an attempt to develop and share an understanding of experimental practices by mapping out the areas of exploration of a number of works of music. The interview series that includes this question is an attempt to frame experimental music in a very different way—through conversations with individual practitioners. This question in particular frames the field, not through outputs or an attempt to define it, but in terms of its attraction, its resonance, and the resources it provides for individual subjects. This more biographical approach to the subject affords a different mode of understanding, highlighting both the connections and the contradictions among the ways people connect with the field. While the book operated as a survey, this paper offers something more akin to a biography of experimental music in the present day, as gleaned from a series of meaningful encounters.


Jennie Gottschalk writes, composes, talks, listens, and transcribes. Some of the results can be found on, and in Experimental Music since 1970 (Bloomsbury, 2016). She got her doctorate in composition from Northwestern University in 2008 and is based in Boston, Massachusetts.