Before After Experimental Music: The Case of David Tudor with Some Minor Implications for the Present

This paper presents three nested case studies. The first is an exposition of David Tudor’s experimentalism which was intertwined with the more well-known experimentalism centering around the discourse/practice of John Cage. Despite his extensive collaboration with Cage, Tudor’s focus was quite removed from his collaborator’s, concentrating on what he called the “nature of instruments,” which grounded his idiosyncratic practice as performer/composer of experimental music. The second case study problematizes the first by asking what the nature of a “case” is, and why, when scholars like myself investigate the history of experimental music, we end up focusing on “cases” to make our point, despite our well-meaning and well-funded efforts to indefinitely trace the potentially infinite network of actors. I connect the ontological status of “cases” to that of experiments in the natural sciences, depicting their necessarily biased and local nature as well as the form of closure which seems to block the otherwise endless flow of agencies in the network model. I argue that “cases” present a case of experimental objectivity that is not universal but situated, and thus related to the specific nature of objects assembled in the collective—the instruments involved. This experimental and instrumental nature of cases correlates to the biased and localized position of the particular observer of history who frames or fabricates cases as such. The third case study capitalizes on the implications of the above analyses to focus on a series of miniature expositions of more recent, relatively unknown endeavors in experimental music that I have been personally associated, including my own project, No Collective. What arises through this meandering trajectory is the problem of who is tracing the network, with what interests, using what resources, and under what conditions, which also brings into question the seemingly neutral authority of our vista wishing to foresee what comes after, experimental music.

 

You Nakai conducts research on experimental/electronic music, post-dance, history of tablatures, the occult mechanism of influence, and other curiosities, and reports his findings in the form of academic papers and books. He has recently spent considerable time studying the music of David Tudor, for which he obtained a PhD from New York University in 2016, and is now writing a book called Reminded by the Instruments: David Tudor’s Music under contract with Oxford University Press. His current post-doctorate scholarly projects are funded by the Society for the Promotion of Sciences. You Nakai also fabricates music(ians), dance(rs), theatrics, picture books, ghost houses, ad-hoc theories, and other forms of work as part of No Collective (http://nocollective.com), which was featured in Leonardo Music Journal (MIT Press) as one of the artists under 40 doing interesting things with technology today, and the experimental publishing project Already Not Yet (http://alreadynotyet.org), which still has no accolade to call its own.