a series of starting points

When I saw the line, “a rare negative review,” attached to a link about Experimental Music Since 1970, I assumed that it referenced the general—though by no means complete—positivity of public responses to my book so far. It turns out that Bradford Bailey was saying that in relation to his own writing, rather than to my text. “I never write negative reviews, but here I make an exception as warning.” He also wrote, “I was uneasy with this one. I hate writing negative reviews.” I can completely relate to that, and want to say first of all, then, that from my standpoint it’s useful and interesting. It wouldn’t be honest to say that I read it in an entirely detached way, but negative reactions on my part are far outweighed by an interest in the in-depth nature of this response and the opportunity that it provides to think through the larger project of presenting and discussing experimental music.

If I understand correctly, the book that Bailey hoped for would have provided a greater social and cultural context for experimental work. That is not the book that I was prepared, best suited, or most excited to write. I say in the introduction that the book is written from a maker’s standpoint, and at the outset that experimental music is “a position—of openness, of inquiry, of uncertainty, of discovery.” In my view, this is primarily a creative position, rather than a cultural, social, or political position. In writing about numerous practitioners from a maker’s standpoint, those positions sometimes come into view but they are not my focus. The book is centered around sounds, pieces, and projects. There may be a dizzying array of them, but that is part of my effort to accurately represent the field as not being dominated by a few people but as having many different voices. I wanted to point to many of those voices, and possibly did so at a pace that minimized my own voice as an author. That may be a weakness of the book, but I haven’t been convinced yet that I should regret it. My motivation for this project was to support the field by providing multiple points of entry into it. The various pieces and projects I discuss can be likened to points on a map. They don’t mark out the entire map, they aren’t the only points, and many of them could be located elsewhere. They are landmarks of certain areas of practice. I am happy for the book to be considered as a partial map, especially if it proves useful to some people in that way.

I also recognize that it is not for everyone. It was not meant to educate or change the minds of people who already have a strong sense of the field, but it could be a potential resource for them, as well as for so-called outsiders. (Aren’t we all outsiders, one way or another?) My intention was to articulate something of the richness and openness of a field which often appears esoteric and narrow. That potential openness may be a point of disagreement between me and some of its other participants.

The most provocative aspect of my book may be the title. I think of it as the simplest possible description of scope, rather than as a declaration. It is a survey of experimental music since 1970. It is not the survey, or the definitive point of view. It is not, as I pointed out in the introduction, an attempt to establish a canon, but a series of starting points—pathways on a map that no one has attempted to draw for decades. That’s a risky thing to try to make, but I felt willing to take that risk because I felt I had nothing to lose. (I have never pursued an academic position, and my income has come from other sources.) In my more defeatist moments, I told myself that if it were not useful in some way, people wouldn’t pay much attention to it. But it seems to have generated some dialogue, both positive and negative. I hope that that dialogue will lead to an articulation of other contrasting perspectives on the field, and I said so around the time the book was released.

I agree that the personal context of people’s engagement in the field is missing. I have begun a series of interviews for this site that are an attempt to get at that question. It is a very different sort of project, and not one that I could have woven into Experimental Music Since 1970. I’ll begin posting those regularly soon. I also agree that there is a bias towards work that has been written about already. I didn’t want to make assumptions about people’s projects without sufficient context. But I did not just lift quotes and put them in, but made sure to track their relevance to the sounding examples. The listening links are posted so that readers can easily do so for themselves. The sounding examples are essential, and the book is not meant to stand without them.

I haven’t taken up every point in Bailey’s review, but this post is meant as a response, not as a defense. I’m happy to continue the conversation.


Since I drafted this post, Bailey has written a follow-up post which makes some aspects of his point of view much more clear to me. I wholeheartedly agree that collective support is infinitely preferable to infighting. I think it’s totally possible to disagree, and even drill down to the exact nature of a fundamental disagreement, without attacking people on a personal level. I wouldn’t expect someone I had never interacted with before to have an accurate sense of my motivations for writing the book. But I’m glad to see how Bailey has further articulated his own motivations, not just for writing the review but for engaging in the field. And I’ll be interested to learn more about the kinds of work he associates with a more inclusive experimental practice by reading past and future posts on The Hum.

resource guide 28: Antoine Beuger


talks and interviews:
October 2011
Word Events

Antoine Beuger Werkanalysen und Hintergründe (library)
Antoine Beuger, unwritten page – Unschärfe des Scharfen, Schärfe des Unscharfen
Grundsätzliche Entscheidungen
Immer wieder anders – überraschend neu (library)
Die Kunst, die Liebe
MusikDenken: Texte der Wandelweiser Komponisten (library)
MusikTexte 130
Neunstündige Insel
Silence, Environment, Performer
Über den Komponisten Antoine Beuger


solo in difference (1976)

musik Nr.1 (1989)

schweigen, hören (1990)

schweigen, hören 2 (1990)

lesen, hören – buch für stimme (1991)

zu hören viel, andenken (1991)

ashes (1991)

from ashes (1991)

silent understanding (1991)

koor (1991)

für kurze zeit geboren (1991)
openbook disc

alphabet (1992)

l’attente l’oublie (1992)

sandmusik (1992)
comment openbook openbook

die geschichte des sandkorns (1992)
disc play

la part du peu (1992)

silences (1992)

avec ferveur (1992)

serra (1992)

serra Nr. 2 (1992)

klavier, aus serra (1992)

klavier, aus serra 2 (1992)

die stille, die zeichen (1993)

wahrscheinlich ein fremder (1993)

bien fait, mal fait, pas fait (robert filliou) (1993)

ich habe meinen schirm vergessen (nietzsche) (1993)

things happen – different music for orchestras (1993)

things happen (1994)
YouTube play

ein eichhörnchen war uns gefolgt und beobachtete uns von einem niedrigen zweig (1993)

etwas (nicht alles, nicht nichts) (1993)

de vis – die is in de zee (hans faverey) (1993)

dialogues (silences) (1993)
disc YouTube play

things taking place (1994)

weniger, mehr (1994)

moins, plus (1994)

first music for marcia hafif (1994)

second music or marcia hafif (1994)

streichtrio (1994)

l’âge du temps (1994)

variations (silences): goldberg (1994)

variations (silences): kunst der fuge (1994)

third music for marcia hafif (1994)

unwritten page (1994)
disc Vimeo play

calme bloc (1994)

etwas (lied) (1995)

variations (silences): duport (1995)

quite still and solitary (1995)

still, solitary (95/08)

calme étendue (1996-7)
(spinoza) (1996)
(oboe) (1997)

place (1996/97)

mauser (1997)

place (mauser No.2) (1997)

fourth music for marcia hafif No.1 (1997)

fourth music for marcia hafif No.2 (1997)

fourth music for marcia hafif No.3 (1997)

lesen, schreiben (spinoza) (1997)

sound (1997)

touw (voor joop) (1996)

50 stücke (1997)

namlos geblieben (1998)

éventail und autre éventail (1998)

one tone. rather short. very quiet (1998)
YouTube comment openbook

ins ungebundene – für orgel (1997-99)

ein ton. eher kurz. sehr leise (1998)

l’ horizon unanime – für ensemble (1998)

zeami (pracht von blüt) (1998)

tout à fait solitaire (1998)

tout à fait solitaire – für singstimme (1998)

tout à fait solitaire – für violoncello (1998)

tout à fait solitaire – für klavier (1998)

aus dem garten (1998)

aus dem garten:zwei (1998)

fourth music for marcia hafif No.4 (1998)

hell, heiter, still (1999)

zhaowen (1999)

schnee (1999)

nur einen augenblik (1999)

ein klang (1999)

long periods of silence (1999)

between (2000)

éloigné, écarté, isolé (2000)

with a slightly different intonation (2000)

cadmiumgelb (2000)

saftgrün (2000)

coelinblau (2000)

cadmiumscharlachrot (2000)

cadmiumscharlachrot (2001)

marsgelb (2001)

landscapes of absence (1) (2001)

cyaninblau (1) (2001)

cyaninblau (2) (2001)

cyaninblau (3) (2001)

sans briser la glace (2001)

landscapes of absence (2) (2001-2)

teishin ryokan (2001)

aber die spra- (2001)

que le lieu (2001)

que le lieu (2) (2001)

que le lieu (3) (2002)

silent harmonies in discrete continuity (fifth music for marcia hafif) part one (2002)
disc play

silent harmonies in discrete continuity (fifth music for marcia hafif) part two (2002)

silent harmonies in discrete continuity (fifth music for marcia hafif) part three (2002)

für kurze zeit geboren (2) (2002)

ce qui passe (2002)

gebrannte siena (2002)

antwerpener blau (2002)

die freude der fische (2002)

wort für wort (geraum) (2001/03)

landscapes of absence (3) (2001/02)

carthamrosa (2003)

kegonkyoyama (2002/03)

galene (2003)

dedekind duos (2003)

cantor quartets (2003)
disc disc YouTube play

tombeau (2003)

monodies pour mallarmé (2004)
play play play

sixteen stanzas on stillness and music unheard (2004)

en una noche oscura (2004)

peckinpah trios (2004)
SoundCloud play

kiarostami quintets (2004)

jankélévitch sextets (2004)
SoundCloud play

florenski septets (2004)
YouTube play

ockeghem octets (2005)

meinong nonets (2005)

ashbery tunings for ten (2005)
YouTube play play play

routley tunings for eleven (2005)

tschirtner tunings for twelve (2005)
disc SoundCloud

ozu tunings for thirteen (2005)

faverey tunings for fourteen (2005)

van riel tunings for fifteen (2005)

gerhardt tunings for sixteen (2005)

basho tunings for seventeen (2005)

badiou tunings for eighteen (2005)

leopold tunings for nineteen (2005)

ihwe tunings for twenty (2005)

karminrot (2005)

spectral canticles, series 1 (2005)

spectral canticles, series 2 (2005)

spectral canticles, series 3 (2005)

spectral canticles, series 4 (2005)

three drops of rain/east wind/ocean (2006)
YouTube SoundCloud Vimeo Vimeo play play

ba da duos (2006)

lieder der luft (2006)

rêveries (2006)

sekundenklänge (2006)
YouTube disc

un lieu pour se perdre (2007)

quelque chose qui nous attire (2007)

un lieu pour être deux (2007)
disc SoundCloud play play YouTube YouTube Vimeo

tanzaku (2007)
disc YouTube YouTube

lieux de passage (2008)
disc disc YouTube play play

aus den liedern (2007/08)

klanken dwalen (2008)

memory waves (2008)

two (for erwin josef speckmann) (2009)
disc play

wünschelrute (2009)

un feu qui n’est pas celui du soleil (2009)

pour être seul(e), sans réserve (2009)

24 petits préludes pour le piano jouet (2009)

24 petits préludes pour la guitare (2009)
disc SoundCloud Spotify play

24 petits préludes pour le petit piano jouet (2009)

little more than a whisper (2010)
YouTube play

keine fernen mehr (1) (2010)

keine fernen mehr (2) (2010)
disc play play play play

clouds parting, worlds unfolding (2010)

laub (2010)

twirled around a central silence (2010)

vater unser (2011)

ô monde sur deux tiges (2011)

chants de passage (2011)

s’approcher s’éloigner s’absenter (2011)
disc comment

méditations poétiques sur “quelque chose d’autre” (2012)
play disc

nach der mitte folgt ein schweigen (2012)

dass das, was ist, nicht alles ist (2012)
(denn alles kann auch anders werden)

eingedenk (ein strohhalm: woher weht der wind) (2012)

y todos cuantos vagan (2012)
play openbook

this place / is love (2013)
disc SoundCloud

night music (2013)

we are voices (2013)

paths (2013)
YouTube play

you (2013)
YouTube play
un lieu pour être deux (2) (2013)

endings (2013)

long distance call (2013)

beginnings (2013)

pour être seul(e), sans réserve (2) (2014)

un lieu pour faire sonner l’éternité (2014)

traces of halt and hesitation (of love and intimation) (2014)

vegetable rustling (2014)

desert into dwelling place (2014)

domains of radical receptiveness (2014)
SoundCloud YouTube

modes of dispossession, levels of affinity (2014)

lieder vom fröhlichen leben I – IV (2015)

nichts Unerwartetes mehr (2015)

on continuity III (2006/15)

…of being numerous (2015)
play SoundCloud

el cantico espiritual (2016)

gentle traces of transient being (2016)


One reader of my book, Gahlord Dewald, mentioned “occasional passages I don’t quite get yet.” When I offered to talk through those passages, he brought up the “equation portion of the arcs from the intro.” He managed to quickly pinpoint what is probably the single most compressed or abbreviated moment of the book. I’m going to try to spin it out a little bit here, in case other people have a similar question.

To briefly set up the quote, I talk about five arcs that are indicators of a musical piece or project having experimental qualities: indeterminacy, change, non-subjectivity, research, and experience. This discussion should be available on the Amazon preview (pages 1-5), so you can find out what I’m talking about without buying the book if you like.

And then I wrote:

Various equations could be proposed out of these component arcs to emulate my image of experimental music’s nature and potential:

research + indeterminacy + change = experience
research + indeterminacy + experience = change
experience + change = indeterminacy
research + non-subjectivity = indeterminacy
non-subjectivity + change = research

These equations might be seen as suggestions of chronologies, or more directly as various relationships of causes and effects. Sometimes research is an output, and at other times it is an input. Indeterminacy can be in composition, performance, listening, or spread across all three activities.

research + indeterminacy + change = experience

One clear example of this equation is Alvin Lucier’s Music on a Long Thin Wire. Lucier’s research was into the sound produced on an outstretched piano wire by two oscillators. This sound is indeterminate. It is influenced by a number of factors which cannot be controlled in advance, and it changes over time. (I suppose it is possible to set up this installation in a more controlled environment, but it would go against the intent of the work as I understand it.) Taken together, these factors—the research question, the instability and changeableness of the sound—offer a transformative encounter (an experience) to the listener.

research + indeterminacy + experience = change

The model of a piece that goes out into the world as a finished and pristine product is not a reliable one in experimental music. When there are unknowns, actual experience can yield shifts in perception, as well as changes to a piece. I wrote a piece with minimal specifications this past summer that felt like a risk, and then handed it to five thoughtful and committed musicians. As I watched the rehearsals unfold, I worried at times that my instructions were too generic, or that I had not done enough. They arrived at an understanding by a very different route than I had imagined, and the interactions leading up to and including the performance deepened (changed) my sense of the potential interrelationships of score, musicians, and performance.

experience + change = indeterminacy

Pieces of music that tap into factors outside of the concert hall are subject to change, and therefore indeterminate in significant aspects. Joanna Bailie’s the place that you can see and hear is open to the street outside the concert hall through the use of a camera and a live feed from a microphone.

research + non-subjectivity = indeterminacy

When questions are asked in sound and allowed to play out without subjective interference, the results are indeterminate. Alvin Lucier’s and James Tenney’s practices provide ample illustrations.

non-subjectivity + change = research

Change that occurs without intervention is informative. It adds to a body of knowledge, such as the proliferation of lattices in Extended Just Intonation. (See section 2.2)

Ultimately, I find that when these arcs function in parallel or somehow egg each other on, that is an indication of experimental qualities.