New Music, New Work sheds light on the active role that performers working in innovative new music ensembles play in shaping both aesthetic and ethical priorities in the field of contemporary music. The project draws on research based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews to show how the creative labor of performers informs how musical works, performances and events are conceptualized, as well as how these events and works receive funding, and accrue cultural prestige. The word “performer” is used in an expanded sense that may also include: co-creator, curator, artistic director, and project administrator, as well as composer. This more accurately reflects the multifaceted nature of performers’ work. In terms of scholarly stakes, studying performers and their work reveals a field populated by a diverse set of actors that include far more women, people of color, and non-elites, compared to traditional histories of music that follow the works of “great” composers. A historiographic shift afforded by focusing on performers holds the potential to alter the parameters of who and what counts in the history and present of “new music” as a field of study.
Viewing music as a social practice, New Music New Work considers how performers, composers, performing arts administrators, audiences, critics, and granting agencies as well as ensemble members respond to shifting priorities in the field of contemporary music. Increasingly, equity for underrepresented voices, and the ability of creative projects to speak to diverse musical communities is a major priority for many involved in contemporary music–– whether as creators, consumers, or advocates. The sounds of new music shaped by aesthetically and socially innovative ensembles therefore not only reflect changes in aesthetic preferences; equally, ensembles as collectives hold a unique power to respond to increased desires to forge social connections and actively address disparities marked by factors such as race, gender and wealth.
Research for this project combines interviews and fieldwork with new music performers, composers, and administrators working with innovative ensembles in New York City, along with participation in the NYC-based new music scene as a listener, supporter, and scholar. To date, I have conducted twenty recorded interviews (and many more informal ones) with musicians and staff members affiliated with ensembles and organizations including the International Contemporary Ensemble, Either/Or Ensemble, Yarn/Wire, Ensemble Pamplemousse, Wet Ink Ensemble, Ensemble Signal, Talea Ensemble, NOW Ensemble, New Music USA, Miller Theatre, Blank Forms, and EMPAC.