John Cage's brand of experimentalism underwent a transformation when it was imported into the UK in the 1960s. There, in contradiction to the American's well-known preferences, indeterminacy became twisted up with jazz-derived free improvisation, owing to discourse that stressed performer freedom and creativity while downplaying notions of non-intention and discipline. The authors of these commentaries created the discursive conditions for a mingling of avant-garde traditions, but the material conditions owed more to the efforts of Victor Schonfield, whose nonprofit organization, Music Now, acquired Arts Council subsidies on behalf of a stylistically heterogeneous avant-garde that included artists working with both improvisation and indeterminacy. Schonfield also invited important guests from overseas, including Ornette Coleman, Musica Elettronica Viva, the Sonic Arts Union, the Instant Composers Pool, Christian Wolff, Sun Ra, the Taj Mahal Travellers, and, in 1972, John Cage himself. In the greater ecology of experimentalism that Schonfield created, improvisation became a kind of contact zone where musicians came together from a number of directions, among them free jazz, score-based indeterminacy, text-based intuitive music, Fluxus-inspired instruction pieces, and even psychedelic rock freak-outs. Music Now produced over 80 concerts between 1968 and 1976, when the organization folded.
Indeterminacy, Free Improvisation, and the Mixed Avant-Garde:Experimental Music in London, 1965–1975
Benjamin Piekut is a historian of experimental music, jazz, and rock, and Assistant Professor of Musicology at Cornell University. In 2011, he published the monograph Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-garde and Its Limits (University of California Press). His articles have appeared in a wide range of journals, including Jazz Perspectives, American Quarterly, Twentieth-Century Music, The Drama Review, and Cultural Critique, and he is currently writing a biography of the British rock ensemble Henry Cow.
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Benjamin Piekut; Indeterminacy, Free Improvisation, and the Mixed Avant-Garde:Experimental Music in London, 1965–1975. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 December 2014; 67 (3): 769–824. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2014.67.3.769
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