Experimental Music in Practice: Perspectives from Latin America

Richard H. Shindell Choral Hall (Mortensen Hall) on Douglass Campus

85 George Street , New Brunswick, NJ

Organized by Eduardo Herrera, Mason Gross School of the Arts, and Camilla Stevens, School of Arts and Sciences.

This symposium explores experimental musical practices in conventional narratives. Presenters will discuss a wide variety of artistic and musical traditions from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latinos/as in the United States, conceived and/or perceived as experimental, and use these perspectives to reposition Eurocentric interpretations of experimentalism in general.

Our starting point is the 1960s, a decade marking a turning political and epistemological moment for Latin America: militant and committed aesthetic practices resonated at this time in history and resulted in a multiplicity of experimental artistic and musical expressions. Exploring these manifestations helps us understand sites of emerging experimentalism beyond Eurocentric interpretative frameworks.


Issues of inquiry may include:

  • How is the idea of experimentalism inhabited individually and collectively?
  • In which ways do experimental practices stimulate rethinking differences of late modernity and dominant ideas of modernism?
  • How do experimental practices bend boundaries between music, dance, film, and visual arts?
  • How is technology conducive to artistic creativity and experimentation?
  • In what ways does experimentalism engage questions of identification of gender, class, and ethnicity?
  • How are spaces, places, and venues significant in the imagination of experimental practices?
  • How does experimentalism provide an ongoing dialogue about the inconsistencies of an imagined global North and South?

The findings in this symposium will lead to a multi-authored collection of essays edited by Eduardo Herrera (assistant professor at Mason Gross School of the Arts), together with Alejandro L. Madrid (associate professor at Cornell University) and Ana Alonso Minutti (assistant professor at the University of New Mexico).

Framing the conference as part of the “Global Urbanism” biennial theme of the Rutgers Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs is a keynote presentation by Benjamin Piekut (Cornell University) titled “City, Network, Ecology: Experimental Music and the Global Vernacular.” Piekut’s work in London and New York studies how musical sound contributes to urban ecologies, and points out how experimentalism has been historically grounded in urban spaces. Piekut is the author of Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and Its Limits (2011) and “Indeterminacy, Free Improvisation, and the Mixed Avant-Garde: Experimental Music in London, 1965–75” (Journal of the American Musicological Society, 2014). He edited the collection Tomorrow Is the Question: New Directions in Experimental Music Studies (2014) and coedited The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies (2014).

The presentations in this symposium cross disciplinary boundaries, and highlight scholarly perspectives that engage the following fields:

  • Historical musicology and ethnomusicology
  • Latin American and Caribbean studies
  • Spanish and Portuguese language and literature
  • American studies
  • Women’s and gender studies
  • History and art history
  • Anthropology and performance studies
  • Philosophy and aesthetics

Given the topics discussed, we expect to gather the interest of faculty, graduate students, and community members interested in Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino/a arts and culture, composers, and contemporary artists, as well as members of the public interested in music and contemporary art.

September 24–25, 2015
Thursday, September 24, 2015:
  • 5 p.m.  Welcome words: Dean George B. Stauffer, Mason Gross School of the Arts
  • 5:15 p.m.  Symposium overview and introduction of keynote speaker: Alejandro L. Madrid (Cornell University)
  • 5:30–6:30 p.m. Keynote: Benjamin Piekut (Cornell University), “City, Network, Ecology: Experimental Music and the Global Vernacular”
Friday, September 25, 2015:
Interdisciplinary symposium exploring a wide variety of musical traditions—conceived and/or perceived as experimental—from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latinos/as in the United States
  • 9–10:30 a.m. Session 1 
Daniel Party (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) “Gender and Sexuality in Chilean Experimental Music”
  • 10:30–10:45 a.m. Coffee break
  • 10:45–12:15 p.m. Session 2
Rodolfo Acosta (Academia Superior de Artes de Bogotá): “Free Improvisation in Colombia”
Pepe Rojo (University of California –San Diego) and Alejandro L. Madrid (Cornell University): “Experimentalism as Estrangement: Neo-liberal Globalization and Café Tacvba’s Revés/Yo soy
  • 12:15–1:15 p.m. Lunch break
  • 1:30–3 p.m. Session 3
  • 3–3:15 p.m. Coffee break
  • 3:15–4:45 p.m. Session 4

Mason Gross School of the Arts, Center for Latin American Studies, Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs, Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, School of Arts and Sciences, Office of the Dean of Douglass Residential College, Center for Latino Arts and Culture, Critical Caribbean Studies, Department of Art History, Department of American Studies, Department of Music, and Mason Gross Student Government Association.