Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Music

Supervisor

Dr. Emily Ansari

Abstract

This dissertation examines the aesthetic beliefs and labour practices of the American new music ensemble eighth blackbird (lower-case intentional). Drawing on ethnographic research conducted with the ensemble for the past six years, I show how the ensemble responds to specific cultural pressures endemic to the classical music scene, its new music vanguard, and to the contemporary United States. eighth blackbird, I argue, has created an ensemble identity and performance style designed to satisfy numerous audience positions, from experts well-versed in the intricacies of musical techniques to lay-persons unacquainted with the values and practices of new or classical music. This attempt to satisfy such a range of perspectives has lead to an oscillation between modernist values traditionally associated with art music culture and postmodern values typically found within more profit-driven musical practices. Modernism—partially defined here as a belief in a linear and stable history, structural listening, musical virtuosity, and restrained performer movement—is foundational to eighth blackbird’s work. At the same time, ensemble members embrace postmodern values including a celebratory mix of musical styles, attempts to provide accessible concerts, and an adoption of post-Fordist branding wherein personality and the display of labour figures as part of a marketing strategy. By examining the specific rationalizations of and objections to eighth blackbird’s practices, I theorize the existence of a “postmodern avant-garde,” a subculture of musicians and arts workers who attempt to remake avant-garde music into a more accessible and profitable enterprise.


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