Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Emily Ansari


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.