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Deconstructing the Avant-Garde
One-Day Conference by Christian Grüny and Georgina Born

Sat 21 July 2018, 10.00 – 17.30
Lichtenbergschule (Mensa)

Free admission.

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Is the concept of an avant-garde still central to new music’s sense of self? Or has it shriveled up and died, or been thrown out as the baby with the bathwater of modernity? From its roots as entertainment for the aristocratic class, through the bloated image of white, male Romantic genius, to an Adornian advocacy based on hierarchical distance from the culture industry, classical music and its contemporary descendants have inherited a complex relationship to elitism. Was this sense of exceptionalism an essential component of Darmstadt’s international impact in the late 20th century? Does it still haunt the new music scene? Is one necessary move to deconstruct Adorno on the culture industry so as to prise open new music’s collective mind to the aesthetic and social potentials of ‘popular musics’ and of new hybrid genres? How has the avant-garde been conceptualised, from Situationism through Peter Bürger, Hal Foster or Peter Osborne to Adam Harper, and why does it have such resilience today in the work of Gregory Sholette on collectivism, Ray Brassier on noise, Elizabeth Harney on the Senegalese avant-garde, or music’s ‘new conceptualism’? What can be learned by distinguishing between formalist and socially- and institutionally-oriented tendencies in the avant-garde, and do they have contemporary purchase? Can an awareness of the inheritances and counter-reactions that can structure the rhythms between generations of the avant-garde (Foster) help to foresee a future for the concept? What happens when the avant-garde is massified and becomes a normal paradigm? The lectures and discussions will focus on these questions, as well as on the tension between the continuing seductions of avant-gardism and the need to claim new music’s cultural relevance as we advocate for public and private funding and investment, and as we seek more-than-minor audiences. But we also reflect on Darmstadt’s own historical complicity with the concept, questioning who has been served by the term, and enquiring into why it was so gendered and raced and whether it must continue to be. Unpacking the construct of an avant-garde, we intend to question and revise the very model of history, and of futurity, that it has embodied.

10:00 Introduction to the session: Christian Grüny and Georgina Born
10:15 Esther Leslie: “The Particulars of the Avant Garde: Between Aesthetic Experience and Insult, Experiment and Insularity”
10:45 Respondent: Raven Chacon
11:00 Discussion


11:45 Martin Iddon: “Still Modern”
12:15 Respondent: Hannes Seidl
12:30 Discussion


14:15 Benjamin D. Piekut: “The Vernacular Avant-garde”
14:45 Respondent: G Douglas Barrett
15:00 Discussion


16:00 5 minute interventions
17:00 Final discussion and wrap

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