Music, Digitisation, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary Music Studies

December 12, 2015 ― December 13, 2015

Retheorising the Avant-garde Today: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Image courtesy of Agostino di Scipio: Modes of Interference N.4 (“four unbearable guys”), 2011


Retheorising the Avant-garde Today: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

King’s College, University of Cambridge | 12-13 December 2015

‘Retheorising the Avant-garde Today: Interdisciplinary Perspectives’, was a two-day workshop held at King’s College, University of Cambridge. Organised by Georgina Born (Oxford), Christopher Haworth (Oxford), and Jonas Tinius (Cambridge), the event stemmed from the ERC-funded ‘Music, Digitisation, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary Music Studies’ (MusDig) research programme.

The conference programme is available here.

A report of the event can be accessed on our Outputs page.

Today, claims for the ‘avant-garde’ status of certain art, musical, theatrical and literary movements and practices are being made with an intensity matching any previous era. Yet these putative avant-gardes often inhabit institutions, find their support in commerce, and can attract subsidies and publicity in ways that approach or match mainstream cultural production, and that oppose the earlier positioning of avant-gardes outside or against these structures. Indeed, the sheer proliferation and scale of such movements and practices seem to contradict the erstwhile claims made for the avant-garde’s marginal, ‘outsider’, underground or independent status, calling forth new approaches to the theory of the avant-garde.

Bringing together anthropology, art history, musicology, performance studies, and practice-based research, the aim of this workshop was to retheorise the avant-garde in light of these and other changes. The workshop was structured around two panels: the first, From Cage to Conceptual to Post-conceptual Art, examined the temporal and (inter)disciplinary framing of avant-gardes through the various directions that led out of Cage and the New School, such as Fluxus, Conceptualism, musical experimentalism, etc. The second, From the 1990s to the Contemporary: Experiments, Laboratories, Exchanges, addressed the utility and adequacy of the concept of the avant-garde in relation to today’s post-medium, post-conceptual ecology.

Recordings from the event

Saturday 12 December

SESSION 1: From Cage to Conceptual and Post-conceptual Art (Chair: Alyce Mahon)


  • Branden W. Joseph (Modern and Contemporary Art, Columbia): ‘Interpenetrations and Displacements’
  • David Cunningham (Modern Literature, Westminster): ‘Concretism and Art-Nihilism: From Fluxus to Post-Conceptualism’
  • Lucia Ruprecht (MML, Cambridge): ‘Retheorising Vibration’


Responses and discussion led by Judith Rodenbeck (Media and Cultural Studies, U.C. Riverside) & Ben Piekut (Music, Cornell) (Chair: Christopher Haworth)



SESSION 2:  From the 1990s to the Contemporary: Experiments, Laboratories, Exchange (Chair: Jonas Tinius)


  • Roger Sansi (Anthropology, Goldsmiths/Barcelona): ‘Experimental Collaboration in Contemporary Art’
  • Stephen Graham (Music, Goldsmiths): ‘High, Fringe and Mass Avant-Gardes: On Radicalism and Critique in 21st Century Music’
  • Luke Skrebowski (Art History, Cambridge): ‘Approaching the Contemporary: On (Post)Conceptual Writing’


Responses and discussion led by Georgina Born (Music & Anthropology, Oxford) & John Roberts (Art & Aesthetics, Wolverhampton)



Sunday 13 December

MORNING SESSION (Chair: Branden W. Joseph)


  • John Roberts (Art & Aesthetics, Wolverhampton):‘The Avant-Garde, Historicism and the Second Economy’
  • Comments on Day 1 by Beate Kutschke (Art and Music, Dresden) & Agostino di Scipio (Conservatorio de l’Aquila)