Penn Colloquium Series: David Grubbs

October 22, 2019 - 5:15pm
David Grubbs
Lerner Center, 201 South 34th Street, Room 102

The Department of Music’s main Colloquium Series showcases new research by leading scholars across the fields of musicology, ethnomusicology, music theory, and composition both in the United States and internationally.  Music Colloquia take place on Tuesdays at 5:15 in Lerner Center, Room 102.  The Lerner Center is located at  201 S. 34th Street, Philadelphia Pa, 19104-6313. See here for the full calendar of the 2019-2020 Colloquia Series.


David Grubbs, Professor of Music, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY 

Two Experiments in Music Writing


For this presentation, Grubbs will present excerpts from both of these new books together with a discussion of the nexus of music and literature, including reflections on his ongoing collaboration with the poet Susan Howe. 

Following his investigation into experimental music and recorded sound in Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording (Duke University Press, 2014), David Grubbs has produced two book-length experiments in music writing. Now that the audience is assembled (Duke, 2018) is a prose poem that describes a fictional musical performance during which an unnamed musician improvises the construction of a series of invented instruments before an audience that is alternately contemplative, participatory, disputatious, and asleep. Both a work of literature and a study of music, Now that the audience is assembled explores the categories of improvised music, solo performance, text scores, instrument building, aesthetic deskilling and reskilling, and the odd fate of the composer in experimental music. Grubbs’s forthcoming The Voice in the Headphones (Duke, 2020) centers on the culture of the recording studio, presenting in intricate, prismatic detail one marathon day in a recording studio over the course of which an unnamed musician struggles to complete a film soundtrack. The Voice in the Headphones arrives at a moment in which the commercial recording studio shades into oblivion and is replaced by digital work environments; it draws upon Grubbs’s own history of several decades as a recording artist, and its location could be described as every studio in which he has set foot. The experience of working in the recording studio is in large part the experience of the language that surrounds and infuses the world of the studio—and that language is the material of this poem.   


About David Grubbs

David Grubbs is Professor of Music at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center, CUNY.  At Brooklyn College he also teaches in the MFA programs in Performance and Interactive Media Arts (PIMA) and Creative Writing.  He is the author of Now that the audience is assembled and Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording (both Duke University Press)and, with Anthony McCall, Simultaneous Soloists (Pioneer Works Press).  In the spring of 2020, Duke University Press will publish The Voice in the Headphones, Grubbs’s second experiment in music writing in the form of a book-length poem.


Grubbs has released fourteen solo albums and appeared on more than 190 releases; his most recent solo recording is Creep Mission (Blue Chopsticks, 2017). In 2000, his The Spectrum Between (Drag City) was named “Album of the Year” in the London Sunday Times.  He is known for his ongoing cross-disciplinary collaborations with poet Susan Howe and visual artists Anthony McCall and Angela Bulloch, and his work has been presented at, among other venues, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, MoMA, the Tate Modern, and the Centre Pompidou.  Grubbs was a member of the groups Gastr del Sol, Bastro, and Squirrel Bait, and has performed with Tony Conrad, Pauline Oliveros, the Red Krayola, Will Oldham, Loren Connors, and many others.  He is a grant recipient from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, a contributing editor in music for BOMB Magazine, a member of the Blank Forms board of directors, and directorof the Blue Chopsticks record label.