As audiences left the school gymnasium where Lisa Lim’s Atlas of the Sky (2018) had just been performed during the Darmstadt Summer Course in 2018, leaflets rained down from the rafters reading “Darmstädter Ferienkurse 2020: 0% of pieces made by white cismen.” The action, one of several by GRiNM during the Summer Course, was meant as hyperbole, urging audiences to radically rethink that deep-seated institution of New Music. Little did we know at the time the irony of our prescience, and the historic developments within New Music in the interim that have resulted in this slogan becoming reality.
We write this editorial in one of the quietest hours in New Music’s history, an imposed hiatus from the non-stop circuit of festivals, events, symposia, and so on. Having now lost all momentum, the continuation of any New Music legacy as such will be a deliberate and intentional act by a small, scattered community. The following special issue, GRiNM x OnCurating Journal, collects the thoughts and insights of a number of prominent figures within that community who resonate with exasperation towards the status quo we have just departed. Arguing from a number of sociological, empirical, and historical perspectives, and focusing on a number of diverse contexts, a consensus reverberates across these heterogeneous approaches: to have a future, New Music’s structures must be radically rethought.
The current moment has created an opening for such new proposals, if only minds are receptive enough, and ideas mature enough to be put into action. In our experiences with GRiNM over the last few years, we have seen the rich abundance of artists, initiatives, projects, and institutions that exist in many different places, manifesting such ideas in their own practice. Already since the group’s inception in 2016, we have seen both in our own work and that of others how outcries around issues of gender representation have matured and transformed into more intersectional questioning of structural and aesthetic norms within New Music. Articulating and amplifying these initiatives, many inexplicably banished to the margins of New Music, as propositions for our collective future was not only the focus of our November 2019 conference and now this collaboration with the OnCurating journal, but also a central focus of the GRiNM collective as a whole. Our goal here is to shift New Music’s episteme—those boundaries of the knowable, the sayable, and the thinkable within New Music—to include marginalised voices and to call for reforms to its underlying ideologies, and its outdated investment in a European monoculture.
Such a focus on knowledge production within New Music reflects what we understand as GRiNM’s main act of music curating, and the reason for our choosing OnCurating as the site of this intervention. The term ‘curator’ is increasingly being used as a fresh coat of paint on the artistic directorship of New Music festivals, and usually serves as a veiled attempt at increasing the auctorial power of a select few, whose subjective taste becomes more central than ever. We understand curating rather as enacting a movement of thought, one that is critical, counterhegemonic, and ‘new.’ It is a means of working at the interstice, an undisciplined approach to knowledge production that tries to subvert existing categories, and an attempted liberation from our conservatory training.
To this end, we present the following issue of the OnCurating journal. The first section consists of articles offering additional conceptual explorations and reflections on New Music and the exclusionism of its systems and structures. The second section is made up of reports from the field, describing practices and projects that are reimagining in myriad ways what New Music is, and sharing them with this coming community looking for change. All entries stem from the conference that GRiNM organised at the Zurich University of the Arts in November 2019, having been refined and enriched in the intervening months. As with our conference, this diverse combination of texts reflects the importance of knowledge exchange between people working in different roles in the New Music ecosystem in order to instigate systemic transformation. We thus see this publication as a further act of knowledge transfer and accessibility, understood in the same spirit of coming together as that earlier physical event. Through the publication of these texts, our goal is to reach a wider, less defined group of interested persons locally and internationally, who could for any number of reasons not participate in that momentary gathering. We hope that this asynchronous format underscores the urgency of the questions we raise of New Music, and also that it serves in the eye of this current storm as the most urgent of demands for fundamental, immediate change.
Gender Relations in New Music (GRiNM) is a collective of individuals who work together around issues of gender and diversity in the New Music scene. GRiNM (originally GRID, Gender Relations in Darmstadt) began in 2016 at the Darmstadt International Summer Courses as an open conversation discussing the complex mechanisms that reproduce the status quo in the new music scene. Questions of gender, though central, have since expanded to become about a broader struggle against systematic oppression. The group’s activities include gathering data and generating statistics about gender breakdowns at festivals for New Music and raising awareness and promoting discussion on issues of equality and inclusion. As an autonomous, heterogeneous group, it uses institutional platforms, such as workshops and presentations at international festivals and conferences, as well as artistic methods of protest and intervention in order to do this.
Brandon Farnsworth, born in 1991, is an independent music curator and research associate at the Zurich University of the Arts Institute for Theory, where he studied classical music performance and transdisciplinary studies. In 2020, he completed his doctoral degree magna cum laude in historical musicology at the University of Music Carl Maria von Weber Dresden. He is also an affiliated researcher with the joint Epistemologies of Aesthetic Practice doctoral programme of swissuniversities. Recent publications include his dissertation Curating Contemporary Music Festivals (transcript Verlag), and the publication Taking the Temperature: Crisis, Curating and Musical Diversity for the Ultima Festival 2020.
Rosanna Lovell is a musician, educator, performer, and radio maker from Australia who has been living and working in Berlin since 2009. In 2018, she completed a Master’s at the Institute for Art in Context, Berlin University of the Arts. Her practice focuses on feminist and postcolonial perspectives in classical and new music which she explores through performance, intervention, sound, and research. She develops workshops and projects and teaches music. She is part of Freie Radios Berlin-Brandenburg, where she focuses on topics such as music, gender, and accessibility in and through radio. She is part of the collectives GRiNM and Fem*_Music*_ which both deal with questions of gender and diversity in music.