Benjamin Piekut studied music and philosophy at Hampshire College before pursuing his M.A. in composition at Mills College, where he studied with Alvin Curran and Pauline Oliveros. After a stint in the critical studies/experimental practices program at the University of California, San Diego, he completed his Ph.D. in historical musicology at Columbia University. His book, Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and its Limits, was published in 2011 by the University of California Press. Situated at the intersection of free jazz, the Cagean avant-garde, Fluxus, radical politics, and popular music, the book portrays New York experimentalism in the 1960s as a series of conflicts, struggles, and exclusions.
He is the editor of Tomorrow is the Question: New Directions in Experimental Music Studies (University of Michigan Press, 2014), a collection of essays that explore new corners of experimental music history. He is also the co-editor, with George E. Lewis, of The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies (forthcoming), a two-volume set gathering authors from the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. In celebration of the John Cage centennial in 2012, he co-edited (with David Nicholls) a special issue of Contemporary Music Review.
Piekut’s research interests include experimental music in the U.S. and U.K., jazz after 1950, critical studies in race and gender, improvisation studies, music technologies, and performance studies. He has published his research in Jazz Perspectives, The Drama Review, Contemporary Music Review, Cultural Critique, Twentieth-Century Music, American Quarterly, and The Journal of the American Musicological Society, and has presented papers at the annual meetings of the Society for American Music, American Musicological Society, International Association for the Study of Popular Music, Society for Ethnomusicology, Feminist Theory and Music, and Performance Studies International.
Piekut’s research has been supported by the Whiting Foundation, the American Musicological Society, the University of Southampton, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. His article, “Deadness,” co-authored with Jason Stanyek, won the 2011 Outstanding Article award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, and was named one of MIT Press’s “50 Most Influential Articles” in all disciplines. He is currently on the editorial board of Jazz Perspectives, and was formerly on the board of Current Musicology. From 2006 to 2008, he was the assistant editor of American Music and the Journal of the Society for American Music. Prior to joining the Department of Music at Cornell, Piekut taught at the University of Southampton (UK).