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 first monograph, 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. In 2019, he published Henry Cow: The World Is a Problem (Duke). A collective biography of the British rock band Henry Cow (1968–78), the book investigated how such vernacular musicians recast older questions of avant-garde politics in a space defined by the commodity form, the commercial marketplace, and an aural-tactile mode of reception and transmission. Excerpts of The World Is a Problem ran in Literary Hub and Point of Departure, and well informed reviews appeared in The Wire (UK), Nexos (MX), the Free Jazz Collective, Tribune, and the Los Angeles Review of Books (among others). The book was translated into Japanese in 2023.
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 (2016), 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. In 2020, he co-edited (with Julia Bryan-Wilson) a special issue of Third Text on Amateurism.
Piekut’s research interests include music and performance after 1950, critical studies in race and gender, improvisation studies, sound art, and music technologies. He has published his research in Jazz Perspectives, The Drama Review, Contemporary Music Review, Cultural Critique, Twentieth-Century Music, American Quarterly, The Journal of the American Musicological Society, and a number of catalogs and edited volumes. In 2019, he curated the "After Experimental Music" section of the Time:Spans festival in New York City. He serves on the curatorial advisory board of Blank Forms (NYC) and is a contributing editor at Flash Art, where he curated a monthly column on sound and music in contemporary art.
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. Prior to joining the Department of Music at Cornell, Piekut taught at the University of Southampton (UK).
ヘンリー・カウ――世界とは問題である. Tokyo: Getsuyosha, 2023.
Henry Cow: The World Is a Problem. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019.
BP and George E. Lewis, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies. 2 volumes. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Paperback editions: 2022.
Editor, Tomorrow is the Question: New Directions in Experimental Music Studies (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014).
Experimentalism Otherwise: The New York Avant-Garde and its Limits. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.
Amateurism. Special issue of Third Text, co-edited with Julia Bryan-Wilson. Vol. 34, no. 1 (January).
John Cage at 100. Special issue of Contemporary Music Review, co-edited with David Nicholls. Vol. 31, no. 1 (February 2012).
"Black Music's Institutional Critique," in New Music and Institutional Critique, ed. Christian Grüny and Brandon Farnsworth (Berlin: J.B. Metzler/Springer, 2024), 101-15.
"The Afterlives of Indeterminacy," Contemporary Music Review, 2022.
”Anne Imhof, an Improvisation: Hunter, Writer, Lover,” Flash Art (Spring 2021), 46-65.
"The Vernacular Avant-Garde: A Speculation" [conversation with Tamara Levitz], ASAP/J website, 2020.
"La partition musicale et chorégraphique [contribution],” Perspective: Actualité en histoire de l’art, 2019 no. 2.
BP and Julia Bryan-Wilson, "Amateurism," Third Text 34, no. 1 (2020).
"Music for Socialism, London 1977," Twentieth-Century Music 16/1 (2019): 67-93.
"Utopia Undone: Marina Rosenfeld's roygbiv&b" in Marina Rosenfeld, roygbiv&b (New York: Run/Off, 2018).
“Another Version of Ourselves: The Enigmas of Improvised Subjectivity," Liminalities, 14/1 (2018): 72-89.
"On and Off the Grid: Music for and around Judson Dance Theater," in The Work Is Never Done: Judson Dance Theater, ed. Ana Janevski and Thomas Lax. New York: MoMA, 2018.
“Postwar Music and Sound,” Twentieth-Century Music, 14/3 (2018): 439-42.
“Afterword: Locating Hemispheric Experimentalism.” In Experimentalisms in Practice: Music Perspectives from Latin America, ed. Ana R. Alonso-Minutti, Eduardo Herrera, and Alejandro L. Madrid. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.
“Not So Much a Program of Music as the Experience of Music,” in Merce Cunningham: CO:MM:ON TI:ME, edited by Fionn Meade and Joan Rothfuss, 113-29 (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2017).
“Pigeons,” Representations 132 (Fall 2015): 112–120.
“Indeterminacy, Free Improvisation, and the Mixed Avant-Garde: Experimental Music in London, 1965-75.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 67/3 (Fall 2014): 769-824.
“Introduction: New Questions for Experimental Music,” in Tomorrow Is the Question, ed. Ben Piekut, 1-14.
“Actor-Networks in Music History: Clarifications and Critiques,” Twentieth-Century Music 11/2 (2014): 191-215.
“There must be some relatIon beTween mushrOoms and trains: Alvin Curran’s Boletus Edulis—Musica Pendolare.” In The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music and Sound Studies, ed. Sumanth Gopinath and Jason Stanyek. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
“Chance and Certainty: John Cage’s Politics of Nature.” Cultural Critique 84 (Spring 2013): 134-63.
“The Multiple Politics of Henry Cow: Chris Cutler in interview with Benjamin Piekut.” In Red Strains: Music and Communism Outside the Communist Bloc, ed. Robert Adlington, 43–53. Oxford: British Academy/Oxford University Press.
“Sound’s Modest Witness: Notes on Cage and Modernism.” Contemporary Music Review, John Cage at 100 Special Issue, 31/1 (February 2012): 3-18.
Review of The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music (Ashgate, 2009). Notes (December 2010): 312-17.
“Mortitude: Tecnologias do Intermundano.” Portugese translation of “Deadness,” co-authored with Jason Stanyek. In Rumos da cultura da música—negócios, estéticas, linguagens e audibilidades, ed. Simone Pereira de Sá. Rio de Janeiro: Sulina, 2010.
BP and Jason Stanyek.
“Deadness: Technologies of the Intermundane.” The Drama Review 54/1 (Spring 2010): 14-38. BP and Jason Stanyek.
“New Thing? Gender and Sexuality in the Jazz Composers Guild.” American Quarterly 62/1 (March 2010): 25-48.
“‘Demolish Serious Culture!’: Henry Flynt and Workers World Party.” In Sound Commitments: Avant-garde Music and the Sixties, ed. Robert Adlington, 37-55. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
“Race, Community, and Conflict in the Jazz Composers Guild.” Jazz Perspectives 3/3 (December 2009): 191-231.
In the news
- Three Piekut Paperbacks
- Popular Music Course Makes its Winter Session Debut
- Experimental band Henry Cow challenged itself, audiences
- New book explores Latin music experimentalism
- Experimental music symposium features concerts and speakers
MUSIC Courses - Fall 2023
- MUSIC 3901 : Supplemental Study in Music
- MUSIC 4901 : Independent Study in Music
- MUSIC 4911 : Honors in Music
- MUSIC 7213 : History of Sound
- MUSIC 7901 : Independent Study in Music