Author: Hannaford, Marc E
Title: One Line, Many Views: Perspectives on Music Theory, Composition, and Improvisation through the Work of Muhal Richard Abrams
Institution: Columbia University
Begun: June 2017
Completed: June 2019
This dissertation examines aspects of the creative practice of Muhal Richard Abrams, composer, improviser, pianist, and cofounder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Abrams’s work intersects with various facets of creative music. I focus on free improvisation, both as a stand-alone performance and in conjunction with through composed music, his engagement with writings by theorist Joseph Schillinger, and his work as a composer. This study provides an historical overview of Abrams’s life and output, supplies analytical accounts of his music and creative practice, contributes to critical issues in music theory and analysis through these examinations, and diversifies the music, musicians, and topics that comprise the discipline of music theory.
My examinations position Abrams as an important figure in twentieth century music, both improvised and composed, and expand studies in music theory and analysis. I offer new perspectives on and a framework for the analysis of free improvisation and intra-ensemble interaction, challenge traditional binaries between music theory and black experimental music, explore the influence of Schillinger’s theoretical treatise, The Schillinger System of Musical Composition ( 1978), on Abrams’s work as a composer, explicate a set of idiosyncratic theoretical publications to suggest an underground genealogy of music theory, and posit an analytical vista that sits at the intersection of music performance, disability, and critical race studies.
Keywords: experimental music, AACM, Muhal Richard Abrams, race, improvisation, jazz, affordances, Schillinger