The History and Future of Experiments in Music and Theater

Fall 2016 and Winter 2017 quarters

Taught by

music composition, performance

To look at an artwork as an experiment means to see how it was, in its time, a step towards what was new, uncertain or without evidence. The ways in which an experiment was brought about could happen in many different ways: with its content (the plot, the characters, the harmonies), with its structure (repetition or the lack of it, disturbing the natural sequence of events, undermining the form), or with other aspects of the material that makes up the artwork.

Both music and theater use time for their unfolding, and so, share aspects of composition and development. In our class, we'll be reading, listening to, and discussing artworks of the past and experiments of the present. Some of the older authors and composers we might study are Shakespeare, Shaw, Brecht, Mozart, Ravel and Schoenberg.  Some of the contemporary experimenters might be Robert Wilson, Pina Bausch, Adrianne Kennedy, Chaya Czernowin and Luigi Nono. From these conversations, we'll develop assignments and performance exercises for ourselves to create now.

Through a combination of seminars, a movement and gesture experimentation studio, coached rehearsals, lectures and presentations, shared attendance at performances, and our own performances, the class will study music and theater pieces – how they were experimental in their time, and how might we continue and move on from that experimentation in our time. We will make experimental works together using our growing awareness of what’s been done before and why.

As one center of activity during fall quarter, each student will participate in three group projects.  Each group will create a performance based on and in response to the experiments we've studied. These performances will be presented to and discussed with the class. The question of “what is experimental now” will be a primary focus.

As a center of activity during winter quarter, each student will remain in one group for the entire quarter, as if forming a temporary company, and that group will develop their project and their ideas for "what is experimental now" for a final public performance. As their work develops over the quarter, each group will present its scripts, music, and rehearsals to the class, explaining their ideas and inviting discussion.

Each quarter, students will be asked to write a research paper, addressing some part of the authors, composers and artworks studied. A draft of the paper will be due in week 5, and a final version will be due in week 10. Primary emphasis will be placed on understanding of the intentions of the authors, composers and artists studied, and their contribution. Students will develop writing skills as an additional emphasis.

Program Details

Fields of Study

aesthetics cultural studies dance music theater

Preparatory For

performing arts, theater, music, and education.


Fall Open Winter Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Advertised Schedule

First winter class meeting: Monday, January 9th at 12pm (Com 110)

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


$100 per quarter concert and performance entrance fees.


2016-04-06New fall-winter opportunity added.