American Musical Mavericks, MUSI 205

American Musical Mavericks
MUSI 205, Dr. Matthew Burtner
University of Virginia


about this class


American Musical Mavericks looks at the rich tradition of innovation and experimentation in American Music. From the log cabin composers of Colonial America to the experimental classical music tradition embracing hobos, scientists and political activists, this tradition grew out of a desire to find a distinctly American musical voice. The class will explore an approach to making music that transcends musical genres. From experimental classical music to electronic and computer music to free jazz to punk to turntablism and sound art, the class will engage with music that defies conventions of popular culture in favor of a distinctive and nonconformist path. In addition to reading, listening and writing about this music, students in the class will also compose new music using their own creative facilities. No prerequisites necessary.


Prof. Burtner

Troy Rogers
, TA

McIntire Department of Music
University of Virginia
Course website:

MUSI 205
num: 3033U sec. 0001 cred. 03.0
time: 1200-1250 day Mon/Wed
where: Old Cabell Hall 107

MUSI 205 American Mavericks Discussion
num. 901B9 sec. 0010 cred. 00.0 time 900-950 day Fri, OCH S008
num. 901WA sec. 0011 cred. 00.0 time 1000-1050 day F OCH S008
num. 901BF sec. 0012 cred. 00.0 time 1300-1350 day F OCH S008

Images above: Earle Brown December 1952 musical score, Paul Revere's inscription on William Billings New England Psalm Singer, Tom Johnson's score for Imaginary Music for Celestial Trumpets .


book: Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music by Michael Broyles

online listening and reading: see the toolkit site for materials


discussion section ensembles: 10%: In addition to functioning as a traditional discussion section, your Friday groups are also ensembles. You will compose pieces with these groups for performance in class. Each person in the group must contribute to development and performance of the pieces. The TA will evaluate your contribution and performance in these groups.

"maverick" concert reports: 10% (5% each): Write two one-page concert reports about a maverick concert you attend this semester. The TechnoSonics VIII Festival concert on 11/9/2007 at Live Arts counts for this. Other concerts should be approved by the TA or prof.

3 exams: 21% (7% each) identification, short answer and listening on material from the lectures, readings and discussion. Concentrate on the chapters in the syllabus from the Broyles for review. Lectures contain material not in the book and this may be included in the exam. All listening will be drawn directly from in-class/discussion listening. Identification will include composers, concepts and specific compositions we covered.

short assignments: 21% (7% each) due in class (12 noon). graded on timely completion, creativity and presentation. These assignments for you to experiment, stretch your mind to come up with new ways of hearing music.
How to get an A on the composition assignments:
1) turn it in on time (due at class that day)
2) it needs to look good -- clever use of materials, careful notation, well-documented, etc.
3) the "maverick" element -- we want you to be nonconformist and experimental with your work.

Assign 1) due Oct 3. Compose a piece of process music: using resources available to you, design a process-based composition. Your piece should have a score. In this case, a score is a text description of how to create the music, or it may use graphic symbolic notation, or it may use traditional music notation. However you choose to make the score, it should use clear notation and exhibit clarity of thought. A group wishing to play the piece should be able to recreate it without your presence.

Assign 2) due Nov 7. Compose a piece using only the human voice. You may use solo voice or an ensemble of voices up to the size of your own discussion group. You may use process techniques but it is not required. The piece should have a score and it should be reproducible. The score must use a timeline as one of its elements.

Assign 3) due Dec 5. Compose a piece for any number of performers using chance operations. Your piece should have a score and the piece should be performable. The score should contain an "overview" about the idea and process employed. The score should use graphic or symbolic notation to represent events. The score should contain a timeline showing how the piece evolves over clock time. Your chance composition should employ some aspect of indeterminacy such as those we have explored in class. The piece will be graded on timely completion, creativity and presentation/reproducibility.

Final composition project: 20% Compose a musical piece using whatever means you have. 1) use resources you have on hand, 2) use your own skills as an advantage however 'non-musical' they may seem (math, literature, language, art, science, theater are all potential resources for the maverick composer!). 3) have an idea -- philosophical or aesthetic -- which guides the piece. 4) aspire to nonconformity and experimentation (the maverick factor). Due Dec 10, 5pm (end of our scheduled exam time)

The composition requires a "score". The score is a description of the work, how to realize it (perform it). It may be text, symbols, musical notation or audio/video documentation. The score should also include a text description of your guiding principles for the piece.

Take risks and have fun!

research paper: 18%

The paper is not less than 2000 words and is on a Maverick artist, technique or group of artists of your choice. You can choose to study someone from any genre but they need to be *musical* mavericks. Any of the artists discussed in our class will make excellent choices. Other choices should be approved by your discussion instructor or prof Burtner. Graded on 1) timely completion (5/25), 2) writing (5/25), 3) bibliography (must contain sources such as journals and books in addition to credible web sites) (5/25), 4) appropriateness of subject (5/25), and 5) evidence of care and thought put into it.(5/25)

The paper should be sent in Word or PDF format by email to both the TA and the instructor.
The subject line must read: "205 Research Paper submission"

due by 12 noon on 12/5/07 (before the last full class)

attendance/participation: Punctual attendance is required. We will take attendance at the beginning of class and in the discussion section meetings. Three free absences total are allowed. Each additional absence will subtract 2% from the final grade. A substantial amount of the exam material comes solely from the classes and discussions. Power point slides or lecture notes will not be posted on Toolkit.


Part 1: the Silencing of American Music

Wed Aug 29
Welcome to Mavericks!

Fri Aug 31: Discussion "Ensemble" introductions

Mon Sept 3
Reading: Broyles Chapter 1, "We, the Rebels"
Lecture: Silence; Woodstock, 8/29/1952, an axis for American music.
"Experimental" vs "Avant Garde" traditions
listening: John Cage, "4:33"; Steve Reich, "Pendulum Music;

Wed Sept 5
Anti-Instruments,anti-forms: sonic objects and processes
T he conceptual in experimental music
The musical score as a recipe for sonic action
Musical structure as process
listening: John Cage "Sonatas and Interludes" La Monte Young "Piano Piece for David Tutor #1", "Piano Piece for Terry Riley #1", and "Composition 1960, #7", John Cage "Four6" (perf by Sonic Youth), Sonic Youth "Drunken Butterfly", "Death to our Friends", Anagrama, Four6 (by John Cage).

Fri Sept 7
discussion of Broyles reading and listening -- John Cage, "4:33"; Steve Reich, "Pendulum Music; John Cage "Sonatas and Interludes" La Monte Young "Piano Piece for David Tutor #1", "Piano Piece for Terry Riley #1", and "Composition 1960, #7"

Mon Sept 10
Process-based composition techniques
James Tenney, Alvin Lucier, Steve Reich
listening: Steve Reich, Piano Phase; Clapping Music; Alvin Lucier, I am sitting in a room; Music for Piano and Amplified Sonorous Vessels; James Tenney, Chromatic Canon; for Ann (rising).

Wed Sept 12
How to compose a piece. introduction to assignment 1 and group project 1

Introduction to Assignment 1 (due Sept 20): Compose a piece of process music: using resources available to you, design a process-based composition. Your piece should have a score. Your score may include a text description of how to create the music, or a graphic symbolic representation, or it may use traditional music notation. However you choose to make the score, it will be graded on clarity of notation and clarity of thought. An ensemble wishing to play the piece should be able to recreate it without your presence. Above all, don't forget the "Maverick factor"

designing action processes for musical creation:
Each discussion group is an ensemble. You will create group pieces in your discussion section for performance in class. The class is a guided composition session including brainstorming and creation of new pieces.

process music: music which arises from a process, and more specifically, music which makes that process audible. Music which is put through the steps of a prescribed procedure

process: "A process is a naturally occurring or designed sequence of operations or events, possibly taking up time, space, expertise or other resource, which produces some outcome. A process may be identified by the changes it creates in the properties of one or more objects under its influence."

also see or

Fri Sept 14:
developing musical processes: in your discussion groups, create a composition that you can perform in class using some aspect of the voice or body of the groups (singing, speaking, noise sounds, clapping, stomping, snapping, etc). The process should contain some form of evolution over time.

Mon Sept 17
in-class performance of discussion ensemble compositions

Wed Sept 19
Meet your instructor: Troy Rogers

Fri Sept 21
Working on assignment 1

Part 2: Before Silence: defining an American Musical Experimental tradition

Mon Sept 24
Reading: Broyles Chapter 2-3
rewind to 1770: Naturalism and Revolution
William Billings and Anthony Heinrich
listening: William Billings, "Jargon", Anthony Heinrich; "The Ornithological Combat of Kings";

Wed Sept 26
Charles Ives: Multiplicity and Plurality
Music as a representation of daily life

Fri Sept 28
William Billings, "Jargon", Anthony Heinrich; "The Ornithological Combat of Kings"; Charles Ives "Variations on American" and "The Unanswered Question"

Mon Oct 1
"You cannot set art off in the corner and hope for it to have vitality, reality and substance. There can be nothing exclusive about a substantial art. It comes directly out of the heart of experience of life and thinking about life and living life." Charles Ives
"Symphony No. 4"
Henry Cowell's New Musical Resources

Wed Oct 3
Reading: Broyles Chapter 4
Assignment 1 due
Discussion of assignments
Review for exam 1

Fri Oct 5:
listening to Charles Ives "Fourth Symphony"

Mon Oct 8: reading day (no class)

Wed Oct 10: Exam 1

Fri Oct 12
designing ensemble multiplicity pieces

Mon Oct 15
in-class performance of multiplicity pieces

Wed Oct 17
Meet your instructor: Matthew Burtner

Fri Oct 19:

Mon Oct 22
Reading: Broyles Chapter 8
Invention and Futurism
Henry Cowell, Leo Ornstein, George Antheil
Danse Savage/Ballet Mechanique
Henry Cowell "The Banshee", "Sinister Resonances" and "Aeolian Harp"; Leo Ornstein "Suicide in an Airplane"; George Antheil "Ballet Mechanique"

Wed Oct 24
Cowell/Ornstein/Antheil continued
Revisiting 4'33": why silence?

Fri Oct 26
discussion of exam1 and "why silence?"

Part 3: Beyond Silence

week 6
Mon Oct 29
Reading: Broyles Chapter 9
The human voice: introductory considerations of theater and text (Partch/Ono/Anderson), and sound (Monk/La Barbara)

Wed Oct 31
Genesis of a Music: Harry Partch
"I have never been involved with the development of modern or avant-garde music. I have always been a loner. There is nothing like my work in the modern world that I know of". Harry Partch

Fri Nov 2:
Harry Partch "Hobo Journal", "Barstow", "17 Lyrics of Li Po" and "US Highball"
group workshop on voice and theater.

Mon Nov 5
Assignment 2 due
American Rhythmicists: Ives, Cowell, Nancarrow
"(Conlon Nancarrow) is the great discovery since Webern and Ives ... (he) is simply the most important composer who lives today. He has made something completely original, something extremely different compared with all other people, on the highest standard, on the standard of Johann Sebastian Bach or the late works of Beethoven.” - Gyorgy Ligeti

Wed Nov 7
American Rhythmicists: Tenney, Polansky and the Polyrhythmicon
Assignments 2 discussion
Exam 2 review
Henry Cowell "Quartet Romantic", Conlon Nancarrow "Study #1", "Study #3" "Study #21 Canon X", and "Study # 37"; Ruth Crawford-Seeger "String Quartet"; Larry Polansky four-voice canons

Fri Nov 9: TechnoSonics 8pm Live Arts (free). no discussion sections today

Mon Nov 12
Exam 2 on material up to the American Rhythmicists

Wed Nov 14
Chance and Freedom:
Morton Feldman, John Cage and Earle Brown
listening/scores: Morton Feldman, "Projection 4"; John Cage, "Music of Changes"; Earle Brown, "December, 1952"

Fri Nov 16: listening/scores: Morton Feldman, "Projection 4"; John Cage, "Music of Changes"; Earle Brown, "December, 1952

Mon Nov 19
Chance and Freedom 2
John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman and Free Jazz
“This is possibly the most powerful human sound ever recorded.” Down Beat 1966 of Coltrane's "Ascension"

John Coltrane, "Ascension"; Ornette Coleman, "Free Jazz"

Wed Nov 21: Thanksgiving break, no class

Fri Nov 23: Thanksgiving break, no class

Mon Nov 26:
review exam 3

Wed Nov 28: exam 3

Fri Nov 30:
group composition project: design a mathematically-based vocal piece

Mon Dec 3

performance of discussion group pieces
Experimentations with the materials of Pop: rock, turntablism, jazz, punk, hip hop
listening: Jimi Hendrix, Glenn Branca "Lesson No.1", Christian Marclay turntable works; John Zorn Naked City

Wed Dec 5
Experimentations with the materials of Pop 2: rock, turntablism, jazz, punk, hip hop
listening: TBA

Research Paper due

Mon Dec 10 2-5pm scheduled exam time
final Compositions due Dec 10 @ 5pm

  ©Matthew Burtner, 2005-2007, University of Virginia