My research joins together music, philosophy, and the cultural history of the avant-garde. In my first book, Deep Refrains: Music, Philosophy, and the Ineffable (Forthcoming 2017, University of Chicago Press), I cross boundaries of language, philosophical orientation, and aesthetic tradition to forge a comparative analysis of writings on music by Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ernst Bloch, Theodor Adorno, Vladimir Jankélévitch, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari. The book argues that music's ineffability is neither a conservative phenomenon nor a pious call to silence. It is instead a cause of perplexity that inspires intellectuals to address, in an ethical fashion, intricate philosophical questions specific to the modern world.
My second book, Strange Inscriptions: The Ineffable Avant-Garde, 1958–78, argues that a philosophical approach to music’s ineffability is also deeply relevant to diverse locales of the post-war American avant-garde. Through the prism of six case histories—David Tudor, Ornette Coleman, the Velvet Underground, Alice Coltrane, Patti Smith, and Richard Hell—music’s ineffability reemerges not as a conceit based in music’s abstraction, but as a sense of perplexity that surrounds complex, collaborative musical practices that are both forceful and unstable in their exact meaning. Strange Inscriptions argues that these musicians—all of whom are understudied, and none of whom are traditionally taken to be composers—not only challenged the rules by which music is written and practiced, but also confounded and reconfigured gendered and racialized expectations for what critics took to be legitimate forms of musical sound.
As a practicing musician I have worked in a variety of genres from avant-garde composition, experimental music, and free improvisation to rock music and electronic dance music. In Minneapolis, I currently play with the drone band, IE. From 2010–13, I performed, toured, and served as manager for Sierra Leonean singer Janka Nabay, and collaborated with him on a full length album released by David Byrne's label Luaka Bop in 2012. The band's performances were featured at The Museum of Modern Art, The Getty Center, The Kennedy Center, The Arab American National Museum, The Chicago World Music Festival, Bonnaroo Music Festival, P.S. 1 Warm-Up Series, Celebrate Brooklyn, The Wexner Center for the Arts, and The Brooklyn Academy of Music, among numerous other festivals and venues. Our collaboration is the subject of an article-in-progress entitled "World Music Without Profit: The Fractured Cosmopolitanism of Janka Nabay's Bubu Music." A second full-length album with Nabay was released on Luaka Bop in 2017.