George Lewis

  • Philip Glass, Akhnaten, 1984. Rehearsal view, Metropolitan Opera, New York, October 30, 2019. Akhnaten (Anthony Roth Costanzo). Photo: Karen Almond/Met Opera.

    George Lewis

    Composer, musicologist, and computer-media artist George Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University. His book A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press, 2008) won an American Book Award, and he is coeditor of the Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies (2016).

    CHAAKAPESH (Roger Frappier and Justin Kingsley)

    This documentary follows the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and its conductor Kent Nagano on a visit to Indigenous communities in northern Quebec to perform Cree Canadian writer Tomson Highway

  • Terry Adkins

    The work of the late artist and saxophonist Terry Adkins explores deep and abiding structural, aesthetic, and process-oriented relationships among sound, image, and ritual. This important survey, with catalogue texts by Alex Gartenfeld, Gean Moreno, and Kobena Mercer, among others, highlights Adkins’s contributions to sculpture, with fifty pieces created between the mid-1980s and the artist’s untimely passing in 2014. Adkins’s works are often dedicated to historical figures with strong resonances in Afrodiasporic culture, exemplified here by the exhibition’s

  • Steven Schick. Photo: Bill Dean.

    George Lewis

    1 STEVEN SCHICK (Miller Theatre, Columbia University, New York, January 30 and February 1) Not once during Schick’s journey through some of the most complex music for percussion ever written did a single page of music appear. Instead, as if preparing an intimate dinner for close friends, Schick ushered listeners into a banquet of memory.

    2 TERRY ADKINS, AT OSIRIS (Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, November 13, 2013) In full masked regalia, the Lone Wolf Recital Corps, with its founder Adkins as the Reconstruction-era African American senator Blanche Bruce, muscled through an overflow crowd into

  • View of “The Shadows Took Shape,” 2014. Foreground, from left: Derrick Adams, WE><HERE, 2013; Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Interpretation, 2010; Trenton Doyle Hancock, A New Creature #1, 2013; Harold Offeh, Covers. After Betty Davis. They Say I’m Different, 1974, 2013; Harold Offeh, Covers. After Grace Jones. Island Life. 1985, 2008; Harold Offeh, Covers. After Funkadelic. Maggot Brain. 1971, 2013; William Villalongo, Sista Ancesta (E. Kelly/D. R. of Congo, Pende), 2012; Sanford Biggers, Vex, 2013. Photo: Adam Reich.

    “The Shadows Took Shape”

    THE JAZZ COMPOSER AND VISIONARY The jazz composer and visionary Sun Ra, who claimed to have come from Saturn, authored the poem whose opening line served as the title of this thought-provoking show, which explored the complex network of aesthetics and practices known as Afrofuturism. The show’s curators, Naima J. Keith and Zoé Whitley, define their subject as a “discourse around black cultural production, technology, and speculation on the future” that clearly developed “out of the historical and social conditions that shaped black life in America.” They cite Ra as the model of Afrofuturism

  • First page of score to George Lewis’s The Will to Adorn, 2011.


    IT’S STILL UNUSUAL to play an artwork, no matter how many interactive screens or relational games we’ve encountered. But playing the piece is often the first thing that happens in the practices of TERRY ADKINS and GEORGE LEWIS—each of whom breached the borders between the visual arts and music, and each of whom came of age in the 1970s and ’80s ferment of post-bop and cyborgs, identity politics and institutional critique. Artforum invited the vanguard, multidisciplinary artist Adkins—whose work features in the Whitney Biennial in New York this month—to talk with renowned composer and computer-music pioneer Lewis about performance, improvisation, history, race, and sensation. Tragically, Adkins passed away, at the age of sixty, as this issue was going to press. We hope that the conversation that follows might also serve as an unexpected valedictory of sorts, pointing toward the rich possibilities that Adkins’s work has opened up—and will continue to open for years to come.

    TERRY ADKINS: George, when we first started out, it was almost forbidden to be actively creative in more than one field. Everything was railroaded into these categories, and one was forced to choose.

    GEORGE LEWIS: Well, you used to read in the New York Times that a composer was “eclectic,” and that was supposed to be a bad thing. And then several things happened to smash that to bits. Among them were the civil rights and black power movements—I mean, that liberated everybody, not just African Americans. Suddenly, there was increased mobility on all sides, and the term multivoiced took on

  • Steven Schick performing Kurt Schwitters’s Ursonate, 1922–32, during the Tune-In Music Festival, Park Avenue Armory, New York, February 18, 2011. Photo: James Ewing.

    George Lewis

    1 Steven Schick (Park Avenue Armory, New York, February 18) Kurt Schwitters’s Ursonate (1922–32) is a sound-poetry classic. Steven Schick’s highly amplified interpretation during the Tune-In Music Festival, with video montage/collage of giant images of him performed by Shahrokh Yadegari and Ross Karre, evoked a US mass-media demagogue, speaking in tongues.

    2 Music for Merce (Roulette, SoHo, NY, March 20) One of the final events at the old Roulette space featured performances by Christian Wolff, Takehisa Kosugi, David Behrman, John King, Alvin Curran, Ikue Mori, Marina Rosenfeld, Gordon Mumma,