Sound Experiments

The Music of the AACM

A groundbreaking study of the trailblazing music of Chicago’s AACM, a leader in the world of jazz and experimental music.
Founded on Chicago’s South Side in 1965 and still thriving today, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is the most influential collective organization in jazz and experimental music. In “Sound Experiments,” Paul Steinbeck offers an in-depth historical and musical investigation of the collective, analyzing individual performances and formal innovations in captivating detail. He pays particular attention to compositions by Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell, the Association’s leading figures, as well as Anthony Braxton, George Lewis (and his famous computer-music experiment, Voyager), Wadada Leo Smith, and Henry Threadgill, along with younger AACM members such as Mike Reed, Tomeka Reid, and Nicole Mitchell.
“Sound Experiments” represents a sonic history, spanning six decades, that affords insight not only into the individuals who created this music but also into an astonishing collective aesthetic. This aesthetic was uniquely grounded in nurturing communal ties across generations, as well as a commitment to experimentalism. The AACM’s compositions broke down the barriers between jazz and experimental music and made essential contributions to African American expression more broadly. Steinbeck shows how the creators of these extraordinary pieces pioneered novel approaches to instrumentation, notation, conducting, musical form, and technology, creating new soundscapes in contemporary music.

See also: The sound of the future, 50 years on


“The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians has achieved worldwide recognition for its approaches to notated composition, improvisation, technology, and intermedia. Steinbeck’s extensive historical and methodological analysis of a wide range of AACM musical practices makes this book indispensable to an understanding of the leading role of Afrodiasporic experimentalism in the past, present, and future of new music.” — George Lewis

“I really appreciate Paul Steinbeck’s scholarship in putting together ‘Sound Experiments.’ I have always found him to be an engaging writer. I enjoy how he wrote about my compositions on my album Sound, as well as the different iterations of my composition ‘Nonaah.’ He really dug deep!” — Roscoe Mitchell

“Steinbeck has written an excellent analysis of the works of composers-performers from the AACM. A clear and concise investigative text, it looks into many aspects involved in creating a work of musical art. His writing is creative and has an expressive use of language. I recommend his book to everyone.” — Wadada Leo Smith

“One of the most significant avant-garde collectives of the twentieth century, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) remains a powerful force in the early 21st century. In Paul Steinbeck, the AACM has found a chronicler and scholar of passion, erudition, and discipline, the very qualities that have made it such an enduring institution.” — Adam Shatz

About the author

Paul Steinbeck is associate professor of music in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of “Message to Our Folks: The Art Ensemble of Chicago” and coauthor of “Exercises for the Creative Musician.”

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