Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award

Spring 4-27-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Peter Schmelz


This dissertation examines the Philip Glass Ensemble as it took shape within New York's emerging loft-and-gallery scene. This group of musicians participated in the migration of artists and performers into downtown Manhattan in the late sixties and in the subsequent formation of the "alternative spaces" of SoHo and its neighboring districts. These spaces fostered fruitful contact between the ensemble and the area's burgeoning community. This dissertation employs the group as a frame for several richly detailed and interrelated stories about minimalism and "new music" during this crucial period of late twentieth-century American musical history.

Relying on new archival and oral historical research, this dissertation blends elements of biography, reception, performance practice, and style history. It traces the intense creative interactions within the Glass Ensemble and explores how their music-making connected them to their most steadfast audiences. Chapters one through three form the first part. Chapter one focuses on the collaborations of Jon Gibson, Steve Reich, Arthur Murphy, and Philip Glass in the late sixties, highlighting the communities of support surrounding their earliest creative efforts and their shared interest in the physical space of performance. Chapter two reexamines Glass' immersive, high-volume aesthetics in the early seventies, focusing on the frequent invocations of "presence" in his program notes and in the responses of his earliest listeners and critics. Chapter three examines Glass' loft-studio at 10 Bleecker Street as his ensemble's primary venue in the years 1972-1974, where musicians and audiences experienced performances as ritual expressions of shared community.

Chapters four and five, comprising part two, focus on two representative ensemble members. Chapter four provides the first in-depth discussion and analysis of Gibson's work in the early seventies, focusing special attention on the dualities of composition and improvisation that then emerged in his music. The final chapter looks at Joan La Barbara's compositions and concert reviews as parallel examples of participation within the artistic community of downtown Manhattan: in both cases, she helped define what it meant to be a SoHo avant-gardist, becoming one of the community's foremost champions.


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