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At Oberlin, I taught a 2-credit course in Spring 2020 on avant-garde music outside of Western Europe and the US. I'd say it was very successful, and if all goes to plan I will be teaching it once again this Spring.

If done in the wrong way it'd be possible for this course to come off as an exoticist project framing a kind of avant-garde "world music". For that reason, I've put extra care into making sure a wide variety of perspectives into conversation. This course is not an explication of how, where and why this music came to be, or a guide to listening to it. It's also not an attempt to paint the musicians themselves as globally aligned political protagonists and their Western counterparts as antagonists. Instead, it's an attempt at helping others mobilize critical and open-ended experiences and thoughts by listening and examining the variety of ways that the music of the curriculum has been covered by its creators, local musicologists and listeners, and within a variety of outside discursive contexts. Genres, scenes, traditions, etc. are all at play, but they only go so far.

The status of myself and many students in the class as approaching the material with a Western musicological lens makes a carefully thought-out approach especially important. It's as easy to lump a series of artists into a flattening genre name as it is to deny those names as expressions of difference. For instance, self-described "onkyō"'s association with a "style" of specifically Japanese "new music" was as flattening as the attempts by Western improvisers to assert that it was no different than other quiet improvisers like Francisco Lopez. On one hand, the onkyō scene was full of artists with profound differences who shouldn't be lumped together as a hivemind; on the other, there are important similarities between many of them that point towards new expressive modalities that, without a rough term to accompany them, can be flattened into the false default of Western free-improv.

The Western/non-Western dichotomy is similar. On one hand, NONE of the types of music I'm covering are uniquely non-Western, and conversely no "Western" contemporary avant-garde music has been purely that. There are even blurred lines; immigrants from a young age, like individuals growing up in "Western" countries within marginalized cultural circles, or individuals with European immigrant parents living outside of the "West". Some questions some might ask me then might be: why haven't I covered this material in a more general, global context to avoid arbitrary cutting edges? Why haven't I discussed the idea "non-Western" in a diasporic context and included developments located in Western Europe and the US like the AACM?

My answer is just that by using the category of "non-Western", I'm not trying to construct an ideological boundary, physically real divide, or global unity (in fact, I attempt to draw attention to the blurred natures of these boundaries at every turn). Instead, I am trying to accomplish the very practical task of drawing attention to some experimental artists, genres and scenes that have been severely neglected, by using this category as a starting point. This category, which doubtlessly can only be taken so far, has been used by a number of the musicians I'll cover in this class itself (see: Yan Jun), who sometimes are very eager to assert the uniqueness and difference of their music against the assumptions by Western musicians that it is all the same.

The approach of this course offers a way of navigating music and musical discourse which can be applied far outside of the material I'll cover. The mindset of a cautious approach to categories as fragmented and imperfect but without neglecting their potential for being tools in a broader, mobile understanding can be applied to all music.