This Life of Sounds

This Life of Sounds: Evenings for New Music in Buffalo
by Renée Levine Packer

“Sounds have no goal! They are, and that’s all. They live.
Music is this life of sounds, this participation of sounds in life.”
—John Cage


The Center of the Creative and Performing Arts at SUNY Buffalo holds a major place in the history of new music in America and is emblematic of the adventurous period during which it existed, 1964-1980. This Life of Sounds portrays the Center, essentially an artists’ colony within a university, and its now legendary lineup of musicians. Composers Lukas Foss (the Center’s founder), Lejaren Hiller, and Morton Feldman were the music directors over the life of “the Buffalo group.” The now legendary group of musicians (some would say “musical outlaws”) who participated in the Buffalo group included Pulitzer Prize winner George CrumbTerry RileyCornelius CardewMaryanne AmacherFrederic RzewskiDavid TudorPauline OliverosJulius EastmanPetr Kotik, and many more. Composers John CageJames TenneyIannis Xenakis and others all figure in the story as well. Renée Levine Packer brings the Center to life with her depiction of their passion, energy, and the impact these committed artists had on the history of new music composition.

The book provides valuable accounts of the Center’s influential concert series, Evenings for New Music, performed in Buffalo, New York and throughout Europe; its famous recording of Terry Riley’s In C; the political activism of the time; and the intersection of academic, private, and institutional funding for the arts. Life magazine declared in an article about the 1965 Festival of the Arts Today titled, Can This Be Buffalo? “Buffalo exploded last month in a two-week avant garde festival that was bigger and hipper than anything ever held in Paris or New York…” The concerts, the festivals, and the adventurous musical climate attracted filmmakers and young visual artists resulting in what one person called “one of those kinds of places the way people talk about Vienna in 1900-1910.”

This Life of Sounds is necessary reading for students and scholars interested in institutional and community histories, twentieth-century American music and its cultural infrastructure, and arts funding issues in the United States, as well as fans of contemporary and experimental music.

This Life of Sounds will be released in paperback in Fall 2016.