5 Questions with Paul Steinbeck, Author of Sound Experiments: The Music of the AACM

Aug 9, 2022

Paul Steinbeck is associate professor of music 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.

His latest book is Sound Experiments: The Music of the AACM, published by the University of Chicago Press. We’ll be celebrating this book with a virtual conversation with Paul and Richard Scheinin on Tuesday, August 16 at 6:00 PM PT.

Where are you writing to us from?

My home near St. Louis.

What has been most important for you, personally/artistically/habitually, during the pandemic?

Most of my writing is about music, so I’ve been trying to listen to new music every day and also make music myself (I’m a bassist, improviser, and occasional composer). Staying engaged with music as a listener and a practitioner ensures that I’m always inspired to write, which has been essential during the past two-plus years. More importantly, spending time with my wife and our two young children has kept me grounded—they mean everything to me.

Which writers, artists, and others influence your work in general, and this book, specifically?

The people who influenced Sound Experiments (and ultimately all my work as a writer and musician) are the members of the AACM, an African American composers’ collective founded on the South Side of Chicago in 1965. Since the sixties, AACM artists have been among the most significant figures in jazz and experimental music, and I’ve been fortunate to have a few AACM members as my teachers, including Fred Anderson, Mwata Bowden, and George Lewis. My book is an offering to Anderson, Bowden, Lewis, and the many other AACM members who transformed the sound of jazz and experimental music.

What books are you reading right now and would you recommend any to others?

I just finished Harmony Holiday’s epic poem Maafa and Augustine’s The City of God. Now I’m delving into Anthony Braxton—Creative Music, Timo Hoyer’s biography of one of the AACM’s leading members. Hoyer’s book is in German, which isn’t an easy language for me, but Braxton is such a compelling personality that I’m determined to read the whole thing. I would recommend all these books, especially if your German is better than mine.

If you opened a bookstore, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

Instead of opening a standalone bookstore, I’d invest in Katalyst, a coffee shop/record store/listening room on Chicago’s South Side. Katalyst is a wonderful place—the South Side version of a Japanese jazu kissa (jazz café). All it needs is a book section to rival owner Kevin Beauchamp’s impressive record collection. The bestsellers would be book-music bundles, say Dan Charnas’s Dilla Time paired with Slum Village’s Fantastic, Vol. 2.

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