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  • Writer's pictureGEM LAB

Out From Outside vol. 1: Jazzwork with Fumi Okiji

To speak of this music is to speak for it, and that really means to speak as part of it. Not to identify with it but to join its ensemble. To become part of its gathering-work.

—Fumi Okiji, “Oriki For Don Cherry; To Be Part of a Gathering-Work” (2021)

//Friday, October 15th, 2021

//5-7 PM EST

//Digital Event

//Register on Eventbrite

Out From Outside began as a friendship forged amongst graduate students at the “Unit Structures: The Art of Cecil Taylor” conference held at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2019. It has since evolved into a monthly radio show on, Mixcloud project, academic speaker series and study group. Both rooted in and unrestricted by Cecil Taylor as a point of return and departure, Out From Outside seeks to collaborate and gather with listeners who dwell at the intersections of Black Studies and music scholarship.

If suggesting an aim inherently implies an appeal to completeness, Out From Outside is aimless. Or, more precisely, our abeyance of closure embraces constant preparation as a necessary precondition for slipping with the music as it slips from our grasp. We hear Darius Jones’ insistence, via Fred Moten, that “black music is inconceivable,” which is to suggest that our playful assembly, masked as thinking, looks to turn it out rather than pin it down; to amplify black music’s inconceivability and appeal to a different formulation of time, space and being all/together.

It is with immense gratitude and respect that we welcome Fumi Okiji as the inaugural presenter of our speaker series.

Fumi Okiji (UC Berkeley) arrived at the academy by way of the London jazz scene in which she took an active part as a vocalist and improviser. She works across black study, critical theory, and sound and music studies. Her research and teaching looks to black expression for ways to understand modern and contemporary life, which is to say, she explores works and practices for what they can provide by way of social theory. For instance, her book Jazz as Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited (Stanford University Press, 2018) is a sustained engagement with Theodor Adorno’s idea concerning the critical potential of art. She proposes that the socio-musical play of jazz is not representative of the individualistic and democratic values the music is most readily associated with. The book centers blackness as a more appropriate analytic through which to understand its social significance.

She is currently focused on a second book project, tentatively entitled Billie’s Bent Elbow: The Standard as Revolutionary Intoxication. It is a response to praxes—including leftist and black feminist love-politics, hyper-relationality, and empathetic scholarship—that appeal to “eternal values” of imagined futures. She suggests that such frameworks arrive too soon, and lack the coevality necessary for truly transformational practice in thought. Again, she looks to black music, and especially jazz, to provide an anchor for these formulations.

As an ongoing part of her research and teaching, she experiments with approaches to study and writing, drawn from sound practices. She is a member of Le Mardi Gras Listening Collective, a group of friends who, whenever possible, study, listen to music and eat good food together.

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