Richard Brown

Adjunct Instructor

Division: Scholarly and Professional Studies
Program: Musicology

Expertise: 20th-Century Music


Musicologist Richard Brown holds degrees from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (BM, guitar performance, 2005), and the University of Southern California (MA, Music History and Literature, PhD, Historical Musicology).

Brown studied classical and jazz guitar with Ron Cooley and Peter Bouffard at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and Brian Head at the USC Thornton School of Music. During his undergraduate studies, Brown embarked on a series of independent research projects with music history and theory faculty, including Peter Lefferts, Pamela Starr, George Ritchie, and Joe Kraus. His undergraduate thesis, funded by an Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experiences (UCARE) grant, examined the life and music of Paraguayan guitarist Agustín Barrios. At USC Thornton, Brown studied with George Wilson in philosophy and David James in Critical Studies in the School of Cinematic Arts, and under the guidance of USC Thornton faculty Joanna Demers, Brown began his dissertation studies on John Cage’s work in avant-garde cinema in 2008.

He has presented papers at the national conferences of the American Musicological Society, the Society for Music Theory, and has published peer reviewed articles in the Journal of the Society for American Music, Contemporary Music Review, and Leonardo Electronic Almanac.

Brown’s dissertation research includes the establishment of a clear archival foundation to address the cultural mythology surrounding Cage’s life and works. Diving into the primary archival repositories of Cage’s materials, Brown’s work has clarified a number of biographical and compositional questions surrounding Cage’s artistic career — particularly on Cage’s early career in Los Angeles. His research also examines the network of independent filmmakers and institutions that operated in parallel to Cage, establishing new context for interpreting Cage’s artistic output — both as a composer and as a member of the New York School of music and visual arts in the postwar era. Brown has embarked on a detailed archival and theoretical investigation on the sources, practices, and strategies employed by John Cage and the circle of artists surrounding his artistic program, including but not limited to the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, the artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, and composers directly in dialogue with Cage’s aesthetic and compositional directions from ca 1952–61.

Brown was the winner of the 2009 Ingolf Dahl Graduate Paper Competition, an award for best graduate paper read at the joint meeting of the Pacific-Southwest and Northern California chapters of the American Musicological Society, and is an active member of the “Music and Media” study group of the International Musicological Society, and the Music and the Moving Image scholarship group. He has presented papers at the national conferences of the American Musicological Society, the Society for Music Theory, as well as abroad. In addition, Brown’s work with abstract animator Oskar Fischinger has resulted in several music supervision opportunities under the guidance of the Center for Visual Music and the Oskar Fischinger Trust. The latest project, for the newly-restored path-breaking multicamera projection work, R-1 ein Formspiel (c. 1926–33), is currently on exhibition at the Tate Modern in London.

Brown’s recent work includes a number of exciting archival film discoveries relating to his dissertation research, efforts leading toward a number of film screenings, concert series, and academic panels surrounding the 2012 centenary celebration of Cage’s birth. Working closely with institutions such as the Getty Research Institute, The John Cage Trust, and the Center for Visual Music, Brown’s work in museum studies and music supervision continue to push the boundaries of interdisciplinary contact in musicological studies, setting the path for a wealth of academic opportunities to bridge the gap between academic and public organizations. He is currently completing a monograph entitled: Through The Looking Glass: John Cage and Avant-Garde Film.

Professional experience

Career Highlights:

  • Music supervision for Raumlichtkunst, 2012 exhibition by the Center for Visual Music, Tate Modern, London; The Whitney Museum, New York, NY

Honors, Awards & Competitions:

  • Ingolf Dahl Graduate Paper Competition Winner, Joint Meeting of the Pacific Southwest and Northern California Chapters of the American Musicological Society
  • National Film Preservation Grant for The Sun (1956), by John Cage and Richard Lippold (2013)
  • Teaching Assistant Fellow, USC Center for Excellence in Teaching

Academic degrees

  • PhD, University of Southern California Thornton School of Music
  • MA, University of Southern California Thornton School of Music
  • BM, University of Nebraska, Lincoln