Kerry O’Brien

Kerry O'Brien's picture


Post-1945 American experimentalism; minimalism; countercultural spirituality; histories of technology; media studies; Pauline Oliveros; Steve Reich


Kerry O’Brien is an alumna of Northern Illinois University (BM), Indiana University (MA), and Indiana University (PhD candidate, ABD). Before coming to Yale, O’Brien taught at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. In her dissertation research, O’Brien examined the late 1960s organization Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.). Focusing on works by John Cage, Steve Reich, La Monte Young, and Pauline Oliveros, she positioned these composers’ E.A.T. experiments alongside their psychospiritual experiments, highlighting a tendency within American experimentalism to experiment on the self.

O’Brien has presented her work at the national meeting of the American Musicological Society, the Society for Minimalist Music, the Royal Musicological Association Music and/as Process Symposium, and the New Music Gathering. With research supported by a Presser Foundation Music Award, a Paul Sacher Stiftung Research Grant, a Getty Research Library Grant, and an American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women, her writings have appeared in the Mitteilungen der Paul Sacher StiftungNewMusicBoxThe New York Times, and The New Yorker online. 

As a percussionist, O’Brien performs regularly with Nief-Norf, a contemporary music organization that holds an annual summer festival and an academic conference. In June 2017, O’Brien co-hosted the Sixth International Conference of the Society for Minimalist Music at the Nief-Norf Summer Festival.

Selected Publications:

“‘Machine Fantasies into Human Events’: Steve Reich and Technology in the 1970s,” in Rethinking Reich, edited by Sumanth Gopinath and Pwyll ap Siôn (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

“Listening as Activism: The ‘Sonic Meditations’ of Pauline Oliveros,” The New Yorker (December 9, 2016).

“Steve Reich at 80: Still Plugged In, Still Plugging Away,” The New York Times (September 30, 2016).

“Hearing Disorientation in Steve Reich’s Drumming (1971),” Mitteilungen der Paul Sacher Stiftung 27 (April 2014): 36-40.

Music History
Appointment Type: 
Graduate faculty
Undergraduate faculty