Dan DiPiero is a musician and lecturer of Comparative Studies at The Ohio State University. Right now, he’s putting the finishing touches on his book Contingent Encounters: Improvisation in Music and Everyday Life. In addition to that work, he’s also the host of the new podcast Public Cultural Studies, a show that features interviews with scholars who have “widely divergent, interdisciplinary interests.”
How did you get to where you are today, professionally?
I started my path with the drums. I went to a small conservatory in Columbus, Ohio for my undergrad, majoring in jazz studies and focusing on drumset performance. Like most, I didn’t have a long-term plan at that point, but was making decisions based on what felt good as a “next step.” For me, that next step was grad school, just because I really wanted to go to this one specific program at CalArts. In part that’s because Joe LaBarbera was teaching there. But more to the point, I thought that the music coming out of that school was some of the most interesting and compelling stuff I’d ever heard. I don’t remember how I found out about the CalArts jazz CD archive, but once I did, I started following musicians like Mike Lockwood and Colin Woodford, many of whom later became my friends. Before I ever attended CalArts, I looked up to them and loved the music they made. This really made me want to understand what was going on at that school.
The first year I applied, I was waitlisted. The next year, I got in, and started working on my MFA in jazz studies. During that time, I ended up processing a lot of personal stuff…trying to understand and realize my own musical ambitions, but also dealing with homesickness, a big breakup, just lots of change in general. And even though I continued to be energized by the music I was surrounded by, I also started to feel—I think for reasons both real and imaginary—that I was sort of out of place at the school. At that point especially, I was feeling really unsure about myself and my future, and the next major thing that happened was that I went searching for a non-music credit I needed in order to graduate. Because of the way things worked at CalArts at the time—you had to sign up for classes in-person—I had been closed out of almost everything that was available. The only class with any space whatsoever was this thing called “Contemporary Aesthetic Theory,” which I didn’t even understand as a course title. But the professor let me enroll, and this is where I was really exposed to critical theory for the first time. We read Michel Foucault, Donna Haraway, Jacques Rancière… I was hooked pretty much immediately, and then did an MA after my music degree.