Stylistic pluralism is perhaps the most striking characteristic of twenty-first-century music, in both production and consumption. There are more musicians than ever before, making more kinds of music with more complex and immediate networks of influence, connection and distribution. Any simple hierarchies of taste have not weathered well the erosions brought by phenomena including cultural theory (Huyssen, 1986), globalization (Feld, 2000) and digitization (Kusek, Leonhard, & Lindsay, 2005; Lanier, 2011), resulting in a vastly widened scope for serious consideration of music.
Musicology has reflected this change, as discussed by Clarke (2007) and exemplified by influential histories of music, such as the pluralistic parallelism of Cook and Pople (2004) and Taruskin (2005). On the consumption side, there have been significant expansions in stylistic diversity for many listeners, with the 'highbrow snob' being replaced by the 'cultural omnivore' (Peterson & Kern, 1996).
And not only have listeners broadened their musical taste. Musicians have more opportunity than ever, thanks to digitization, globalization and other factors, to work outside their initial genres, either by expanding their expertise, or by collaborating, or both. There are many attractions in moving outside one's genre, including expanding musical expression, stretching beyond comfort zones, connecting with new audiences and enlarging one's circle of colleagues. While there are also many challenges, as discussed below, the benefits are appealing to a growing number of artists. As a composer and artistic director of an ensemble, Topology, I include myself in this number.
Collaboration between musicians with different stylistic orientations has, of course, a very long history. However, in recent decades its popularity has accelerated to the point of it now being close to normative. As an illustration, I will discuss collaborations between rock and classical musicians (though almost any two genres could be similarly examined).