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Conference on premises, practices and prospects of cultural musicology

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January 24-25, 2014
University of Amsterdam, Department of Musicology, Nieuwedoelenstraat 16

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On January 24 and 25 of 2014 we will be holding a conference on the premises, practices and prospects of cultural musicology. Scholars from different backgrounds in musicology (and other disciplines) have been invited to present a case study of cultural musicology or reflect on its aims, methods and girth ;-), to paraphrase Adler.

The dimensions and interrelationships of musicology’s different sub-disciplines have been the subject of ongoing debate in recent decades, despite their long-standing history. Adler, in 1885, used the binary historical-systematic, with comparative as a subdivision of systematic, to define (and divide) the different musicologies. Seeger, in 1939, continued along this line, though he used comparative and systematic interchangeably. In the second half of the twentieth century, the two main pillars of musicology were musicology and ethnomusicology, in spite of Seeger’s complaint about the appropriation of the generic term ‘musicology’ by the students of ‘western art music’.

Over the past decade, a number of scholars have been circulating the expression ‘cultural musicology’. The designation is however quite a bit older; it first emerged in 1959 in an article by Fidelis Smith that went largely unnoticed. Gilbert Chase coined the term cultural musicology once again in 1972, using it simply as a replacement for ethnomusicology, which was taken up by Kerman in 1985. In 2003, Lawrence Kramer redefined the term to denote the ‘rapidly ageing new musicology’, and around the same time, Routledge initiated a series called ‘critical and cultural musicology’, edited by Martha Feldman.

The smooth, loose and vague manner in which ‘cultural musicology’ is applied would suggest that it is not a formal discipline. Perhaps it should be, however! The question is, if cultural musicology according to Chase is a better term for ethnomusicology, and if according to Kramer it is a better name for new musicology, then do they have anything in common? Probably more than the eye meets at first sight, for new musicology was strongly influenced by the cultural and anthropological turn that is so predominant in ethnomusicology. Tomlinson’s work, for instance, exemplifies this connection. Furthermore, if Chase considered the object of study to be ‘other’ music (including pop), and Kramer focussed on European art music, it should be recognised that the boundaries between different musics blurred in the course of twentieth century. Therefore, it makes more sense for orientations in musicology to be primarily based on methodologies rather than on region, style or genre. In Amsterdam over the past decade this has crystallised into a historical, a cultural and a cognitive dimension in musicology. These dimensions are not mutually exclusive, on the contrary, they necessarily depend on each other. In the meantime, are we burying ethnomusicology? Undoubtedly, as Michel de Certeau so eloquently argued, the ethno-terminology has become problematic and by and large ‘ethnology’ gave way to ‘cultural anthropology’. But there are quite a few people who consider themselves ethnomusicologists, and they are also critically debating the nature and contents of their discipline. Is it the study of ethnic music? Is it the ethnography of music? As Fidelis Smith said, we run out of doxographical alternatives.

Our primary concern has something in common with Chase’s problem that musicology was limited to the ‘(art) music of the west’ and ethnomusicology was confined to the ‘music of the rest’. Musicology must be the general term, and as Charles Seeger contended, should be able to deal with any and all manifestations of music. And, very much in the tradition of the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis, cultural musicology entails the cultural analysis of music. But beyond that, we are also profoundly interested in the musical analysis of culture, i.e. the ways in which music is an auricle on culture. And this bears with it yet another implication, in which music is a knowledge system, a way of understanding not only culture, but our relation to the world around us. We call this, in line with Jaap Kunst and Rafael de Menezes Bastos, musico-logica. Musico-logicas are intimately connected to musicologies, and though the musics of different part of the world have been studied extensively, the musicologies have remained under-exposed. For this conference we have invited scholars whose work has struck us as particularly relevant in the context of the above sketch of cultural musicology. Their background is very diverse, and not all are necessarily musicologists. So far, Lakshmi Subramaniam, Timothy Taylor, Simone Mahrenholz, Laudan Nooshin, Matthew Gelbart, Edward Herbst, Pirkko Moisala, Dard Neuman, Richard Widdess, Katherine Butler Schofield, Martin Clayton, Simone Krüger, Tony Langlois, Stephen Amico, Birgit Abels, Sarah Weiss, Anne van Oostrum, Barbara Titus, Annette Wilke and Nicholas Cook have confirmed their participation. Julia Kursell, director of the musicology department, will preside over the conference.

The provisory program outline looks like this:

Friday January 24:
Morning: Premises of cultural musicology, what and why?
Afternoon: Case studies, practices of cultural musicology I
Evening: Drinks and dinner

Saturday January 25:
Morning: Case studies, practices of cultural musicology II
Afternoon: Prospects of cultural musicology: whither and how?

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