Date: Wednesday, April 20, Time: 15-18 h
Location: Room 5A-23, Wassenaarseweg 52, Leiden, Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen.
During last meeting we mentioned reading some contemporary article(s) with reference to Adorno and for that I have a light post-interval session in mind with the following texts:
You can also download all three of them from:
Before the interval I would like to get into a subject that has been intriguing for some time now, but that we never really paid attention to, artistic research. Recently a book appeared that you can download from here:
We shall read the introduction, chapter 1 (Cook) and if possible chapter 12 (Toop). Prof. Henk Borgdorff, specialist on artistic research, will be our special guest!
Hoping to see you all then and there!
Date: Friday 11 March, Time: 15-18 h
Location: Room 5A-23, Wassenaarseweg 52, Leiden, Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen.
The second meeting of this season is devoted to an unusual topic, the evolution and prehistory of music. The main text we shall have a look at is (part of) Gary Tomlinson’s new book, A million years of music. I consider Tomlinson a cultural musicologist par excellence, but much of this subject matter seems to overlap with speculative music cognition. We shall not be deterred by that as we have full confidence in Tomlinson. There is additional reading from an equally new book by Iain Morley, The prehistory of music. This will be post-pause reading, so the fainthearted shall be excused if they can only listen in.
The links above are at dropbox, and I just realised they have changed their methodology – it’s less smooth than it used to be. Perhaps you will find it easier to download the whole rigmarole from this link
(https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx11mu4eegI_UkRMZDVpWmlCcjg/view?usp=sharing). The link will show the two texts and above them there is a downward arrow, that will initiate a download. Google will warn you that it couldn’t scan for viruses, but as far as I know there aren’t any. So, please do “download anyway”.
The 2015 promotional flyer for the MA programme in Music Studies at the University of Amsterdam has revived the debate on the disciplinary identities among the Department of Musicology. The basic idea of the new MA programme – which, I should add, I fully support – is that under the general rubric of ‘music studies’ the students in Amsterdam are offered a wide variety of musicological topics and approaches, from which they can freely select one or (preferably) several specialisations. From September 2015, ‘Music Studies’ will even replace ‘Musicology’ as the formal title of the study programme, therewith embracing Laudan Nooshin’s proposition to dispense with the problematic disciplinary labels of ‘(Ethno)Musicology’ (Nooshin 2008). In the recent debates at the University of Amsterdam, however, relatively little attention has been granted to this formality. Instead, the controversies have concentrated on how the programme is being promoted, and specifically on how the different fields of specialisation are represented on the flyer – which is where, notably, (Ethno)Musicology reappears.
The most outspoken response to these developments comes from Wim van der Meer, formerly Associate Professor in Cultural Musicology at the UvA and, in that function, coordinator of the BA and MA study programmes at the Department of Musicology. Van der Meer has long disdained the disciplinary binary of ethno/musicology, as it segregates the musics of world between the West and the Rest. Alternatively, he advocates cultural musicology as an all-embracing field of study, which resonates with many of his colleagues and students (his response can be read here). I fully recognise the necessity of debating the disciplinary terminology that is being used, both in Amsterdam and internationally, as it not only reflects but also institutionalises a lingering colonial bias. However, I argue that the concise descriptions of the contents of the specialisations, as these are represented on the promotional flyer, similarly rely on problematic biases, and thus equally require critical reflection. To join the debates, and with the intention to impel further discussion, I briefly outline two of my concerns with these descriptions, after which I will try to illustrate the urgency of these issues by resorting to a quote by Edward Said that is representative of an enduring colonial bias in contemporary universalist claims of ‘music history’ .
My first concern relates to the methodological signposts that the promotional flyer attributes to the different specialisations . What has been labelled as ‘Ethnomusicology’ is, significantly, identified as a field of musicological inquiry that embraces ‘Postcolonial Theory’. Considering that this field, etymologically speaking, studies the music of ‘the Other’, a thorough methodological grounding in postcolonial theory is indeed highly urgent, and it can only be commended that, as emphasised on the promotional flyer, this perspective occupies a prominent position within ethnomusicology. In the description of ‘Musicology’ as the ‘History of Music’, by contrast, postcolonial theory is absent; as if from a historical perspective the question of colonialism is irrelevant. Obviously, such a concise abstract of the contents cannot contain a comprehensive overview of all the questions that are dealt with, and colonialism might very well be a central issue in the historical courses of the study programme. Nevertheless, to prominently highlight postcolonial theory as a (or the) central perspective within ethnomusicology, but excluding it from musicology, implies an imbalanced relation between the material that is being discussed and the theoretical perspectives through which this is done.
Second, on the promotional flyer ethnomusicology is further specified as studying the ‘Musics from Africa, Asia, America, Europe and the Arab World’; that is, despite the (almost) all-encompassing designation, it is studying local musics. By contrast, musicology is – it goes without saying – primarily concerned with ‘Western’ ‘classical’ music, which presumably does not require any geographical specification . To refrain from specifying the locality, and thus implicitly assuming Europe to be the universal subject of historical musicology, restates the colonial binary of the people with and without history. This binary has for several decades been under close scrutiny within postcolonial studies (e.g. Young 1990 and Chakrabarty 2000); and yet, music history, to the extent that it ignores these writings in postcolonial theory, continues to make universalist claims on ‘history’ as an exclusively European phenomenon. With this disregard for postcolonial theory, and by implicitly assuming history to be Western, the exclusivist form in which music history is taught – or at least, in which it is being represented on this flyer – continues to rely on colonial prejudice.
To illustrate the persistence of these universalist claims on ‘history’, and to elucidate how these claims are particularly enduring in relation to music, I will resort to a brief discussion on the approach to music by Edward Said. Although Said has gained his most widespread influence with Orientalism (1978), in which he analyses the historical ties between the academic field of orientalism and the colonial and imperial power relations in the Middle East, he has also published extensively on music. These publications include the books Musical Elaborations (1991), Parallels and Paradoxes, co-authored with Daniel Barenboim (2002), and the posthumously published On Late Style (2006) and Music at the Limits (2008). Considering Said’s influential critique in postcolonial studies, it is remarkable that, when writing or speaking about music, he appears to be extremely Eurocentric. Not only does he almost exclusively reserve his reflections on music to ‘Western classical music’, but on the rare occasions that he opens his ears to a different repertoire – and in particular, when discussing what seems to be a minor childhood trauma related to the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum – he relies on the same orientalist stereotypes that he so eloquently criticises in other contexts . However, it is not only in relation to other repertoires that Said demonstrates himself to be relying on nineteenth-century colonial prejudices, but also when he discusses ‘Western classical music’. More specifically, Said often strongly relies on problematic universalist claims when discussing this specific repertoire.
One occasion where these universalist claims become particularly explicit is in a radio interview from December 2002. In this interview, conducted by Scott Simon for the radio station NPR, Said is questioned together with the conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, with whom he had recently published the book Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society (2002). A notable statement occurs when Simon asks Said and Barenboim to reflect on what Beethoven, who occupies a prominent position in their book, means to them. To this question, Said replies: .
In this passage, and particularly with the claim that Beethoven ‘really transcends the time and place of which he was a part’, Said strongly relies on nineteenth-century Austro-Germanic ideals of absolute music (see e.g. Dahlhaus 1989). But despite the obvious historical and geographical specificity, Beethoven supposedly ‘speaks to anyone who likes music’, a statement with which Said practically equates ‘Beethoven’ and ‘music’. Said continues by declaring that this music is ‘expressing the highest human ideals’ – can this be opposed to other musics expressing ‘the lowest human ideals’? – and by making these ideals into ‘universal experiences’. Especially Said’s proposition, that the cause for all of this is that ‘Beethoven’ is wordless, directly refers to the familiar the ideals of the purity of ‘absolute’ instrumental music – which, again, is implicitly opposed to allegedly ‘lower’ forms of vocal music.
With the claim of ‘Beethoven’ being transcendental and universal, Said touches upon nineteenth- and early twentieth-century ideas of cultural superiority, which closely relate to the contemporary discourses of racism, nationalism, colonialism and imperialism. Of all people, we would expect Said to be aware of these relations. In the books Orientalism (1978) and Culture and Imperialism (1993), among other writings, Said offers a thorough critique of the mutual influences between academic knowledge and cultural artefacts on the one hand and colonial discourses on the other; but when it comes to music, he appears to have a blind spot – or rather a deaf ear – for these relations. In the absence of (his own) writings in postcolonial theory, ‘Beethoven’ – or more generally early nineteenth-century Austro-Germanic instrumental music – is equated with ‘music’, and studying this repertoire is thus considered a universal ‘music history’. This ‘music’, however, is obviously a highly specific repertoire, which is not only limited historically and geographically to nineteenth-century European/Austro-Germanic composers, but it is also restricted to the urban elite societies of these times and places – and, moreover, carefully selected to serve patriarchal purposes. To state that, in contrast to other local forms of music, this repertoire is universal, and to assume that it is expressing the highest human ideals, is a claim that is not only both historically and methodologically fraud, but it can only be taken seriously from within a neo-colonial, elitist and patriarchal framework.
Said’s approach to ‘music’, with its blunt ignorance of postcolonial theory and the resulting universalist claims, is exemplary for much of what today is categorised as ‘music history’. That these universalist claims continue to be made – not only by Said, but also in the study programmes in which we work and teach – demonstrates the persistence of the ideals of absolute, transcendental music and, related to that, the colonialist presumption of ‘western’ cultural superiority. I therefore argue that, regardless of how the different fields of specialisation are named, postcolonial theory should not be reserved for ethnomusicology, but it is just as urgent to include this critical perspective in historical musicology.
Abels, Birgit (2014). ‘Musik, Macht und der Mythos Mehrstimmigkeit.’ In: Norient: Network for Local and Global Sounds and Media Culture (accessed on 27 July 2015).
Ali, Tariq (2006). Conversations with Edward Said. London, New York and Calcutta: Seagull Books.
Barenboim, Daniel and Edward Said (2002). Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society. New York: Pantheon Books.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh (2000). Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Dahlhaus, Carl (1989). The Idea of Absolute Music. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Glass, Charles (2004). ‘Edward Said: The Last Interview.’ See YouTube (from 23:39, accessed on 27 July 2015).
Meer, Wim van der (2015). ‘I Buried Ethnomusicology.’ In: Cultural Musicology iZine (accessed on 27 July 2015).
Nooshin, Laudan (2008). ‘Ethnomusicology, Alterity, and Disciplinary Identity; or “Do We Still Need an Ethno-?” “Do We Still Need an – ology?” ’ In: Henry Stobart (ed.). The New (Ethno)musicologies. Landam, Maryland (etc.): The Scarecrow Press: 71-75.
Said, Edward (1978). Orientalism. London and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Said, Edward (1991). Musical Elaborations. New York: Columbia University Press.
Said, Edward (1993). Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto and Windus.
Said, Edward (1999a). ‘Farewell to Tahia.’ In Al-Ahram Weekly Online 450 (7-13 October) (accessed on 27 July 2015).
Said, Edward (1999b). Out of Place: A Memoir. London: Granta Books.
Said, Edward (2006). On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain. New York: Pantheon Books.
Said, Edward (2008). Music at the Limits. New York: Columbia University Press.
Simon, Scott (2002). ‘Barenboim and Said: Parallels and Paradoxes’ (accessed on 27 July 2015).
Young, Robert (1990). White Mythologies: Writing History and the West. London and New York: Routledge.
Zeeman, Michaël (2003). ‘Interview with Edward Said.’ See Youtube (from 8:46, accessed on 27 July 2015).
 These thoughts were first presented in the joint workshop of the Music and Culture research group, UvA, and the Cultural Transformations group, Aarhus University, on 26 May 2015.
 For this occasion, I only concentrate on the specialisations Musicology and Ethnomusicology, and will leave Cognitive Musicology out of the discussion.
 Here I am only concerned with how the study programme is represented on this particular flyer. On the accompanying promotional website (www.musicstudies.nl), the geographical interests of musicology are specified as ‘European and North American art music traditions, jazz worldwide as well as past and present popular musics’ (see here, accessed on 27 July 2015).
 To my knowledge, Said has reflected on his early experience of listening to Umm Kulthum on three occasions in writing (Said 1991: 97-98; 1999a; and 1999b: 99), and several times in interviews (see e.g. Ali 2006: 40-41; Glass 2004 [from 23:39]; and Zeeman 2003 [from 8:46]). For a critical discussion of Said’s perception of Umm Kulthum, see Abels 2014.
 The interview was broadcasted on NPR (28 December 2002), and can be listened in its entirety here (accessed on 27 July 2015; relevant passage from 5:10 minutes). The text reads: “Well, speaking as somebody who is a musician, but not a performing musician, the way Daniel [Barenboim] is, Beethoven in the first place really transcends the time and place of which he was a part. I mean, he’s an Austro-Germanic composer, who speaks to anyone who likes music, no matter whether that person is African, or Middle-Eastern, or American, or European. And that extraordinary accomplishment is entirely due to this music of striving and development, and of somehow expressing the highest human ideals – ideals of brotherhood, of community, of yearning, also; perhaps in many instances unfulfilled yearning. But these are universal experiences, and part of its great appeal is that it’s wordless, you know, so you can in a sense formulate what you want to go into it.”
Place: PCHoofthuis, Room 440, Spuistraat 134, Amsterdam
Time: May 8, 2015, 15-18h
We shall read two titles that have been suggested by one of our regulars, Niels Falch, who has agreed to introduce them. You can download them from the links below, and the titles should already give you an idea…
Jeffrey Knapp – Sacred Songs Popular Prices, Secularization in The Jazz Singer
I Buried Ethnomusicology
Commentary on recent developments at the musicology department in Amsterdam
Wim van der Meer
The very prefix ethno- had grated on my nerves since the time I was a student of cultural and social anthropology at Amsterdam University. Ethnology was something they were doing in Leiden, a remnant of colonial studies. That connotation lingers on in expressions like ‘ethnic clothing’, ‘ethnic food’ and ‘ethnic music’, and it is part of a worldview that centers around the externally constructed binary ‘the west and the rest’. In musicology this hegemonic thinking has been very pernicious. No linguist (today) would consider linguistics the study of English/French/German (or Spanish/Portuguese/Italian) while terming ethnolinguistics as the study of all other languages. But musicologists and those who label themselves “ethnomusicologists” do. Even outside of the boundaries constructed by scholarship in music we understand that musics are frequently partitioned by these identifications referring to musics as belonging to a body of arts that are western music, thus denominating all other musics as ethnic (or the later term  world music). Ethnomusicologists around the world further reinforce and endorse this world hearing by the very fact that they maintain the binary of musicology and ethnomusicology— a binary many of them acknowledge as obsolete. This is hypocrisy of an absurd magnitude when one considers that by sustaining a defunct binary while yet acknowledging its emptiness many of them implicitly or explicitly support the idea that ‘western’ music is the only real music, or at least the best, the highest, the most developed, and therefore universal. In the past it was common to consider the study of primitive or ethnic music as a way to know the origins of what had become the pinnacle of musical development, including Curt Sachs, Walther Wiora and Jaap Kunst. This unilinear evolutionism is a classical example of primitive ethnocentric reasoning. Sadly, even some of my contemporary colleagues entertain such views.
Over the course of my career, I challenged this binary in our department and proposed that there can and should be only one musicology, a musicology that can study any music, from anywhere or any time, as Charles Seeger had argued in the SEM meeting of 1958 (Notes 1959). One of my colleagues pointed out that the fundamental difference between ‘western’ music and all other music lay in the prominence of writing, that the study of ‘western’ music was consequently primarily the study of scores. He had a point, but there were two enormous problems with it. First, there is so much more to ‘western’ music than scores, and it was the pursuance of this “more” which eventually gave rise to a ‘new musicology’. Secondly, every music has its own uniqueness and whatever is the nature of that uniqueness cannot be a basis for claiming a hegemonic position owing to the fact that no particular uniqueness is more unique than other uniquenesses. In the case of musicology this idea of hegemony has led to the appropriation of the general term musicology by the ‘ethnic’ domain of European music. In Seeger’s word, ‘western’ musicology hijacked the term (Notes 1959). Interestingly, the uniqueness of Hindustani classical music may lie especially in its development of melodic proliferation, the infinite wealth of music between the notes, which cannot be caught by any kind of notation or transcription. In fact, we can argue that ‘western’ music lost its potential for melodic refinement as it became more and more dependent on writing and concurrent sounds (harmony/polyphony). But that is not very relevant to the issue of burying ethnomusicology.
It was not only in the department of musicology that this debate flourished – it was even more heated in Bake society. The Arnold Bake society was founded in 1984 as an counterpoint to the (then) ethnomusicological centre “Jaap Kunst”. By the 1980s prominent members suggested that the name ‘ethnomusicology’ was stale, and so the board of the society informally changed the name to ‘society for ethnomusicology and world music’. In 2006 the president Frank Kouwenhoven, felt the society was no longer functioning and proposed a shut down. In a lively meeting of its members that idea was rejected and I became the new president, with a new board. The first thing we did was to get rid of ethnomusicology in the name of the society. Though there was a large support for that change there were also a few die-hard ethno-fans. The main problem, however, was to find an acceptable alternative, which after years was finally formalised as ‘Bake Society for the Study of the Performing Arts World Wide’.
In the department of musicology at the University of Amsterdam, meanwhile, I was not so much looking for a new label as for a new way of looking at music and musicology. In the course of my search I had started out with the paradigm of Adler (1885, transl. 1981).
- HISTORICAL (History of music according to epochs, peoples, empires, nations, regions, cities, schools of art, artists)
- paleography (notations)
- categories of forms
- historical sequence of laws
- musical instruments
- SYSTEMATIC (Establishing of the highest laws in the individual branches of tonal art)
- laws of harmony, melody and rhythm
- musicology (comparison for ethnographic purposes)
The description of the last subdivision is quite interesting:
A new and very rewarding adjacent field of study to the systematic subdivision is ‘musicology’, that is, comparative musicology. This takes as its task the comparing of tonal products, in particular the folk songs of various peoples, countries, and territories, with an ethnographic purpose in mind, grouping and ordering these according to the variety of [differences] in their characteristics. (Adler & Mugglestone 1885, transl. 1981)
Adler’s outline makes a lot of sense, especially when it was complemented by Seeger’s idea of orientations, insisting that the historical and the systematical cannot be separated – that they work together. What seems to be missing or at best implicit in his scheme is the ecology of music, the cultural and social dimensions. Ethnomusicology, the anthropology (and sociology) of music, and later ‘new’ musicology have all contributed enormously to the contemporary understanding that apart from the historical and systematic orientations we also need to consider and account for a cultural dimension. This approach thus came to be called the cultural analysis of music, or in short, cultural musicology. Kerman (1985) referred to cultural musicology as the invention of Chase (1972: a ‘better’ name for ethnomusicology–in the same way Jaap Kunst (1950) had proposed ethno-musicology as a ‘better’ name for comparative musicology). Kramer (2002/3) coined the term again as a ‘better’ name for new musicology. None of them (pace google) had come across Fidelis Smith’ article (1959) in which the term and discipline was first – and very elegantly – proposed.
It felt like home to me, this “cultural musicology”, not only as a member of the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis, but also as a cultural anthropologist and I strongly felt that this could supersede the colonial legacy promulgated by the practices of certain branches of musicology being only engaged in the study of certain types of music. Surely, any musicologist can (and probably should) specialise in a particular music, but the methodological approach of the study would be independent from the specialization.
Since I have retired there has been a regression to the neo-colonial Anglo-American/North Atlantic/Germanic (NATO) model, and the department now offers musicology, ethnomusicology and cognitive musicology. Not only has ethnomusicology been exhumed, but cultural musicology has become its own vanished history. My successor, in her guise as Dr. Temperance Brennan, will soon discover who killed ethnomusicology. It wasn’t me, I just buried the subject. But the saddest part of this development is the resurrection of musicology as a distinct subject. It suggests that ethnomusicology is something outside of musicology, something else. And what would that else be? I’m sure we all know it is about real music versus ethnic music.
Obviously, this is a very disappointing alteration, and I’m sure many of the ethnofans and ethnopimps will be delighted at such a return. In Amsterdam University, professors do not choose their successors – this is done by a committee of which the departing teacher is not a member or consultant. As such, is it not surprising or uncommon to see a departure from traditions that have been established, but in this case, to revert to an old and highly debatable model seems to evince a lack of creativity and innovation.
My successor argues that this is only predicated upon a marketing strategy, that ethnomusicology is a known entity while cultural musicology is not. I will grant that ethnomusicology gets 15 times more hits on Google than “cultural musicology”  (and since we are speaking about Google; “cultural musicology” gets three times the number of hits of “cognitive musicology”). But I will deny that ethnomusicology is more clearly defined and understandable than cultural musicology. To start with, ethnomusicology has the unpleasant duality of being the study of ethnic music(s) and the ethnography of (world?) music. Confused? You won’t be after looking at the site of Hugo Ribeiro. It is also rather evident that the qualifier “cultural” is more common than “ethno” (50 times in Google). Frankly, to this day, I still do not know what ethno actually signifies (if not ethnic, and what does that mean?). Furthermore, if cultural musicology, as a musicological orientation, is less known than ethnomusicology there is always the option of marketing it as new! But there is no evidence on which these marketing ideas are based – it is mere guesswork, or rather a preference based on preconception.
As a concluding remark I must add that the idea of an ethnography of music does not appeal to me any more than ethnomusicology. As Michel de Certeau argued so eloquently, the ethnological project is profoundly imperialistic, and the ethnographic project is subsidiary to it (1974). And Walter Mignolo defined ethnicity as the rationalisation of racism (Mignolo 2012). On this subject an article will appear soon at this website.
- Adler, G. (1885). Umfang, Methode und Ziel der Musikwissenschaft. Vierteljahrschrift Für Musikwissenschaft, 1, 5-20.
- Adler, G., & Mugglestone, E. (1981). Guido Adler’s” the Scope, Method, and Aim of Musicology”(1885): An english translation with an historico-analytical commentary. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 13, 1-21.
- Certeau, M. de (1974). La Culture au Pluriel. Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions.
- Chase, G. (1975). American Musicology and the Social Sciences. In B. S. Brook, E. O. Downes, & S. v. Solkema (Eds.), Perspectives in Musicology (pp. 202-26). New York: W.W.Norton. (Original work published 1972).
- Kerman, J. (1985). Musicology. London: Fontana.
- Kramer, L. . (2003). Musicology and Meaning. The Musical Times, 144 No. 1883, 6-12.
- Kunst, J. (1950). Musicologica: A Study of the Nature of Ethno-musicology, its Problems, Methods, and Representative Personalities. Indisch Instituut.
- Mignolo, Walter D. “Decolonial Voice Lending— Interview with Dr. Walter Mignolo.” Vimeo. Accessed February 17, 2015. https://vimeo.com/35820205
- Notes and News. (1959). Ethnomusicology, 3(2), 98-105. (transcript of the SEM meeting of 1958)
- Ribeiro, H. L. (n.d.). Definitions of Ethnomusicology [http://hugoribeiro.com.br/definitions.php].
- Seeger, C. (1939). Systematic and Historical Orientations in Musicology, Acta Musicologica, Vol. 11(4), pp.121-128.
- Smith, F. (1959). The Place of Music in a Franciscan Vocation and Apostolate. Franciscan Studies, 19, 150-168.
 Actually the term world music is considerably older than the term ethno-musicology, but the term only became popular in the 1980s, and that time it also took on a different meaning.
 I am using quotation marks as the search term, obviously without the quotation marks the number of hits is vastly greater.
Last updated on March 21, 2015
Now updated available again at http://wimvandermeer.wordpress.com/praat-manual-for-musicologists/
Wouter Capitain wrote a short note about the conference. See the conference menu.