MPSG 2012


2nd Annual Conference of the Royal Musical Association Music and Philosophy Study Group in collaboration with the Music and Philosophy Study Group of the American Musicological Society

Meaning and Ineffability

King’s College London
Friday and Saturday, 20-21 July 2012

Generously supported by King’s College London, the British Society of Aesthetics, and the Institute of Musical Research, University of London.


Keynote speakers
Professor Daniel Chua (University of Hong Kong)
Before joining Hong Kong University as the Head of the School of Humanities, Daniel K. L. Chua, was a fellow and the Director of Studies at St John’s College, Cambridge, and later Professor of Music Theory and Analysis at King’s College London. He was a Henry Fellow at Harvard and is the recipient of the 2004 Royal Musical Association’s Dent Medal. He has written widely on music, from Monteverdi to Stravinsky; his publications include The ‘Galitzin’ Quartets of Beethoven (Princeton, 1994) and Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning (Cambridge, 1999).
Professor David Davies (McGill University)
David Davies is Professor of Philosophy at McGill University, where he has taught since 1987. Prior to that he completed a BA in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Oxford University, an MA in Philosophy at the University of Manitoba, and a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario. His doctoral research and much of his research for the following few years was on the Realism/Anti-Realism debate in contemporary metaphysics, and on related issues in the Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Language. For the past 12 years his research has focussed mainly on metaphysical and epistemological issues in the Philosophy of Art. He has also published widely on topics relating to literature, film, photography, music, performance, and the visual arts. He is the author of Art as Performance (Blackwell, 2004), Aesthetics and Literature (Continuum, 2007), and Philosophy of the Performing Arts (Blackwell, 2011), and editor of The Thin Red Line (Routledge, 2008).
Professor Günter Zöller (University of Munich/McGill University)

Günter Zöller is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Munich and currently serves as the John. G. Diefenbaker Visiting Professor at McGill University. He studied philosophy at the University of Bonn, the École normale supérieure, Paris and Brown University, receiving his M.A. and Dr. phil. degrees from Bonn. He has been a Visiting Professor at Princeton University, Emory University and Seoul National University and will be the Tang I-Chun Visiting Professor of Philosophy at The Chinese University of Hong Kong this fall. His work, published in many books and over 250 articles in numerous languages worldwide, focusses on Kant, German idealism, the philosophy of art and political philosophy. He is the author of Objective Reference in Kant (de Gruyter, 1984), Fichte’s Transcendental Philosophy (Cambridge, 1998) and Critical Spirit. Knowing and Acting in Kant, Fichte and Nietzsche (Zagreb, 2012) and the (co-)editor of Fichte’s Practical Philosophy (Rodopi, 2006), Beginning By Transferring: Imperial Figurations Around 1800 (Fink, 2010) and The State As a Means to an End. Fichte on Freedom, Right and Law (Nomos, 2011).


The final programme can be found here (pdf)

Royal Musical Association Music and Philosophy Study Group 2nd Annual Conference, in collaboration with
the Music and Philosophy Study Group of the American Musicological Society
Generously supported by King’s College London, the British Society of Aesthetics, the Mind Association, and
the Institute of Musical Research (University of London)
King’s College London, 20-21 July 2012


9.15-10.00 Coffee and registration
10.00-10.05 Introductory words from Tomas McAuley (RMA MPSG Chair) and Nanette Nielsen (RMA MPSG
Events Coordinator)
10.05-11.25 Plenary session – Is Adorno a Dead Duck?
Chair: Julian Johnson (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Roger Scruton (University of St Andrews)
Andrew Bowie (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Stephen Hinton (Stanford University)

11.30-13.15 Parallel sessions I

a. Analysis & Hermeneutics
Chair: James Currie (University at Buffalo, State University of New York)
1. Paulo F. de Castro (New University of Lisbon) – Does the ineffable make sense? Wittgenstein, Jankélévitch,
and the project of a hermeneutics of music
2. Jonathan Lewis (Royal Holloway, University of London) – Beyond Essence / Towards Meanings: Problems in a
Philosophy of Music
3. Olga Sologub and David Liggins (University of Manchester) – Analysing Musical Analysis

b. Ethical Issues
Chair: Nanette Nielsen (University of Nottingham)
1. Jeff R. Warren (Trinity Western University) – Dad, meet Messaien: Musical encounters and Lévinasian ethics
2. David Hebert (Bergen University College) – On the Ethical Dimensions of Patriotic Music
3. Russell Alfonso and Teresa McCreary (Hawaii Pacific University) – Virtuosic Performance: Musical Insights
into Moral Practice

c. 20th- & 21st-Century Music
Chair: Naomi Waltham-Smith (University of Pennsylvania)
1. Marianne Kielian-Gilbert (Indiana University) – The Grain of the Performative — When music matters
2. Alison Denham (University of Oxford & Tulane University, New Orleans) – Is Atonal Music Aesthetically
Defective? The evidence from music cognition
3. Lauren Redhead (University of Leeds), Caroline Lucas (University of Leeds) & Chris Naughton (Independent
Scholar), Nick Williams (University of Huddersfield) – Ethics Applied: Music and Power

13.15-14.15 Lunch
14.15-15.45 Parallel sessions II

a. Sound
Chair: Aaron Ridley (University of Southampton)
1. Tiger C. Roholt (Montclair State University) – A Phenomenological Approach to Musical Subtlety
2. Susanne Herrmann-Sinai (University of Erfurt & University of Oxford) – Sounds Without the Mind?
3. Julian Bacharach (King’s College London) – Against an Acousmatic View of Music

b. Emotion & Expression
Chair: Michael Spitzer (University of Liverpool)
1. Michael Price (University of Oxford) – Music and Ineffability
2. James Young (University of Victoria) – Music and the Representation of Emotion
3. Aaron James Wendland (University of Oxford) – Music and Ineffability, Music and the Meaning of Being: Heidegger on the World-disclosing Power of (Musical?) Works of Art

c. Bodies & Senses
Chair: Stephen Decatur Smith (New York University)
1. Tom Baker (University of Nottingham) – Sensational Music
2. Huw Hallam (King’s College London) – Fragile bodies at the edge of muteness
3. Bence Nanay (University of Antwerp & University of Cambridge) – The multimodal experience of music

15.45-16.15 Coffee
16.15-17.25 Parallel discussion forums

a. Lacanian Musicology
Chair / Convenor: Jun Zubillaga-Pow (King’s College London)
Bruno de Florence (IMR-ICONEA), J.P.E. Harper-Scott (RHUL), Freya Jarman (University of Liverpool), Kenneth Smith (University of Liverpool)

b. Ancient Greece
Chair / Convenor: Armand D’Angour (University of Oxford)
David Creese (University of Newcastle), Thomas Phillips (University of Oxford), Jay Kennedy (University of Manchester)

c. Royal Musical Association Music and Visual Arts Study Group
Chair / Convenor: Charlotte de Mille (Courtauld Institute of Art)
Christopher Fox (Brunel University), Eleni Ikoniadou (Kingston University), James Weeks (Guildhall School of Music and Drama)

d. Ethnomusicology and the Philosophy of Music
Convenor: Jim Sykes (King’s College London)
Chair: Katherine Butler Schofield (King’s College London)
Byron Dueck (Open University), Ruth Herbert (Open University), Jim Sykes

17.30-19.00 Keynote I
Chair: Matthew Kieran (University of Leeds)
Daniel Chua (Hong Kong University) – Ineffabeethoven
Respondent: Gordon Finlayson (University of Sussex)

19.00-20.15 Wine reception
20.30 Conference dinner


9.15-10.00 Coffee and registration
10.00-11.30 Parallel sessions III

a. PechaKuchas (Presentations in the PechaKucha 20 x 20 format: speakers talk over 20 slides each lasting 20 seconds; each PechaKucha lasts 7 mins + 7 mins questions.)
Chair: Golan Gur (Humboldt University of Berlin)
1. Anthony Gritten (Royal Academy of Music) – Feeling, Phrasing, Listening
2. Jeremy Barham (University of Surrey) – ‘Not Necessarily Mahler’: Composed Artifacts, Samples, and the Philosophy of Wiki
3. Férdia J. Stone-Davis (University of Göttingen) – Music, the Ineffable and the Untellable
4. Jonathan A. Neufeld (College of Charleston) – Listening in Public: Billy Budd and the Politics of Incomprehension
5. Jonathan Impett (University of East Anglia) – The work-without-content: Giorgio Agamben and the shape of the contemporary musical artefact
6. Speaker: Alex Kolassa (University of Nottingham) – title tbc

b. Improvising in Sound and Thought: Contest and Collectivities
Chair: MM McCabe (King’s College London)
1. Lydia Goehr (Columbia University) – The Agon of Improvising – On Broken Strings
2. Garry L. Hagberg (Bard College) – Playing as One: Jazz Improvisation and Collective Intention
3. Respondent: Mark Doffman (University of Oxford)

c. Perception & Cognition
Chairs: Cynthia Grund (University of Southern Denmark) and William Westney (Texas Tech University)
1. Andy McGuiness (Macquarie University) – Where is consciousness in music performance?
2. Jenny Judge (University of Cambridge) – Procedural music cognition: towards a ‘bottom-up’ approach to understanding musical meaning
3. Margaret Moore (University of Leeds) – Musical Timbre: Between Ontology and Perception

11.45-13.00 Keynote II
Chair: John Deathridge (King’s College London)
Günter Zöller (University of Munich & McGill University) – The Musically Sublime. Richard Wagner’s Philosophy of Modern Music
Respondent: Paul Boghossian (New York University)

13.00-14.00 Lunch (Great Hall)
14.00-16.00 Parallel sessions IV

a. Wittgenstein
Chair: Nick Zangwill (Durham University)
1. Eran Guter (University of Haifa) – Wittgenstein on Musical Meaning, Psychological Indeterminacy and Ineffability
2. Alessandra Brusadin (University of Padova) – Ineffability: a Comparison between Romantic Absolute Music, Formalism and Wittgenstein
3. Alex South (University of Glasgow) – Staving off silence in Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise
4. Hanne Appelqvist (University of Helsinki) – Wittgenstein on Meaning and Ineffability in Music

b. The Long Nineteenth Century
Chair: Tomas McAuley (King’s College London)
1. Paul Chaikin (University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music) – Oohs and Ahs of the Heart: Rossini, Nonsense, and the Genesis of Absolute Music
2. Nicole Grimes (University of California, Irvine & University College Dublin) – Brahms’ Counterpoint to Pessimism
3. Anna Stoll-Knecht (New York University) – Die Meistersinger in Mahler’s Seventh Symphony: Form and Meaning in Music
4. Birgit Hofstaetter (University of Brighton) – Thinking with the Movement of Language: T.W. Adorno on Music and Philosophy

c. Music and Language
Chair: Robert Samuels (Open University)
1. Beate Kutschke (University of Leipzig) – How hermetic is music in comparison to other symbol systems?
2. Mahlet Getachew Zimeta (Roehampton University) – Jokes in Music
3. Jonathan Rees (Independent Scholar) – Language into Music and Music against Language: Peter Maxwell Davies’s Setting of Georg Trakls
4. Zsolt Bátori (Budapest University of Technology and Economics) – The Ineffability of Musical Content: Is Verbalization in Principle Impossible?

16.00-16.30 Coffee
16.30-17.45 Keynote III

Chair: Christopher Norris (Cardiff University)
David Davies (McGill University)
Respondent: Joseph Dubiel (Columbia University)

17.45-19.00 Closing plenary discussion
Closing words from Stephen Decatur Smith (AMS MPSG Chair, New York University)
Chair: Julian Dodd (University of Manchester)
Babette Babich (Fordham University)
Stephen Downes (University of Surrey)
Jerrold Levinson (University of Maryland)

20.30 Conference after-party (with jazz from Andrew Bowie, Garry Hagberg, and Jeff Warren)


The RMA Music and Philosophy Study Group warmly invites paper submissions for this two-day international conference, to be held in London on 20-21 July 2012. The event, the second of an annual series of conferences run by the Study Group, will offer an opportunity for those with an interest in music and philosophy to share and discuss work, in the hope of furthering dialogue in this area. Paper submissions on all topics related to the area of music and philosophy are welcome, but in particular those relating to this year’s optional theme of ‘Meaning and ineffability’. Collaboration between persons from different disciplines would be especially welcomed.

In addition to papers relating to the conference theme, topics of interest might include (but are not limited to):

– perception and expression
– music and memory
– music and everyday life
– music and ethics
– music and ontology
– the philosophy of rhythm
– performance, authenticity, and interpretation

Musical meaning and ineffability have engaged both musicologists and philosophers for decades, resulting in a variety of approaches and debates. While both challenging and elusive, both concepts bear witness to musicological and philosophical endeavours to ascertain what might be meaningful and sayable ‘about’ music, and whether (and/or how) music is able to speak for itself in ways that can be world-disclosive. This year’s (optional) theme seeks to encourage further debate about the possibilities and limitations within the area of ‘musical meaning and ineffability’: while seeking to explain music, where do musicological and philosophical discussions fall short, and why? Are there ways of ‘doing justice’ to what music does and ‘says’, and do scholars have ethical commitments to continue to reflect and explain?

Proposals of up to 500 words are invited for individual papers (20 minutes) and collaborative papers (up to 30 minutes).

Please submit proposals by email in a Word document attachment:

The deadline for proposals is Friday 17 February.

All paper submissions will be considered by the programme committee:

Professor Julian Dodd
Dr Michael Gallope
Professor Julian Johnson
Mr Tomas McAuley
Dr Jairo Moreno
Dr Nanette Nielsen
Mr Stephen Smith
Professor Nick Zangwill


Conference report from the committee

The RMA Music and Philosophy Study Group committee is very grateful to those who provided feedback on our 2012 Conference. The majority of those who responded were musicologists (73%), and respondents describing their primary disciplinary area to be Analytic Philosophy and Continental Philosophy amounted to 17% and 10% respectively. The respondents were almost equally divided between being non-speaking delegates (49%) and speaking/chairing delegates (51%). The questionnaire included 15 questions, and this brief summary will point to areas that worked well, and areas that could be improved.

On overall conference experience, 91% of delegates ranked the conference ‘very good’ or ‘good’, and the remaining 9% ‘satisfactory’. Areas for improvement here included ‘food/refreshments at the conference venue’, ‘suitability of conference rooms’, and ‘ease of navigating between conference rooms’, each of which had minor scores in the ‘unsatisfactory’ bracket (17%, 14%, and 11% respectively). The highest ‘very good’ scores went to ‘ease of registration’ (71%) and ‘pre-conference information/communication’ (64%). From questions about accommodation and cost, it was clear that most delegates appreciated both the location and the low cost of the conference overall. Given the intensity of a two-day conference, the organisers are pleased that 81% of the respondents found that the number of parallel sessions was ‘about right’. On a similar note, when asked about whether the conference should be expanded to become a three-day event, a small majority of respondents answered yes, but there were also a notable number of strong objections against, and a large number who did not have a preference for either. Bearing all sides of the argument in mind, the committee has decided to make the 2013 conference a two-day event (19-20 July), but with an added day of extra activity (18 July) prior to the conference.

For this year’s experimental PechaKucha session, some respondents deemed it unsuccessful, but many thought the format was promising, and ‘potentially excellent’. Respondents noted that for the format to be successful in the future, it would be key to ensure that all papers are specifically designed for the purpose, rather than condensed versions of 20 minute papers. Although happy to consider including a PechaKucha session in future years, the organisers will prioritise for 2013 to respond to a general consensus from the feedback to allow more time for discussion. Therefore, the 2013 conference will see regular 20 minute papers followed by 20 minutes of discussion (rather than 10 minutes, as was the case at this year’s conference). Plenary sessions will also see more time given over to discussion and the time allocated to keynote respondents will be increased.

In general, the organisers are very grateful for the many suggestions made by the survey respondents, and we are planning the 2013 conference in light of these. We have taken care to choose a theme that allows participation from scholars working on a wide variety of topics, including, for example, from within sound studies, contemporary music, and ethnomusicology. On a practical note, we will aim to tighten up timings and technology, and we will explicitly invite proposals for lecture recitals and live performances in the call for papers. Most encouraging is the general sense that this conference is a worthwhile venture both for students entering the field and for more established scholars, and that it provides an atmosphere where fruitful dialogue and sharing of ideas across disciplinary boundaries is possible.

The aim of the Study Group is ‘to provide a distinctive long-term forum offering opportunities for those with an interest in music and philosophy to share and discuss work, in the hope of furthering dialogue in this area’. In the spirit of collaboration, the aim with our annual conference is to try to make space for quite a few voices from a wide variety of sub-areas within the three major areas of musicology, continental philosophy, and analytical philosophy, in the hope that scholars within each area might inspire each other. Our paper acceptance remains very competitive (with an acceptance rate of under 25% in 2011 and 2012), but the committee is dedicated to being as open-minded as possible towards methodologies from the three disciplines. Proposals are selected according to the quality of the proposal, rather than the topic of investigation. Refusal of a paper on any given theme does not reflect any bias against that area, but stems from the necessity of making difficult decisions in such a competitive field.

Since its formation in May 2010, the RMA MPSG has attracted a continually growing level of interest: from 72 abstract submissions and 95 delegates for the 2010 Music and Philosophy Study Day (on the back of which the Study Group was founded); to 140 abstract submissions and 160 delegates for its inaugural annual conference in 2011; to 177 abstract submissions and 235 delegates for its 2012 conference. The committee takes the rapid development of these conferences as a positive sign of increasing interest in the area of music and philosophy, and we hope that these events will continue to provide a venue for high quality research and a hub of interaction for scholars and students in the field.

Feedback is always appreciated, so we would welcome anyone with further thoughts to get in touch. Furthermore, if you are interested in organising a music and philosophy event, we are always happy to receive proposals and to discuss ideas, and would encourage you to get in touch with our Events Coordinator (Nanette Nielsen) or any other committee member. We very much look forward to continued dialogue and stimulating interaction at our 2013 conference.


The below report, written by Rob Upton, originally appeared in the April 2013 edition of the Newsletter of the Royal Musical Association.

Second annual conference of the RMA Music and Philosophy Study Group

King’s College London, 20–21 July 2012

On the 20 and 21 July 2012, 235 delegates attended the Second Annual Conference of the RMA Music and Philosophy Study Group. The friendliness of pre-Olympic London was matched by a warm welcome at King’s College London. Although a large percentage of the conference was given over to the optional theme of ‘Meaning and Ineffability’, the event was also full of engaging and diverse papers that reached beyond that subject.

The conference opened with a plenary discussion of Adorno. Debate about whether Adorno’s views are a proverbial ‘dead duck’ or are useful in the twenty-first century included discussion of commodity fetishization, price versus value, and capitalism. Whereas Roger Scruton (University of St Andrews) encapsulated the tone of Adorno’s writings on modern music by comparing the practice of modern music to masturbation, stimulating argument from Andrew Bowie (Royal Holloway, University of London) questioned whether some central philosophical debates about music are concepts obvious to musicians.

All three keynote speakers engaged with the question of ineffability in music. ‘IneffaBeethoven’ by David Chua (Hong Kong University) was delivered with charm and enthusiasm beyond compare. Referring to Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, Chua debated how the ‘blank-flag’ of absolute music allows us to appropriate not just the music but also the composer for differing political and aesthetic ideologies. A lengthy paper from Günter Zöller (University of Munich / McGill University) endeavoured to link Wagner’s writings and his music, and philosophy scholar David Davies (McGill University) sought to bridge the divide between philosophy and musicology by engaging critically with modern musicological thinking.

Tackling musical language in one of the many parallel sessions, Lauren Redhead (University of Leeds) debated that modern composers use contemporary discourse and new instrumental techniques to gain acceptance within the Western art music fraternity; even her abstract successfully displayed how language, rather than content, can hold the power. A first-rate paper by Caroline Lucas (University of Leeds) on masking in the extreme genre of black metal considered performers of black metal as using a moniker or a physical mask in order to gain contemporary acceptance, and furthermore highlighted the negation of self-identity and the multiplicity of the personal and the persona.

In discussing how musical nuances such as ‘brightening the interval’ or the ‘pocket of a groove’ may at first be indescribable, Tiger Roholt (Montclair State University) united modern musicological thinking and analytical philosophy with aplomb. He discussed how the idea that differing hues of red can be characterized under the term ‘red’ can be applied also to sounds. He concluded that music’s ineffability might be due to our lack of terminology rather than our cognition: the musically ineffable becomes explainable when placed in direct reference with other musical examples.

A superb paper from Alex South (University of Glasgow) examined Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise in light of Wittgenstein’s writings that influenced the work. South’s shrewd move was to hint at his own engagement with the work, written in experimental notation that is ‘a picture of a score’. Chair Nick Zangwill’s respectful control of the session gave South the time to engage with a captive audience eager to enquire about this personal attachment to Cardew’s work.

Although murmurs of frustration followed the ‘undergraduate nature’ of the opening paper (from Bruno de Florence of the IMR) on Lacanian musicology, this introduction to Lacan provided an enjoyable and informative foundation for ideas that followed, making the session accessible to all. Kenneth Smith (University of Liverpool) provided a fascinating insight into the link between the harmonic language of Strauss’s Elektra and Lacanian metaphors of desire and jouissance; and an entertaining and exceptionally well-paced paper from Freya Jarman (Liverpool) examined the voice and how impersonators and listening to recordings of our own voice can disrupt our agencies of identification.

In a session given over to discussion of improvisation, the captivating Lydia Goehr (Columbia University) moved away from the conference trend of discussing musical works and improvisation extempore (such as jazz improvisation where one can speculate what will happen next) to focusing on the more surprising moments of improvisation impromptu, when instruments break or one forgets what happens next when performing from memory. Respondent Mark Doffman (University of Oxford) respectfully engaged with Goehr’s arguments: he considered whether extempore and impromptu are extremes, and (through entertaining anecdotes of his own life as jazz musician and scholar) questioned whether what lies between is a spectrum of context and performer expertise.

Owing to the overwhelming response to the call for papers, the organizers experimented with a PechaKucha session, in which speakers talk over 20 timed slides of 20 seconds each. Unfortunately, because some of the speakers attempted to squeeze their original 20-minute paper into the shorter format, the session was not well received. However, the paper by Alex Kolassa (University of Nottingham), considering musical ontology from a composer’s perspective, was successful – having been adapted carefully to the PechaKucha format.

The annual conference of the Music and Philosophy Study Group is a meeting place for philosophy and musicology scholars to talk about music. The stimulating discussions here demonstrated how the two fields are in good health, yet at times it seemed as though there was a split between the two disciplines. These crossed wires can only be solved once we all start speaking the same language, or become slightly more bilingual; and conferences such as these will help bridge the gap. Some of the papers might have been better as articles, enabling the reader to take time to reference and reflect. Generally, papers with audio-visual examples were easier to follow, as they gave time for the audience to gather their thoughts or to discover new things that they may not have seen or heard before. Musicologists can certainly profit from exposure to logical philosophical arguments and conceptual abstraction, yet a few delegates questioned the abundance of papers that reconstructed nineteenth-century thinking rather than examining contemporary music. With conference organizers responding to a feedback questionnaire reviewing all aspects of the conference, we can be sure that next year’s conference will be eagerly anticipated and will build on the superbly organized 2012 symposium.


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