8th Conference of the Royal Musical Association Music & Philosophy Study Group  

Thursday and Friday, 1–2 July 2021 | King’s College London

Keynote speakers

Georgina Born Professor of Music and Anthropology at Oxford University
Aaron Ridley, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton
Brian Kane, Professor of Music at Yale University

Call for Papers

The RMA Music and Philosophy Study Group warmly invites session and paper proposals for this two-day international conference. The event 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. Following the success of the 2019 conference format, we will run three types of session:   

  • Associates Sessions will be hosted by organisations with related interests;  
  • Themed Sessions will be organised by individual session convenors, who have issued calls for papers on specific topics;  
  • Free Sessions will be open to papers on all topics relating to music and philosophy.

Proposals may be on any topic relating to music and philosophy broadly conceived; we particularly encourage proposals engaging with ethnomusicology, environmental issues, and ethics.

Call for Associates Sessions (now closed)
Related organisations, including scholarly societies, study groups and institutional departments, are warmly invited to host a session at the conference. The topic and organisation of such sessions is left to the host: sessions may feature invited speakers. All formats (including but not limited to workshops, roundtables, experimental or hybrid virtual/IRL sessions) will be considered; the maximum overall time available for the session will be 2 ½ hours.

If you would like to be involved in this way, please upload your session abstract (of up to 1,700 characters), proposed paper titles and speaker names by 17 August 2020. We hope to communicate decisions within a week, with a suggested deadline of 30 October 2020 for submission of any participant abstracts to session convenors. Organisers will be asked to submit participants’ abstracts (where applicable) along with information about all contributors to their session to the programme committee by 6 November 2020.

Call for Themed Sessions (now closed)
We seek enthusiastic individuals to propose Themed Sessions on topics that are focused yet inclusive. All topics and formats (including but not limited to workshops, roundtables, experimental or hybrid virtual/IRL sessions) will be considered but should be designed to encourage submissions from both music studies and philosophy, whilst assuming a broad and inclusive definition of each. The maximum overall time available for the session will be 2 ½ hours.

If you would like to host such a session, please upload a 300-word draft call for papers/contributions that will also function as a session abstract to the website by 17 August 2020 using the Themed Sessions form on the Music and Philosophy website. The draft call for papers should focus on the topic of, and rationale for, the session. 

We hope to communicate decisions on the selection of Themed Sessions within a week, with a further deadline of 30 October 2020 for submission of paper abstracts (where applicable) to session organisers. Organisers will be asked to submit paper choices to the programme committee by 6 November 2020. The intention is that the programme committee will, in most circumstances, simply approve the organisers’ choices, however the committee reserve the right to request changes if there are problems of topical balance or scholarly quality. Final decisions on panel acceptance will be communicated by 13 November 2020.


Themed sessions

The following focused sessions are convened and organised by individuals who have produced their own CFP. If you would like to submit an abstract to one of these sessions send your abstract directly to the session convenors by 30 October 2020. Decisions about acceptance will be made in collaboration with the session convenors and the MPSG 2021 programme committee.

Music, ‘Art’ and the White Racial Frame: Aesthetics and Critical Race Theory

Music, ‘Art’ and the White Racial Frame: Aesthetics and Critical Race Theory

Convener: Alexander Douglas, University of Wolverhampton

Since the firestorm we know as #Schenkergate erupted, academic music studies have been forced to reckon with the way Philip Ewell has appropriated Joe Feagin’s concept of the ‘white racial frame’. The starting point for this session is the understanding that the field of music philosophy can legitimately be charged with operating through such a frame. A major role is played here by the concept of music – or that music which is considered worthy of (philosophical-aesthetic) theorization – as ‘art’, to whose ‘dignity’, claimed the musicologist and white supremacist François-Joseph Fétis in 1869, ‘no music has been elevated…apart from among peoples of the white race’. As such, ‘art music’ co-exists alongside the concept of a ‘musical work’, and therefore music as ‘property’, existing within what critical race theorist Cheryl Harris has called an ‘entangled relationship’ with the history of whiteness; but also concepts of music as ‘symbol’, differently articulated by, say, Susanne Langer and Nelson Goodman – a symbol needing to be interpreted or ‘understood’ (not least by those in positions of epistemic authority); as well as persistent interpretations of art as ‘technique’ subject to historicist teleological imperatives of technical ‘progress’.

In sum, what is the concept of ‘art’ when considered against the background of racial ideologies, structures and histories, and what is its usefulness to our understanding of music as both ontological entity and lived experience, inside and outside the West? Contributions are sought from various disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives – from aesthetics to ethnomusicology, music psychology, creative practice and beyond – that will explore these and other potential dimensions of an encounter between music aesthetics and critical race theory, enabling BAME researchers to question (without totalizing or foreclosing the issues) just what place certain concepts surrounding ‘art’ music might have in a critically informed, antiracist aesthetic discourse.

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words to Alexander Douglas, alexander.douglas@wlv.ac.uk, by October 30, 2020

Popular Music and Philosophy

Popular Music and Philosophy

Convener: José Gálvez, University of Bonn, Department of Musicology/Sound Studies

Conceptual reflection on music has an eminent tradition in western philosophy that can be traced back to Pythagoras. Yet, what emerged as popular music at the end of the nineteenth century has long been ignored, whether in debates regarding musical hermeneutics and phenomenology in the continental tradition or in debates over musical ontology and understanding in analytical philosophy. At best, popular music was a subject of (Adornian) socio-philosophical critique, attacking the standardization, pseudo-individualization and alienation it represented. In recent years, though, an interesting shift has been taking place: popular music is becoming more and more a subject of philosophical theory in its own right. The increasing debates on musical improvisation in jazz and electronic dance music, several critical re-readings of Adorno’s philosophy of music, theories on the disruptive biopolitical implications of popular music in neoliberalism, and approaches to the sonic affective affordances of popular music in the context of new materialism are some important vectors of an emerging awareness of popular music in philosophy.

Taking into account core themes in popular music studies such as technology, industrialization, embodiment and performance, this session aims to present approaches to a crystallizing philosophy of popular music. While these themes have been researched from historical, sociological and media-theoretical perspectives, they have more rarely received attention from a conceptual and systematic, i.e. philosophical standpoint (Theodore Gracyk is a remarkable exception). In addition, this session explores the extent to which philosophical concepts and theories of subjectivity, technology, experience, modernity, affect etc. can be nuanced and even reconfigured in dealing with specific sonic, technical, corporeal and industrialized elements integral to popular music. Thus, a philosophy of popular music could also be a philosophy through popular music.

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words to José Gálvez, galvez@uni-bonn.de, by October 30, 2020

Music and Deconstruction
Music and Deconstruction

Convener: Clare Lesser, Music Program, Division of Arts and Humanities, New York University Abu Dhabi

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to make drastic changes to the ways in which we conduct and disseminate both our music practice and research. From fractured audiences and virtual ensembles, to webinars, online practice sessions and conferences, suddenly, we find ourselves simultaneously alone and yet together in a paradox of the virtual. Tele-technology, modes of distribution and Derridean ‘hauntology’ have been thrust into the foreground of nearly everything that we do as musicians. But in what other ways might Jacques Derrida’s (1930-2004) philosophy inform our understanding of music, indeed, should deconstruction even be applied to fields outside of writing? Derrida thought that it should, linking the ‘supports’ of writing with their performative sonic counterparts and saying : ‘the idea that deconstruction should confine itself to the analysis of the discursive text—I know that the idea is widespread—is really either a gross misunderstanding or a political strategy designed to limit deconstruction to matters of language.’ (Deconstruction and the Visual Arts).

The following questions arise: can we perform, analyse or compose deconstructively? Can we experience deconstruction actively as both performers and listeners/users? Does deconstruction in other fields play into this discourse? How does deconstruction inform contemporary practices, such as multi-disciplinary performances, interactive and experiential modes of music making that challenge notions of authorship and agency, ‘real-time’ composition and use of unorthodox event spaces? Is deconstruction equally meaningful to the study and performance of older models; the Romantic ‘moment,’ 19th century repertoire’s unreliable narrators, questions of authenticity and reconstruction?

Proposals for any format (paper/performance/workshop etc.) are invited on, but not limited to:

  • Music and archive
  • Music, hauntology and tele-technology
  • Indeterminacy and undecidability
  • Music, supplement and différance
  • Deconstructive approaches to improvisation and ornamentation
  • Deconstruction in music and architecture
  • Domain heterogeneity
  • Techne and phronesis in the rehearsal process

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words to Clare Lesser, cvl1@nyu.edu, by October 30, 2020

Global Imperatives for Music and Philosophy
Global Imperatives for Music and Philosophy

Convener: Edwin Li, Harvard University      

‘Philosophy must go global’, said philosopher Jonardon Ganeri in 2016, writing against the background of an increasingly polycentric philosophical industry, the internationalization of students and institutions, and diversity in philosophical articulations and epistemic stances. This statement should not strike music scholars as surprising: in Anglo-American music departments, too, discussing the global has become a social and ethical imperative that encompasses defamiliarizing the Western musical canon, provincializing European perspectives, and tracing transnational musical flows. Yet ‘global imperatives’ for music and philosophy seem to be under-discussed. Such imperatives might be interpreted in three ways: 1) working towards a global, universalizing philosophy of music that stands above particular traditions, as in Mark Hijleh’s (2012) recent work on a global music theory; 2) creating what Jesse Fleming (2003) has called a ‘philosophy of comparison’ that stimulates dialogue and reciprocity between global philosophies of music, as other scholars in the field of Comparative Philosophy have also been doing (Bo Mou (2010), Michael Levin (2016), Chakrabarti and Weber (2016)); or 3) delving into the history of philosophies of music and global exchanges between them, as explored for global music history in Lester Hu’s (2019) and Daniel Walden’s (2019) dissertations. As well as approaching such broad methodological questions, this session aims to examine the range of experiences and ideological assumptions involved in responding to global music-philosophical imperatives. When and how might these carry neo-imperialist connotations, sliding towards a pan-assimilationism by which the West expands its intellectual governance? Can and must we talk about our own experience in pursuing this endeavor as (post-)colonial subjects, and how do we negotiate global power imbalances as we do so? If ‘music’ is not even a consistent object across global cultures, how can we construe it for the purposes of a global music philosophy?

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words to Edwin Li, edwin_li@g.harvard.edu, by October 30, 2020

Sounding Out Musical Ethics
Sounding Out Musical Ethics

Convener: Ariana Phillips-Hutton, University of Cambridge  

Contemporary musical life is saturated with ethically significant issues, from evaluating Spotify’s business practices to the function of copyright and intellectual property law, from distinguishing cultural appropriation to confronting structural inequality in music, and from choosing to perform Wagner in Israel to choosing to perform in Israel at all. Despite this interweaving, working out the relationship between music and ethics has historically been fraught with questions: does music carry ethical content? If so, how and in what ways could it be said to be ethical? Alternatively, how might the structures and relations of music influence conceptions of ethics?

The challenge of bringing ethics and music together has been addressed with increasing frequency in recent years by authors such as Marcel Cobussen and Nanette Nielsen (Music and Ethics, 2012), Michael Gallope (Deep Refrains, 2017), and Jeff Warren (Musical and Ethical Responsibility, 2014). A recent essay by Kathleen Higgins (‘Connecting Music to Ethics’, 2018) suggests strategies for applying music to ethically positive ends, yet questions over the viability and desirability of such a project remain unexplored. This seminar-style session welcomes submissions from both philosophy and music studies that engage with broad questions of music and ethics in the contemporary world, including how ethics and music might be brought more fully into conversation with each other, as well as focused studies of particular repertoires, events, or ethical questions. Potential areas of investigation include:

  • Ethics and the (musical) academy
  • Ethical judgement and music aesthetics
  • Listening as ethical encounter
  • Non-western ethics, non-western musics
  • Performance as ethical relationship
  • Social justice, ethics, and music in the 21st century

The aim of this seminar is to cut across lines of disciplinary inquiry by facilitating discussions. To that end, it will consist in short presentations followed by moderated discussion. Interested participants should submit an abstract of 250 words by 30 October 2020 to Ariana Phillips-Hutton, asp38@cam.ac.uk.

Call for Free Sessions 

We invite submissions for papers on any topic relating to music and philosophy. The conference presumes inclusive definitions of both music and philosophy. We take music to include all forms and genres of music, art music and popular, secular and sacred, from any and all historical and geographical locales. We take philosophy to include analytic, continental, classical, and non-western thought, as well as critical theory. Regardless of disciplinary affiliation, the committee seeks conceptually rigorous and clearly articulated research that presents a novel argument and advances understanding of its topic.  

Collaboration between persons from different disciplines (including music studies, philosophy, performance, composition, psychology, history, literary studies, art history, anthropology, and others) would be especially welcomed.  

Proposals are invited for:  

individual papers (20 minutes) – up to 1,700 characters  
collaborative papers (up to 30 minutes) – up to 2,000 characters  
lecture recitals (30 minutes) – up to 1,700 characters 

Please submit proposals by 30 October 2020 using the Free Sessions form on the Music and Philosophy website. Decisions will be communicated in November.  

submit a free session

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