Symposium: Music Studies on a Damaged Planet

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A one-day symposium supported by the Institute of Musical Research

About this Event

If, as activist Greta Thunberg says, the only response to climate crisis is to ‘act as if our house is on fire’, where does this leave music studies? Music scholars, like the wider academy and society at large, have struggled to respond to the climate emergency and environmental breakdown. And while nature and the environment have been mounting thematic concerns in some recent work, the scale and complexity of the current ecological crisis and the urgent need for widespread systemic change raise questions about the roles and responsibilities of music scholarship as a whole. If we must now find ways to live on a damaged planet (Tsing, Swanson, Gan and Bubandt 2017), environmental breakdown is no longer simply a topic with which some music scholars choose to engage; rather, it is one of the conditions in which music studies operates.

This one-day symposium asks how music studies should respond to the global ecological crisis. We aim to consider this question across all dimensions of our work – from our objects of study, through methods, to research dissemination, teaching curricula and public engagement – while at the same time interrogating the institutionalisation of music studies itself. Most fundamentally, the conference asks questions about the purpose and politics of academic work. Should critique remain the central academic response to environmental breakdown? What is the role of practice-based research such as composition and performance? How might we address the problem of academic flying and other environmental impacts of knowledge production? How might musicological practice engage effectively with communities most at risk from environmental breakdown? How should we teach music in this time of crisis? As activist movements grow around the world, when and how should academic work become activist work? And looking beyond familiar tropes of critique, advocacy and activism: are there other modes of academic work that might offer more reparative, strategic, or radical forms of response?

The symposium seeks to cultivate a forum in which the ramifications of environmental breakdown for music studies can be properly felt and debated. Doing so is necessarily a speculative, experimental proposition. It means recognising that the ecological crisis intersects with multiple other major social and political issues, including social justice, migration and late capitalism. And it means exploring the personal dimensions of scholarly work, acknowledging that academics are also kin, community members, concerned citizens, and more. ‘Staying with the trouble’ (Haraway 2016) undoubtedly entails difficult affects – despair, anxiety, grief, and the witnessing of damage – but it might also enable a renewal of the scholarly impulse, through new forms of pedagogy, play, storytelling, resource development, scholarly collaboration and collective action. The symposium invites contributions in this spirit of simultaneous concern and commitment.

Note: this is an online event. A Zoom invite to be circulated to participants after registering.

Organizers: Joseph Browning (City University) and Andrew Green (University of Glasgow)

Symposium Programme

Symposium Zoom Opens: 9.30 [Zoom link sent separately after registration]

9.40-9.45: Welcome

9.45-11.00: Session 1: Anthropocene Acoustemologies [Chair: Andrew Green]

Patricia Jäggi and Natalie Kirschstein: Listening to Forests and Performing with Birds: Practices of Aural Biophilia in Times of Ecological Crisis

Bonnie McConnell: Singing the Rain: Climate Change Adaptation and Ethnomusicology

Marta-Liisa Talvet: Experimental Free Improvisation as Basis for Musical Communication with Animals Other than Humans

11.00-11.20: Tea break

11.20-12.10: Session 2: Acoustic Interventions [Chair: Emily Doolittle]

Amanda Bayley and Stevie Wishart: Eco-composition: Music of Our Time

Bennett Hogg: But What do We Say to the Birds?: Sonic Participation as Ecosystemic Practice

12.10-12.20: Short break

12.20-1.10: Session 3: Sound, Activism, Advocacy [Chair: Annie Goh]

Lewis Coenen-Rowe: Musicology’s Place in the Environmentalist Ecosystem

William Davy Cole: Ecological Crisis and the Special Reach of Practice

1.10-2.00: Lunch

2.00-3.15: Session 4: Sounds of Crisis [Chair: Joseph Browning]

Kevin Malone: Troubled Waters

Rob Mackay, collaborating with David Blink (California, USA), Rolando Rodriguez (Uruapan, Mexico), Jessica Rodriguez (Ontario, Canada): Following the Flight of the Monarchs [including telematic performance]

Heidi Hart: Creaturely Acts: Eco-ethics in Music Research and Practice

3.15-3.30: Tea break

3.30-5.00: Keynote Panel [Chair: Tina K. Ramnarine]

Chiara Badiali (Julie’s Bicycle)

Chris Garrard (Composer/Co-director, Culture Unstained)

Angela Impey (SOAS, University of London)

Blythe Pepino (Mesadorm/Founder, Grieving Parenthood in the Climate Crisis)

George Revill (Open University)

5.00 END

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