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Saturday Afternoon Session (Salon 4)

2:00–3:30 SMT Business Meeting
3:30–3:45 SMT Awards Presentation
3:45–4:00 Break
4:00–5:30 Plenary Session

Chase, Dance, Enchant: Music’s Partnerships

Michael Tenzer (University of British Columbia) 

Chasing the Phantom: Features of a Supracultural New Music

Gretchen Horlacher (Indiana University) 

Stepping Out: Hearing Balanchine

Steven Rings (University of Chicago)

Music’s Stubborn Enchantments (and Music Theory’s)

Abstracts

Chasing the Phantom: Features of a Supracultural New Music

Michael Tenzer (University of British Columbia)

Since 2000, Balinese composer Dewa Alit (b. 1973) has split his time between home and abroad, absorbing many kinds of music. His latest gamelan work (2016) is Ngejuk Memedi, from the Balinese ngejuk, to chase, and memedi, a feared phantom of the Balinese unseen world that takes human form. It animates Alit’s evolving desire to “see gamelan in a new way, in relation to other traditions” (Alit in Tenzer 2011), while submitting to the phantom-like elusiveness of the goal.

Alit works less with inherited musical materials, and more with heuristics specially conceived. Like contemporary composers elsewhere, he critiques the structures and procedures of his inherited classical tradition as overdetermined and spent, limiting the reach of new expression. He has thought his way through to a terse set of non-negotiable features—mallet techniques, intonations, interpart relations, rehearsal and performance sociality—minimal and sufficient to convey a bedrock Balineseness without constraining liberation from the past. And he has added material gleaned from his travels and imagination.

Analyzing part of Ngejuk Memedi, I will portray an emergent supra-culturalism. By linking it to particular examples from elsewhere (Brazil, Israel, et al.), I characterize a global trend into which Alit has tapped, that comes into focus only once one delimits the intellectual and aesthetic desiderata certain musicians have challenged themselves to explore. These explorations are generating musics rooted in separate traditional practices but aspiring to global reach. Often notated by composers but transmitted and performed orally, such music is highly conceptual but deeply embodied in felt groove. Its signature element is the juxtaposition or layering of complex, asymmetrical periodicities that are rare or unknown in source traditions, but trace to ideas circulating from African, Indian, Western and other art musics that have become common currency. In these intersecting senses, they comprise a new phenomenon.

Inquiries into music of this ilk could provide common cause for music theorists and ethnomusicologists, positioning them to receive future developments with insight. A key challenge for its analytical description is to represent the hyper-elastic groove sensations elicited by the flow of irregular periodicities in multiple misalignments with groups dispersed in stratified layers.

Stepping Out: Hearing Balanchine

Gretchen Horlacher (Indiana University)

Igor Stravinsky once stated that he suffered from a rare form of kleptomania, stealing others’ music to “make it his own.” Balanchine, his choreographic collaborator for many iconic ballets of the twentieth century, followed a similar path, also reworking the ideas and practices of dance and other art forms to create a unique neoclassical style. Even his widely known saying “See the music, hear the dance,” was not strictly his own. Rather, it came from essayist Glenway Wescott who wrote in 1963 that “Suddenly I see the music; suddenly I hear the movements of the dancers.” Wescott had good reason to attribute musical powers to the choreographer, for Balanchine was broadly trained as a musician: his piano and music theory studies allowed him to provide piano accompaniment for his dancers. Moreover, Balanchine’s singular training and disposition made his choreography integral to the music he chose.

My title reworks the words of Balanchine, suggesting that we as musicians can benefit from “hearing” his choreography. Music theory has gladly embraced the study of physical movement, and especially the movement of human bodies, as a meaningful source and analog for our own attentions to the metaphor of musical movement. The study of ballet, especially when a choreographer draws upon sophisticated musical understanding, gives us the opportunity to hear what we see, and see what we hear. In this talk I will join physical and metaphorical movement in two of Balanchine’s iconic ballets, his setting of Tchaikovksy’s Serenade for Strings and his collaboration with Stravinsky for the ballet Orpheus. Taking Balanchine’s cue, I hope to show how musical and dance movement partner one another.

Music’s Stubborn Enchantments (and Music Theory’s)

Steven Rings (University of Chicago)

In 1918, Max Weber (paraphrasing Schiller) famously proclaimed modernity’s “disenchantment of the world.” Weber was speaking specifically about the waning of belief in the cold light of science, secularism, and rationalized, bureaucratic capitalism, but his dictum has proven remarkably resonant beyond the social science quad. Indeed, various species of disenchantment arguably pervade the postmodern humanities, as both diagnosis and method: the critical theorist disenchants, unmasks, demystifies. Most music theorists, it need hardly be said, do something quite different. As the SMT celebrates its 40th year, music theory—with its wide-eyed enthusiasms and unapologetic close readings, its loving attention to the sonic and the aesthetic, its frequent aloofness from the social and political—remains a discipline apart, a sort of blissed-out, sylvan glade within the left-melancholic academy.

Depending on one’s intellectual commitments this may be cause for celebration or withering critique. But before we exult or condemn, we should try, once again, to understand why, as music theorists, many of us are so prone to enchantment (despite frequent admonishments from our academic neighbors), and what this might mean for our discipline’s future and its place in the academic ecology. In this talk I first consider the institutional, pedagogical, and material conditions that reinforce music theory’s aestheticized practices, specifically in the undergraduate theory classroom. I then pivot to research, taking the song “Poor Places” by the band Wilco as a case study to stage a fictive encounter between (unabashedly enchanted) music analysis and more critically wary perspectives from sound studies and Latourian actor-network theory.