Sunday afternoon, November 8, 2-2:50 CST

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Music and Philosophy Interest Group

Avinoam Foonberg, Bryan Parkhurst, and Lee Cannon-Brown, co-chairs

Posthuman but not Post-Colonial: The Subject of New-Materialism-Inspired Sonic and Vibrational Thought Remains Hegemonic

Andrew J. Chung (University of North Texas)

Music theory, ecological listening and the sublime object

Amy Bauer (University of California – Irvine)


Helena Tulve’s award-winning orchestral work Sula (1999) reflects her ecological concerns. Yet Sula—meaning “to thaw”—suggests more than a glacier melting: we feel as well as hear sonic transformations freed from external restrictions on form or harmony. Wolfgang Sandner compares Tulve’s forms to “rocks or trees” which could be installed in a landscape. But what does it mean to compose a thaw, a landscape, or a climate crisis? Philosopher Casey O’Callaghan reminds us that most sounds escape their sources with their ontological particulars intact. Like many natural objects, sounds are temporal rather than static events, whose identity usually survives changes to their qualities. Sula presents the orchestra as a collection of sonic objects both visceral and mysterious in their impact. Rather than avoid engagement, such music preserves what Graham Harmon has called the “allure” of the object. Harmon’s position resonates with ecological theory in which the relationship between perceiver and environment is driven by perceptions rather than preconceived notions of source and meaning, to promote an active engagement with the object. Sula transcribes the chaotic, asignifying noise of nature, the very act of translation acknowledging the inherent resistance of the natural object, neither solid nor liquid, beyond the visibly sensible, but not the audible, the perceptible.

How might music theorists approach such works, and those that speak to current ecological concerns? Object-oriented ontologist Timothy Morton’s meditation on what might characterize a “sublime object” such as the climate crisis leads him to define it in rhetorical terms. Rather than pursue the five parts of rhetoric from invention to delivery, Morton flips the Classical order, placing “delivery” at the head of an object-oriented rhetoric. That is, an object-oriented view of a manifest object begins with its physicality—its sensual meaning—rather than arriving there at the final stage. What was once considered a secondary or tertiary quality now takes center stage, replacing the abstract notion of an idea, which had to proceed through memory, style, and ordering to ever reach delivery.

Working backwards in this scheme we end up with invention: a quality which recedes from us, as its delivery did not, and which renders the object both “mysterious and strange yet direct and in your face.” Morton’s metaphor for the presentation of such an object is—not surprisingly—timbre, a musical term he appropriates in a wider sense as “the sensual appearance of an object to another object.” Morton’s position would elevate the aesthetic to a central role in causality; within the aesthetic regime itself it suggests the profound impact of the contemplation of delivery—those most immediate, material aspects of a work—as they act to manifest an aesthetic object. Gibsonian ecological theory relates these material aspects to listening: the direct “resonance” we experience when we actively engage with sonic objects, with music as “a perceptual experience.” Such engagement with sonic detail reflects the concerns of both speculative aesthetics and music theory, sensitive to music such as Sula, where timbral richness and textural complexity express deep-rooted ecological concerns.

Posthumanistic Organology: Diffracting the Instrument

Jessie Cox (Columbia University)

Jessie Cox is a composer, drummer, and scholar, currently in pursuit of his Doctorate Degree at Columbia University. Growing up in Switzerland, and also having roots in Trinidad and Tobago, he is currently residing in NYC. His scholarly writing has been published in the journal Sound American, and Castle Of Our Skins’ blog; and a publication is forthcoming in Critical Studies in Improvisation. He has presented his work at numerous conferences and festivals such as the Cecil Taylor Conference, New Music Gathering, and NUNC3 at Northwestern University. At Columbia University he is a co-organizer of the Comparing Domains of Improvisation, a group that facilitates talks by prominent and emerging scholars so as to engage in interdisciplinary meetings around improvisation; which has led to conferences titled New Materialist Approaches to Sound, and Improvisation and Time.

As a composer he has written over 100 works for various musical ensembles including electroacoustic works, solo works, chamber- and orchestral works, works for jazz ensembles and choirs; including commissions and performances by LA Phil, JACK Quartet, Steve Schick, ICE, Either/Or, etc.

As a performer Jessie has played in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the USA; with musicians from all over the world.