Epistemologies of Music Analysis: What Theories, what Methods, for what Types of Music, and in what Disciplinary and Cultural Contexts?
The globalisation of culture has led to an unparalleled interaction between people, ideas and cultural production, including, of course, music. Such interconnectedness, enabled by digital technologies, has made us more aware of the broad range of music past and present around the world. In particular, it has forced music analysis — and musicology more generally — to open up to this diversity in order to understand it both from the inside and in relation to its socio-cultural, intellectual and historical environment.
However, such an endeavour creates a dilemma for analysis: either we design and develop universal methods, tools and concepts that risk glossing over the particularised contexts and issues relating to specific types of music, or we develop local approaches to address specific and contextual concerns that could hinder a broader understanding of the inter-relationship of repertoires and themes precisely at a time when musicology is becoming increasingly interconnected.
The aim of this conference is to identify possible ways out of this dilemma. By looking at music in terms of both its diversity and unity, and by drawing on a wide range of analytical theories, methods, discourses and practices according to disciplinary and cultural contexts, our hope is to find analytical approaches that combine the global and the local within a shared and unified intellectual framework.
Analysis vis-à-vis Traces, Data and Musical Repertoires
Although the way we conceive of music and its transmission often focuses on the dichotomy between written and oral traditions, it is important to put this distinction into perspective. Rather than being polar opposites, orality and notation should be considered as a continuum that includes music composed on paper and then performed (two-stage art), music that is pre-composed and recorded, unwritten music that is then transcribed, and music that is created at the moment of performance (one-stage art) (Goodman 1976, 113–114; Genette 1994, 23–24, 86–88). To this question, we can add the problem of choosing the appropriate analytical method to apply to a given corpus and deciding how this method ought to be conveyed, especially in the computer age. Digital musicology has transformed our access to musical sources by making available vast collections of sound-related content (CNRS-Musée de l'Homme Sound Archives, Europeana Sounds, etc.) and scores (the Josquin Research Project, Neuma, etc.). Yet both approaches to the representation of music are organised according to fundamentally different semiotic regimes and thus pose contrary dilemmas for analysis. Written data contains categories (those of notation) that allow music to be examined independently of time, whilst placing limits on the analysis (Meeùs 2019); although the study of sound data is free of these constraints, it faces the challenge of segmenting the sound continuum into analytically discrete relationships. In both cases, appropriate choices need to be made concerning the features to be annotated and the concepts to be deployed.
- Is it possible to analyse performed and recorded music without reference to its sonic dimension? Conversely, can we analyse such output without referring to a graphic representation that doubles as a transcription?
- Can we define "low-level" musicological descriptors, applicable to disparate musical data and, if so, what is the relevance of these descriptors for studying individual repertoires or pieces?
- What are the possible strategies for reconciling “situated” categories, associated with particular repertoires, issues, and practices; and general categories, which lend themselves to the comparison of repertoires and to collaborative study?
Analysis and Theories
Analysis is always based on a theory, whether it be explicit or implicit, conscious or unconscious. Thus theory must always precede analysis, given that theory is the bedrock upon which analysis is grounded. That said, analysis can be no more inductive than theory can be: neither is purely deducible from the mere observation of facts. Every theory necessarily starts from some hypothesis or axiom: it begins as a hypothetical proposition based on abductive reasoning, just as an analysis is based indirectly on a similar abductive process grounded in hypothesis.
Unlike “normal” science, which largely consists of “puzzle solving”, the humanities and social sciences are supposed to be part of a “tradition of claims, counter-claims, and debates over fundamentals” (Kuhn 1970, p. 6). But analytical activity is not inherently divorced from the solving of puzzles based on models, restrictions or rules. The symbolic aspect of music — like any object of study in the humanities and social sciences — nevertheless involves a greater variety of interpretative perspectives, which impacts the theories and calls for a critical discussion of tools in order to achieve the required transparency and intelligibility of scientific demonstration (Weber 1904, p. 31).
Music theory is not just a propaedeutic subject in the training of performers, teachers and musicologists; it also refers to a set of statements — ancient or modern, Western or Eastern — that aim to describe music in terms of its perceived essence and forms. Given that any musical conceptualisation depends on assumptions that reflect particular cultural, intellectual, geographical, historical and linguistic ecologies, the challenge is not to make these statements converge, at the risk of levelling them and hollowing them out, but to formulate them.
- Does music theory constitute a pedagogical field, a systematic and technical approach to music, or is it a set of abstractions that fall within a particular intellectual and historical framework?
- What are the specific features of individual theoretical discourses (i.e. intentions, audiences, the size and scope of production and status within a more general body of knowledge, etc.) and what are the links between them in terms of their relationship to music, their history and their concepts?
- What potential challenges, issues and strategies would be involved in the development of a truly global and cosmopolitan music theory?
Analysis, its Methods and Discourses
Analysis involves the application of models and abstractions that are the result of theoretical assumptions about the organisation of music and its relationship with the world. Questioning the ideological functioning of music analysis is not limited to identifying philosophical preconceptions, but also leads to a reflection on the objects, types of statements, concepts, language, and theoretical foundations that underpin this activity. Thus, it is possible to question the conditions that structure the theoretical models and the analytical results that are produced. Music analysis has also focused on the type of discourse to be carried out on the work. Such an enquiry often takes the form of structural semiotics, leading to a discretisation (and segmentation) of the work. However, there is another approach that emphasises the transformational process and seeks to understand the work not as a collection of interconnected objects, but as the (hierarchical) result of a series of transformative operations. This section examines the idea of analysis itself as a particular approach to the universal phenomenon we call music.
- Where do analytical activities and the models that underpin them stand in relation to discursive practice, knowledge, and science?
- What are the (scientific) assumptions of differing analytical approaches?
- What are the truth conditions of the theoretical models and the analytical results that they produce? To what extent are these truth conditions overtly identified and addressed by the analyst employing a given method?
- When and under what conditions can collaborative, open, and evolving analysis take place?
Analysis and Musicology
Although the notable ascent in the status of music analysis over the course of the twentieth century had little impact on the edifice of German systematische and historische Musikwissenschaft (Adler 1885), it was an important factor in the transformation of musicology in the French-speaking world. Drawing on semiology and linguistics, analysis has had a lasting impact on the discipline in French-speaking countries and has spurred the development of digital musicology since the early 1990s (Guillotel-Nothmann 2020, 48). In the United States, music theory has led to highly formalised approaches which are largely dissociated from (historical) musicology. This separation has been criticised by New Musicology, which focuses on areas such as deconstruction, gender studies, and cultural studies, but does not provide the basis for building an intellectual framework that would link analysis with these fields (Agawu 2004, 268–270 and 279–280). The aim of a more generalised musicological programme, as formulated by Molino (1975) and Nattiez (1987, 2007, 2010), would be to remedy this situation by applying a tripartite analytic semiology as a framework for the establishment of a “discipline that is at once systematic, historical and anthropological, capable of integrating music and its context, the variables and constants of its evolution” (Molino 1990). However, this programme leaves open many questions concerning the construction of the object of study (Delalande 2019); the application of principles, models, and methods that are identical to all music; and, finally, the usefulness of an approach that focuses on general, or even universal features in order to uncover the specific workings of individual repertoires.
- Do semiotic, aesthetic, historical, sociocultural, pedagogical or historiographic implications make analysis and theory dependent on these related disciplines?
- How can experiences from various repertoires, issues, and needs contribute to the development of a general musicology?
Analysis According to Cultures
The coexistence of multiple discourses on a variety of musical systems from a wide range of cultural and historical contexts implies that analysts and theorists alike are faced with the challenge of engaging with different systems of representation without being able to fully free themselves from the shackles of their own analytical and cultural biases.
The end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century have seen the emergence of inclusive and cross-disciplinary theoretical and analytical approaches that have forged tools and produced analytical discourses based on both local and global knowledge: for example, the convergence of modal grammars between mediaeval and oriental musicology and the development of a resolutely analytical ethnomusicology (Picard 2007, Labussière 2007, Abou Mrad 2016, Wright 2016). This has enabled links to be established with analytical musicological approaches developed in Tunisia, Lebanon, Iran, India, China, and elsewhere that draw on regional theoretical traditions dating back more than a thousand years.
This section aims to identify the status of analysis and theory in different cultural and historical contexts so as to identify disciplinary paradigms that lend themselves to intersectional approaches.
- How can the consideration of local theories evolve towards an approach that transcends the ideology of difference and the opposition between local and global knowledge?
- Who is to be the judge in validating interpretations of theoretical systems from different cultures?
- Can the analytical traditions of different cultures be formulated within a coherent disciplinary whole?
Format and deadline
We invite proposals for twenty-minute paper presentations on any topics related to the conference themes. Papers may be presented in either English or French. The conference will take place on site at different venues in Paris. Only in exceptional cases will talks be streamed into the lecture halls (without an online audience). Participation is free of charge.
Submissions are to be made via SciencesConf (https://ema-2023.sciencesconf.org/submission/submit) and must include the following information:
- Name and, in case, institutional affiliation
- Contact Information
- Abstract (max. 300 words)
- 5 keywords
The deadline for submissions is December 31st 2022. Abstracts will be selected by January 15th 2023.