Conference Review: Interdisciplinary Musicology 2022 ‘Participation’

The 13th Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology (CIM22) took place in Edinburgh and online from 8-10 June 2022, convened by the Society of Interdisciplinary Musicology and co-chaired by the Reid School of Music, Edinburgh College of Art, The University of Edinburgh, and the Department of Music at The University of Hong Kong.

A total of 36 presentations took place over the three days of the conference, with the hybrid format allowing the 123 registered delegates to attend either in-person at a central hub in Edinburgh or online over Zoom. High-quality audio-visual recordings were produced of every presentation and made available online shortly after each session, enabling delegates to access each paper despite any timezone differences. Finally, 22 video flash-talks created for the event were also made available to watch online at any point during the conference, providing succinct overviews of current research projects across a range of disciplines.

The theme of CIM22 was ‘participation’, a concept that intersects both theoretical and material issues in music scholarship and which opens up a number of topics that demand interdisciplinary attention and debate. The presentations during the conference reflected the breadth of this topic, with papers given on subjects including joint action and coordination, community music-making, music cognition, historical contexts for participation, critical music pedagogy, media and virtuality, and participation as a research methodology.

Several papers took as their theme the types of participatory processes involved in the explicit act of making music as part of a group. Combining approaches from music psychology with organisational science, Nicola Pennill (Royal Northern College of Music) provided an illuminating account of the changes in social dynamics within two newly-formed musical ensembles observed over a period of several months. Further papers by both Persefoni Tzanaki (University of Sheffield) and Adrian Kempf & Andrea Schiavio (University of Graz) helped solidify some of these conclusions with findings from the laboratory, demonstrating the interplay between musical synchronicity during finger-tapping tasks and the presence of prosocial attitudes and feelings.

The keynote plenary by Frederick Lau (The Chinese University of Hong Kong) extended this interest in the social function and qualities of musical participation. Drawing on his own experience of music-making in Asia and the Pacific, Lau argued that music participation acts as a ‘rippling wave’, connecting people to the specificities of various cultural contexts and societal dimensions. For Lau, musical participation is not a linear and teleological process but rather an open-ended course of action that engages with the depth and integrity of established musical traditions while illuminating a path into the future.

Musical participation, however, is not a domain reserved solely for performers; indeed, a theme that recurred throughout the conference’s three days was that listening and watching are themselves participatory acts. This issue was highlighted in a paper delivered by Charlie Sdraulig (University of Melbourne) & Louis D’Heudières (Independent Researcher) on the performance-audience relationship established in works of contemporary art music and later expanded upon by Inkeri Jaakkola (Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki) during their discussion of the stage music by Michel van der Aa.

Further exploration of the participatory roles of music listeners occurred during two back-to-back presentations on the interaction between audience members during outbursts of applause in live concerts, given by Jutta Toelle (Gustav Mahler Privatuniversität für Musik) and Finn Upham, Ahmet Emin Memis, Maria-Alena Clim, Alexander Refsum Jensenius (RITMO, University of Oslo); Niels Chr. Hansen (Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies & Center for Music in the Brain, Aarhus University); & Fernando E. Rosas (Imperial College London).

Watching and listening can also have broader social and cultural consequences: in their keynote plenary, Kyra Gaunt (University at Albany State University of New York) argued that these actions can contribute to furthering patriarchal violence and anti-Black sexism. Drawing from research into twerking videos posted online to social media, Gaunt demonstrated how the (often older, white, and male) individuals who watch and comment on these videos were complicit in the sexual grooming and exploitation of the young Black girls and teenagers who appear in them. Musical participation, in these cases, becomes central to acts of marginalisation and discrimination.

Yet, and as Gaunt also argued, participatory acts can envisage solutions to problems, too. A range of papers continued this theme by describing the function of musical participation in educational and therapeutic contexts, including the use of online digital audio workstations for distanced learning, the role of memorisation in one-to-one piano lessons, and the application of musical interventions for people living with dementia. Particularly important in relation to this topic was the presentation by Juan Manuel Loaiza (Independent Researcher), Renee Timmers (University of Sheffield), and Nikki Moran (University of Edinburgh), who introduced an alternative framework for understanding the role of music in therapeutic contexts that attempted to move beyond the assumptions of prior Eurocentric research paradigms.

The function of participatory music-making in education and therapy was also the subject of the keynote address given by Ruth Herbert (University of Kent), who described two contrasting participatory arts research projects developed for young people either undergoing mental health treatment or attending a school for students with autism. Drawing on examples from both projects, Herbert elucidated how the act of music-making reveals the psychological qualities and characteristics of neurodivergent participation, extending scholarly understandings of the processes and dynamics of distributed creativity. Throughout this presentation, theoretical and philosophical arguments took on further significance in light of empirical and practical evidence.

This was the case throughout CIM22, with the conference successfully bringing scholars from contrasting research backgrounds into dialogue with each other. The choice by the organisers to follow each keynote presentation with brief remarks from two invited respondents representing different disciplines helped in many ways to formalise these discussions, which were often followed up with lively debate during frequent (offline and virtual) coffee breaks. While it was altogether not uncommon to hear the phrase ‘that’s not my field of expertise’ emerging from these discussions, the willingness amongst delegates to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue highlights the breadth of interest in musical participation across a growing number of fields.

Looking beyond the conference, digital proceedings for CIM22 will be published in the near future in the form of a book of structured abstracts, providing a stable DOI with links to online video flash-talks and session presentations hosted on YouTube, where permissions allow. Presenters at CIM22 are also invited to submit their work for peer-reviewed publication in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies (JIMS). Discussions around the topic and host institution for the next Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology are in progress, with the SIM executive committee welcoming suggestions and expressions of interest.

Huw Cheston is a PhD student at the Centre for Music and Science, University of Cambridge, where he researches interaction and coordination in networked and remote music-making.

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