Music on the Move: Sounds and New Mobilities

Music on the Move: Sounds and New Mobilities

Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Paris) – 8 December 2015

Keynote speaker: Prof. Michael Bull (University of Sussex)


Breathing to sing, echoing screams in a cave, plucking guitar strings, applauding and clapping, surfing the web to download, dancing to music, performing foreign scores, translating an opera, chanting in protests or in religious processions. Sound is movement and music is on the move.

Since the end of the 20th century, the notion of ‘mobility’ seems to be ubiquitous in social sciences as a prominent cross-disciplinary agenda. Many scholars even refer to a new mobilities paradigm or a mobility turn (Sheller and Urry 2006; Adey et al. 2013; Faist 2013) stressing the importance of movement when studying historical or contemporary societies and individuals (Cresswell and Merriman 2011; Dureau and Hily 2009). If the entire world might seem to be on the move, it has become crucial to understand ‘how the fact of movement becomes mobility’, i.e. how ‘movement is made meaningful’ (Cresswell 2006, 21).

The mobility turn draws on theories already present in the social sciences, such as the work of Georg Simmel and his analysis of the human ‘will to connection’, the research on the hybrid nature of sociotechnical systems in science and technology studies (e.g. transport), the postmodern notion of spatiality (which conceives the essence of places, societies and states as constantly in motion), or the increasing centrality of the corporeal body as a way to explore the world.

Today, ‘mobility’ is seen as related to the idea of ‘circulation’ (of people, goods, ideas, cultures), which includes ‘movement’ and ‘nomadism’ but surpasses these notions. Firstly, it is based on the assumption that people and places are interconnected, where the latter are not fixed locations but are constituted from a variety of flows that circulate through them continuously. Secondly, ‘mobility’ implies reciprocity; as a consequence, fixed notions of identity and of ‘passive’ reception are disregarded in favour of a permeable notion of national boundaries and the complexity of cultural exchanges. Thirdly, ‘mobility’ comprises the concepts of travel and of transport, conceived as the core of social and cultural life. Fourthly, ‘mobility’ involves centralities and exclusions: this new paradigm considers the emancipatory quality of some kinds of motilities as opposed to the exclusive character of others. Finally, ‘mobility’ is materialized: a complex set of material tools is necessary in order to perform a networked society.

Issues of ‘mobility’ have been present in the field of musicology. Nevertheless, as a part of the social sciences, musicology has explicitly incorporated ‘mobility’ through the growing field of sound studies (Bull 2013; Sterne 2012), i.e. the investigation of ‘the primacy of sound as a modality of knowing and being in the world’ (Back and Bull 2004, 3). Michael Bull argues that mobile audio technology, instead of cutting us off from the world we live in, allows us to explore and construct the spaces of our everyday life (Bull 2007). This is in resonance with the concepts of ‘soundscape’ (Murray Schafer 1994) and ‘soundwalking’ (Westerkamp 2007), with the aesthetics of environmental sound (Pecqueux 2012; Biserna and Sinclair 2015), with ‘contemporary transnational practices of technologically-mediated sound production, consumption, and diffusion that are at the heart of popular music studies’ (Chapman 2013), and, finally, with recent research projects developed in France (such as Musimorphoses). Mobility studies are now broadening their perspectives into new territories belonging also to musicology, such as musical migrations, receptions, transfers as well as music history (Gopinath and Stanyek 2014a, 2014b).

This conference seeks to join this existing number of approaches and methodologies that have been taking place especially in English-speaking academia: we aim to support the presence of ‘mobility’ in continental musicology and to discuss its limits and advantages. For this purpose, we welcome proposals for 20-minute papers (in English or French) that provide new insights on music through mobility, without any geographical or historical limitations. The suggested areas of research are the following:

  • – Cultural and social mobilities: class, identities, political movements, reception of musics and musicians, cultural transfers, consumption;
  • – Geographical mobilities: migrations and circulation of musicians and musical goods (recordings, scores, musical instruments);
  • – Technological mobilities: portability and materiality (Walkmans, iPod, mp3 players), streaming, web music, videos;
  • – Movement in musical aesthetics and practices: librettos and operas about mobility, movement in musical composition (repetition, rhythm, serialism, spatiality), mobility in the history of western music, music encompassing several genres and cross-genre music, movement as art form, immobility.

Abstracts of no more than 400 words should be sent both to and by 15 September 2015. Please include title, name, affiliation, email address, AV requirements and a short biography (150 words). The Committee will notify applicants of the outcome by 15 October 2015. Submissions from graduate students and early career researchers will be particularly welcome. If you have any further queries, please contact the organising committee by emailing,, or


Adey, Peter, David Bissell, Kevin Hannam, Peter Merriman, and Mimi Sheller, eds. 2013. The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities. London: Routledge.

Back, Les, and Michael Bull, eds. 2004. The Auditory Culture Reader. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Biserna, Elena, and Peter Sinclair, eds. 2015. “Audio Mobility: Locus Sonus.” WI: Journal of Mobile Media 9 (2).

Bull, Michael. 2007. Sound Moves: iPod Culture and Urban Experience. London: Routledge.

———. 2013. Sound Studies: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies. London: Routledge.

Chapman, Owen, ed. 2013. “Sound Moves: Intersections of Popular Music Studies, Mobility Studies and Soundscape Studies.” WI: Journal of Mobile Media 7 (1).

Cresswell, Tim. 2006. On the Move: Mobility in the Modern World. New York: Routledge.

Cresswell, Tim, and Peter Merriman, eds. 2011. Geographies of Mobilities: Practices, Spaces, Subjects. Farnham (UK): Ashgate.

Dureau, Françoise, and Marie-Antoinette Hily, eds. 2009. Les mondes de la mobilité. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

Faist, Thomas. 2013. “The Mobility Turn: A New Paradigm for the Social Sciences?” Ethnic and Racial Studies 36 (11): 1637–1646.

Gopinath, Sumanth, and Jason Stanyek, eds. 2014a. The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies. Vol. 1. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press.

———, eds. 2014b. The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies. Vol. 2. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press.

Murray Schafer, Raymond. 1994. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Experience and the Tuning of the World. 2nd ed. Rochester (VT): Destiny Books.

Pecqueux, Anthony, ed. 2012. “Les bruits de la ville”. Communication 90. Paris: Editions du Seuil.

Sheller, Mimi, and John Urry. 2006. “The New Mobilities Paradigm.” Environment and Planning A 38: 207–226.

Sterne, Jonathan, ed. 2012. The Sound Studies Reader. London: Routledge.

Westerkamp, Hildegard. 2007. “Soundwalking.” In Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment in the Artistic Practice, edited by Angus Carlyle, 49–54. Paris: Double Entendre.