Urban Nostalgia: The Musical City in the 19th and 20th Centuries

CFP: Urban Nostalgia: The Musical City in the 19th and 20th Centuries

EHESS, Paris

105 boulevard Raspail, Salle 13

July 3, 2020

Call for papers – deadline: 6 April 2020


The aim of this workshop is to explore space through music, approaching the history of the city via the notion of nostalgia. Often described as a form of homesickness, nostalgia is, by definition, the feeling that makes us wish to repossess or reoccupy a space. Such spaces appear to us as both near and distant, tangible and remote, and it seems that attempts at reclaiming them are frequently musical in nature. We know, for instance, that particular compositions have played important roles in helping people to navigate or mitigate a sense of displacement. In these circumstances, affective experiences may be bound up with trauma or joy, as is the case of song during wartime or musical imaginaries among migrants. Under other conditions, we might identify a ‘second-hand nostalgia’ in the guise of a musically-inflected tourism that seeks to reactivate (for pleasure and/or profit) the historical aura of an urban site. What are we to make of the abundance of personal, inter-personal, and propositional episodes that posit music as some kind of a bridge to the urban past?

One option is to turn to digital humanities and to recent trends in mapping the musical layers and pathways of city life. Yet, how well do such methods account for the emotional force of nostalgia and for the flickering between presence and absence that seems to characterise the musical grasp of the past? It is notoriously difficult to geo-locate affect and it is for this reason that we are looking to the kinds of mapping that music enables without the use of digital tools. How might we revisit compositions, correspondence, film music, opera, music criticism, etc. as techniques of urban nostalgia? Of course, these questions are not entirely new. But even as the so-called ‘urban musicology’ offers alternatives to traditional narratives of musical history, replacing big names with city streets, it sometimes remains unclear what the deeper relationships between musical practice and urban experience may be. We seek to address this lacuna by asking:

1) how composers, interpreters and other cultural actors have codified the city in musical terms;

2) how particular cities have afforded particular kinds of listening for particular groups at articular times; and

3) how music has contributed to the repertoire of clichés about urban identity, whether understood from ‘within’ or from the ‘outside.’

Another context for this conference is the growth of sound studies, which has made the notion of a ‘soundscape’ an unavoidable point of reference when describing links between music and urban atmospheres. In light of such work we aim to consider what the idea of a musical landscape or musicscape might offer to historically-sensitive and site-specific scholarship.

We welcome papers with a broad disciplinary grounding, including (but by no means limited to) musicology, history, cultural and sound studies, cultural geography, art history, and literature. We are also looking to include research – and researchers – that expand the geographical frame beyond Europe and Northern America, the areas favoured thus far by sound studies and technology and media studies.

We seek proposals that respond, but are not limited to the following themes:

-Music, memory, and nostalgia

-Music and mapping

-Recorded music and the city

-Musical clichés of space

-Music, space and emotions

-Music travel, and tourism

-Urban music and local vs. national identity

-Divisions of /bridges within the urban space through music

-Intermedia exchanges in the representation of the city: visual arts, literature, and film

-Site-specific musical works

-Music architecture, and urbanism

-Music and escapism: imaginary landscapes

-Mobile listening

-Music and noise pollution

Keynote lecture by Richard Elliott (Newcastle University), title tbc

Please note the quick turnaround for this call: abstracts of no more than 250 words are to be sent to musical.cities.2020@gmail.com no later than 6 April 2020. Accepted proposals will be announced on 17 April 2020. Please, include a short biography of no more than 100 words and your institutional affiliation. Proposals in both English and French will be accepted.

Scientific committee: Esteban Buch (CRAL / EHESS, Paris); Jonathan Hicks (University of Aberdeen); Gascia Ouzounian (University of Oxford); Lola San Martín Arbide (CRAL / EHESS, Paris); Christabel Sterling (University of Westminster); Justinien Tribillon (Theatrum Mundi).

Funded by the ‘Aural Paris’ project (Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 750086); organised by Lola San Martín Arbide (CRAL / EHESS, Paris).

Sound and Music in the Prism of Sound Studies

International Conference – 24-26 January 2019, Paris

Organised by the CRAL (UMR 8566-EHESS/CNRS) and the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris (CNSMDP)

Sponsored by PSL University and Columbia University (Department of Music/Center for Ethnomusicology)

Research on sound and listening is thriving. The idea of bringing together noise, sound, and music, has spread across the social sciences and the humanities, inspiring recent work in musicology, anthropology, sociology, history, and geography. This new paradigm is also present in aesthetics, in architecture and urbanism, and even in art history, where sound is conceived independently of music and the voice. Moreover, sound and the listening experience open up new avenues in the neurosciences and cognitive psychology, thus encouraging exchanges between social sciences and experimental science.

The international success of sound studies as a whole is evident in its tendency to become a discipline, with its own thematic borders, specific institutions, and canonical authors. This movement toward institutionalization has inspired some skeptical or hostile reactions, such as Steven Feld’s exclamation, « I hate Sound Studies ! »This author, himself an emblem of the renewal of the anthropology of sound, is concerned about a managerial vision of research and an alleged pro-Western ethnocentric bias. Yet the definition and delimitation of the field are anything but stabilized. Other issues might be addressed in a critical perspective, like the articulation of the study of sound with that of other sensorial phenomena, the epistemological problems of a socio-history of sound, or the role of the discipline that has historically claimed priority in this area without always drawing the consequences, namely musicology. Given its pluridisciplinary vocation, should sound studies remain an “indiscipline” (Mitchell 1995), challenging scholarly taxonomies?

This international conference aims to foster a dialogue between all of these approaches to sound, by calling to proposals on–among others–the following topics:

–      Can one speak of a prehistory of sound studies?

–      What are the pros and cons of the institutionalization of sound studies?

–      Epistemological consequences of sound studies for musicology

–      Can musical analysis help studying non-musical sounds?

–      How does the notion of sound change, or remain the same, among the disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities?

–      How does sound studies vary from one cultural area to another?

–      Is the notion of sonic policies pertinent?

–      On music, sonic design, and silence

Abstracts of no more than 400 words should be sent to sonmusique.paris2019@gmail.comby June 15 2015. Please include title, name, affiliation, email address, AV requirements and a short biography (150 words). 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 sonmusique.paris2019@gmail.com

Organising committee:Esteban Buch (EHESS/CRAL), Rémy Campos (CNSMDP), Walter Fisch (Columbia University), Karine Le Bail (EHESS/CRAL, CNRS), Ana Maria Ochoa Gautier (Columbia University), Lola San Martin (University of Oxford, EHESS/CRAL), Tristan Labouret (CNSMDP), Violeta Nigro Giunta (EHESS/CRAL), Jonathan Thomas (EHESS/CRAL).