Conference: Compositional Aesthetics and the Political


Supported by the Goldsmiths Annual Fund and Institute of Musical Research, this conference took place at Goldsmiths during February 2015.

The increasing growth of the field of music and politics has recently seen quite a few turns in music studies materialised in articles, books, and journals. The natural tendency to themes such as feminism, post-colonialism, the culture industry, war, censorship, resistance, etc., have irreversibly affected thinking about music and music-making of several genres, including that of ‘contemporary classical’. However, perhaps as a reaction to traditional musicology (with its insistence on the musical work and on authorship), the study of compositional practices against contemporary political dimensions, has hitherto received less scholarly attention. In the—ostensibly distant— sixties, figures such as Xenakis or Nono represented two typical examples of politicised compositional attitudes: the former’s radical abstraction was a coup against the dominance of serialism, the latter’s thematization of textuality and location constituted gestures of resistance. Their epigones still produce work that challenges traditional conceptions (including those of their progenitors).

The conference’s foremost aim was to advance such contemporary practices. One such example is the impact that (free) improvisation has had on recent composition. To the extent that improvisation is the correlative of composition (as ‘material’, listening attitude, style, etc.), this conference aimed to examine both creative practices in their political dimension. It focussed primarily on practice-based research, its underlying politics, the explicit or implicit theme of the political, and specifically how these are translated via or into compositional praxis.

Keynote speakers:
Professor Mathias Spahlinger, Berlin
Response: Professor Max Paddison (Durham University)

Dr Bernadette Buckley (Politics Dept, Goldsmiths)
Response: Dr Dimitris Exarchos (Music Dept. Goldsmiths)

Professor Vladimir Tarnopolsky (Centre for Contemporary Music, Moscow Conservatory)
Response: Professor Roger Redgate (Head of CMRU, Music Dept, Goldsmiths)

Keynote performers: Mark Knoop, Aisha Orazbayeva and Peter Sheppard-Skaerved.

To download the conference programme, click on the pdf Compositional Aesthetics and the Political programme