Sue Miller – Cuban Flute Improviser, Writer & Academic

Music Symposium in Helsinki, 20-21 November, 2015November 13th, 2015

Sue will be presenting a paper ‘Getting into Bed with the Cultural Theorists’ at the NIMiMS conference to demonstrate how the detailed analysis of sound connects directly to cultural aspects of the music and to advocate closer working partnerships with scholars in musicology and cultural studies.

The aim of the symposium is to bridge gaps and create positive dialogue between different approaches within music studies. The symposium is focused on two questions.

[1] How can music analysis and cultural studies benefit from each other?

[2] How can music theory and musical practice benefit from each other?

Organizing parties: NIMiMS, Musicology at the Helsinki University Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies, Helsinki Pop & Jazz Conservatory, and the Finnish Music Archive JAPA.


What is NIMiMS and why does it exist?

W H A T ? !

A network dedicated to the cause of including MUSIC in MUSIC STUDIES? That’s like campaigning for the inclusion of the ENVIRONMENT in ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES! If that reasonable analogy were operational we wouldn’t need to take action against the absurdity of music’s effective exclusion from many types of music studies.

Music’s exclusion

Music isn’t always excluded from music studies but it often is, and in two main ways: [1] NOTHING BUT THE MUSIC and [2] EVERYTHING BUT THE MUSIC.

§1 NOTHING BUT THE MUSIC ( ‘thesis’). The actual sounds of music —how they’re created, what they consist of, the patterns they build, their sonic materiality, etc.— are studied, as theory or practice, in isolation from the culture and society in which they’re produced and used, and without which they cannot logically exist. This type of exclusion from a broader understanding of music studies is typical for conservative music theory teaching and is common in conservatoire contexts. This position can be called the NOTHING BUT THE MUSIC pole of exclusion. By setting up ‘the music’ as the sole object of study, NOTHING BUT THE MUSIC excludes itself from the larger set of learning of which it is an integral part (music studies). ‘The music itself’ cannot be part of music studies if it is so exclusive about itself!

§2 EVERYTHING BUT THE MUSIC ( ‘antithesis’). The actual sounds of music (its sonic materiality, see §1) are either ignored or treated as peripheral to the context in which they exist. This pole of exclusion —EVERYTHING BUT THE MUSIC— dominates popular music studies (e.g. IASPM, Popular Music). It has also been recently imported as a supposed ‘alternative’ into institutions traditionally associated with the NOTHING BUT THE MUSIC position.

§3 MUSIC (‘synthesis’). Both poles of exclusion (§1 and §2) share one important common trait: the dynamic between the sounds of music (§1) and the sociocultural context without which they cannot exist (§2) is missing. Put another way, the contexts investigated in [popular] music studies (§2) cannot exist without the sounds of music (§1) to which they are manifestly linked and which often, as in the case of genre, are central to the definition of context. It is in these ways that music is reduced to either a contextless text (§1) or to a textless context (§2). That’s the basic reason why the creation of a Network for the Inclusion of Music in Music Studies (NIMiMS) is a necessary and urgent task.