Music & Letters article on Adorno and materialism

My article on Adorno’s musical materialism and new materialist philosophy (particularly, Jane Bennett’s concept of vibrant matter) has just been published in Music & Letters. You can read the article here.


Registration open for ‘Music in the Psychoanalytic Ear’

The conference programme and registration is now available for ‘Music in the Psychoanalytic Ear: Thinking, Listening and Playing’.

The conference is at the Institute of Musical Research at Senate House, London, on Saturday 19th May 2018. The conference is free to attend but registration is essential.


RMA conference panel on Music and Materialism

I’m happy to say that a panel proposal on music and materialism has been accepted for the RMA annual conference, to be held in September at the University of Bristol. This was proposed jointly by me, Isabella van Elferen, and Matthew Sergeant.

Under the title, ‘Music and Materialisms: Between Affect, Attitudes, and Affordances‘ the panel will focus in particular on (1) the interrelation of human and nonhuman in materialist approaches to music and (2) the (historical) possibilities for and limitations of musical materialisms.

The full RMA proposal, which includes paper abstracts, can be read here.

Music and Psychoanalysis conference at the IMR

Dr Rachel Darnley-Smith and I will be convening a conference on music, psychoanalysis, and music therapy at the Institute of Musical Research on Saturday 19th May 2018.

We have released our Call for Papers (deadline 26th November), which you can read in full here. The basic rationale for the conference is as follows:

A number of scholars in music studies have recently drawn on psychoanalytic ideas to make sense of musical experiences and meaning. At the same time, there are long-established links between music therapy and psychoanalysis; a large number of psychoanalysts, analytic psychotherapists and others working in this ‘talking’ tradition have themselves considered what music might mean in light of their clinical practice. However, despite influencing one another, these disciplines tend to operate independently, with practitioners of each rarely directly engaging those across the disciplinary divides. Musicologists, music therapists, and psychoanalysts have talked about music, but rarely do they speak to one another about music. This IMR research day addresses the need for interdisciplinary dialogue by asking: what can we learn about music when these disciplines begin to speak and listen to one another?



Music and Materialisms Research Network initial meeting

With Prof Isabella van Elferen and Dr Matthew Sergeant, I am one of the conveners of a new research network on “music and materialisms”. We’ll be having our first meeting on 12th December.

Our initial ‘Call for Expressions of Interest’ follows!

Expressions of interest in initial meeting

Tuesday 12th December, 2-4pm
Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Prof Isabella van Elferen, Kingston University, London
Dr Matthew Sergeant, Bath Spa University
Dr Samuel Wilson, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London

Much attention is being paid to the role that objects, matter, and materiality have in music-making, history, and aesthetics. One might, for instance, undertake a “carnal musicology”, take account of music’s “drastic” aspects, consider musical instruments’ “social lives”, engage material practices of musical production and consumption, or draw focus to embodied aspects of music through one’s practice-research. One might also reflect on the potential limits of a musical materialism – on questions concerning experience, abstraction, and excess.

These trends are themselves unfolding among interdisciplinary developments in materialist thinking: be this in disciplines such as anthropology, art theory, or philosophy, or under diverse theoretical perspectives variously labelled feminist, Marxian, Adornian, post-anthropocentric, Deleuzian, vital materialist, as well as those explicitly self-identified as “new materialist” – to name but a few.

We plan to hold a session acting as a first step towards developing a network of researchers interested in both the opportunities and productive tensions encountered in materialist approaches to music. In this session, in contrast with the traditional mode of presentation, we will ask each participant to share a succinct, prepared statement (max. 3 minutes, i.e. 400 words) about their current research directions and work-in-progress in this area. This will be followed by an informal discussion between all participants. Without concealing differences between approaches, we hope that, in the spirit of scholarly collaboration, this will ultimately lead to future dialogue and cooperation within the field.

To this end, we warmly encourage expressions of interest in attending this session, from established scholars, early career academics, and research students.

To register, please email s.wilson [at] by Thursday 30th November at the latest. Please note that for practical purposes we must limit the numbers of participants for this initial session; registration must take place on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Composition of Posthuman Bodies

I’ve just submitted the revised manuscript for my article on ‘The Composition of Posthuman Bodies’, for a special issue of the International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media on ‘Bodily Extensions and Performance (Avatars, Prosthetics, Cyborgs, Posthumans)‘. The article focuses on Ferneyhough’s music and posthuman theory. This is scheduled for publication in autumn 2017.

I’ll also be presenting on this topic at the Tenth Biennial International Conference on Music Since 1900 at the University of Surrey in September.

Abstract: The composition of posthuman bodies

A collision of two thoughts on prostheses provides a point of theoretical ignition for this article: the first is that ‘the musical instrument is a prosthetic augmentation of the human body, enabling the body to exceed itself’ (Johnson 2015); the second that ‘the posthuman view thinks of the body as the original prosthesis we all learn to manipulate’ (Hayles 1999). I consider how musical prostheses critically bring into focus the cultural and material conditions of recent modernity. Brian Ferneyhough’s Time and Motion Study cycle (1971-77), in which the composer entangles performers with technological networks, provides a principal frame of musical and historical reference.

The body, Rosi Braidotti (2011) writes, ‘emerges at the center of the theoretical and political debate at exactly the time in history when there is no more single-minded certainty or consensus about what the body actually is’. I suggest that by compositionally engineering bodies in posthuman terms, one may dissolve the body into its nonhuman extensions, such that it may be, paradoxically, located therein; through engaging, for example, cyborg identities, bodily extensions enable for the body’s possession, in transformed terms, during a historical moment when the embodied nature of the subject is in crisis.


Upcoming RMA Music and Philosophy paper

Here’s the abstract for my upcoming paper at the 6th Conference of the Royal Musical Association Music and Philosophy Study Group.

Adorno’s concept of musical material during and after the New Materialisms

Materialist thinking has enabled the reappraisal of music and its associated cultural and aesthetic practices (e.g. Born 2011; Cox 2011; Dolan 2013). Simultaneously, scholars outside of the musicological frame have sought to develop ‘new materialist’ perspectives in the context of myriad cultural and artistic phenomena (Coole & Frost 2010; Dolphijn & van der Tuin 2012; Bolt & Barrett 2012). However, these latter contributions’ potential relevance to our thinking about materiality and musical aesthetics is as yet underappreciated.

I consider these developments in the light of Theodor W. Adorno’s concept of ‘musical material’, read in the context of these new materialisms. Correspondences and tensions are explored within and between Adorno’s materialism and contemporary materialist perspectives, which are brought into dialogue. Particular reference is made to Jane Bennett’s ‘vital materialism’ (2010), on which the impact of Adorno’s materialism is apparent.

Through a dialoguing of Adornian and contemporary materialisms, three interconnected issues are considered critically. First, by reading Adorno’s work through these materialisms, it is argued that musical materials and materialities might be more fully articulated as potentially active forces in compositional processes (building on DeNora 2003, Paddison 2010, and others); they are not mere passive resources shaped by compositional activity. Second, in contrast with the monism present in many contemporary materialisms, it is argued that by reading these materialisms in light of Adorno’s thinking dialectics proves to be a productive force in thinking through the particularities of musical materials. Third, the question of compositional agency is explored. It is suggested that agency may not be solely the “possession” of the composer – it is also observed in manifold material and historical relations.