I had a fantastic time rolling around London for a few days this last weekend. Ostensively there to present a paper entitled “The Contemporary DIY Experimental Music Scene in Los Angeles: Metamodernity and Philosophical Hermeneutics,” I also took the opportunity to get good and lost several times in my efforts as an urban flâneur. Having spent the last three years in Los Angeles, the urban density of London was a welcome reminder of my time in New York and, though to a lesser degree, even Chicago. The real standouts were, the pubs, of course—for their endless supply of inexpensive beer on cask at the perfect temperature—but also a concert organized by Music We’d Like To Hear. In their twelfth season, MWLTH programs mostly contemporary music, often with the composers in attendance at concerts. The program I caught featured works by Newton Armstrong, Carola Bauckholt, Bunita Marcus, and Linda Catlin Smith; it was rapturous. So, thanks to the organizers, especially John Lely, for the camaraderie at the pub afterward.
(picture of James Currie stolen from the CTFMSG Twitter page)
The conference, put together by an independent study group called the Critical Theory for Musicology Study Group and supported by the Royal Music Association, was held at University of London’s Senate House and organized around the theme of "Musicology after Postmodernism." Over the course of the day, papers from rather different methodological and critical positions along the continental philosophy spectrum were well represented by graduate students and early career PhDs. I’m happy to report that my paper was well received, though I wish there had been more time for formal discussion. Particularly as there was a lot in my presentation (as in all the presentations, really) that, I thought, at least, merited further discussion. Perhaps the high point of the day was, though, the keynote given by the fantastically erudite and witty Professor James Currie from SUNY Buffalo entitled “On the Uses and Abuses of Musicology For Life” [HELLO relevant Nietzsche reference]. As much as his remarks were a characteristically snarky calling out of musicology’s self-important position (and sometimes people) in the academy, it was a call for young musicologists to recognize the state of emergency in the academy surrounding critical considerations of cultural products (and the humanities in general). Furthermore, a call to recognize the positive work any critical thinking does for an informed body politic, as well as the personal pleasure to be had in struggling with difficult prose and the thought patterns it may engender. Currie’s remarks struck me as self-reflexive, funny, but important. What with recent moves toward political conservatism growing in the UK as well as the US, the training of a more critical body politic—one more aware of its ideological inscription—is timely and necessary.
I left the conference feeling excited to move forward in my work; which is precisely what a good conference should foment, no? Here’s hoping Britain can productively move though the gaff of this Brexit mess and that the London I might visit next is in a better state even that the one I’ve just met.