In the spirit of all things BuzzFeed I thought I would try to layout the five major things that struck me about the recent Musical Materialities conference at the University of Sussex.
1. Musical Materiality is hard to define: Many of the contributors to the conference nodded towards the importance of materiality for music but there were some differing conceptions around notions of matter, materiality, materialism and materials (see Utrecht for some great work being done in this area). It is good to see music and sounds studies engaging with the “material turn”, but more explicit theoretical work would have been a good addition to the conference (e.g. not much talk of medium theory or of media archaeology). There was also a great deal of discussion about how materiality might be deployed as a concept in research projects around music and sound studies, most noticeably in the physicality that musical items and instruments possess, for example in the excellent keynote by Professor Michael Bull who held up an early version of the Apple iPod to show the clear materiality of digital music.
2. Phenomenology was widely used if not always acknowledged: There is an interesting divergence towards understanding materiality, between what we might call the “material turn” and general phenomenological approaches. There were clear phenomenological overtones in some of the ethnographic materials that were drawn on , for example in relation to Tim Ingold’s work, but also in relation to affect, mood and the notion of “tuning” to an environment. It would have been good to have seen more discussion of the conditions of mediation in relation to some of the research presented.
3. Hardly any speakers referred to mediation: It was striking that the notion of mediation was not referred to as much as one might have thought, especially considering the conference was held in the Silverstone Building, named after Roger Silverstone. This is important because of Silverstone’s influence on, for example, the Centre for Digital Material Culture located in the School of Media, Film and Music and the emerging digital humanities work in the Sussex Humanities Lab.
4. You need *great* sound and speakers at music and sound conferences: The sound quality at the conference which was, after all, discussing music and sound, unfortunately rather terrible. I was rather surprised at the poor quality of sound amplification at the conference which at times was only in mono in the main lecture theatre when Noel Lobley was presenting his excellent keynote on “Curating Sound is Impossible: Views from the Galleries, Streets and Rain Forests.” The other seminar room 317 was unbelievably poor with tiny tinny speakers which didn’t do justice to some of the excellent material presented (e.g. on Operatic Materialities). Luckily room 315, which is a music/sound research lab had some excellent amplification and Genelec speakers. Francisco Bethencourt Llobet was lucky to be presenting in 315, for example, where he played some fantastic flamenco music as part of his work on guitars and flamenco.
5. Sussex has a really amazing combination of research themes and approaches: The School of Media, Film and Music has an incredible range of researchers, academics and research approaches that really helped show why Music and Media at Sussex offers such an exciting interdisciplinary research environment. From cultural studies, medium theory, critical theory, musicology, sound studies, ethnography, sonic studies, and political economy emerged a really amazing constellation of work, supplemented with great papers from visiting speakers and panel contributors.
More information on the conference can be found on the Musical Materialities website.