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Faculty Colloquia

The weekly Colloquia present engaging and thought-provoking research papers covering an eclectic mix of topics and musical styles. They provide stimulating opportunities to hear and discuss the latest research by distinguished scholars and musicians from the UK and abroad.

Colloquia are held on Wednesday evenings in the Recital Room (unless otherwise specified) of the Faculty of Music, West Road. Please arrive at 4.50pm for a 5.00pm start. Papers are followed by discussion and a drinks reception with the speaker. Admission is free and open to the general public. All are welcome to attend. 

Please note Colloquia are currently being held online, please email for any enquiries.

Should you be unable to attend or wish to view one of the sesions again, many of our Colloquia are available via the Faculty's YouTube channel.

Colloquia Contacts

Ekaterina Pavlova -

Eirini Diamantouli -

David Cotter -


7 October 

Dr Martin Parker Dixon, University of Cambridge

Adorno’s conjecture and the philosophical outlines of a practice-led aesthetics.


In Adorno’s final and unfinished treatise Aesthetic Theory (1969), he questions the relevance of aesthetics as an academic discourse, believing that it has singularly failed to keep up with developments in contemporary art and has thereby lost contact with its ‘object’ which, in the final analysis, is its raison d'être. His programme for reviving aesthetics was a novel one: aesthetics needed to engage with the perspective of the producer whilst honouring the demands of conceptual and logical argument. This programme was not realised and, as it stands, remains conjectural. In my paper I will try to reconstruct the kinds of theoretical commitments one needs to confirm the legitimacy and utility of Adorno’s suggestion and, as a test case, I will analyse Morton Feldman’s struggle with conceptualising the “surface” of a musical composition.


14 October 

Dr Marco Ladd, University of Cambridge

Disorganized Labour: Music, Lawsuits, and the Ontology of Cinema, c. 1930


In this talk I’ll explore a series of lawsuits that rocked Italy’s legal establishment between approximately 1924 and 1933. Resulting from a protracted labor dispute between instrumental musicians working in cinemas, on the one hand, and the exhibitors that employed them, on the other, the lawsuits turned on a question of employment law: whether musicians ought to be considered full-time employees—entitled to various benefits and protections against unfair termination—or more precarious freelancers that exhibitors could hire and fire at will. This historical echo of present-day disputes, I argue, provides an opportunity to ask crucial questions about the value of music and about the labor of the musicians who work to create it. As I demonstrate, in Italy the aesthetic value of film music—and, paradoxically, the employee status of musicians—came to depend, in the eyes of the law, on the extent to which musical accompaniment was coordinated or “synchronized” with the images of the film. The ideal of synchronization between music and images, which persisted long after the silent era was over, thus emerges as a key site of musical value in cinema and a focal point of musical labor in the film industry.


21 October 

Dr Katia Chornik, Senior REF Research Impact Coordinator at Cambridge’s Research Strategy; Research Associate at Cambridge’s Centre of Latin American Studies (CLAS), University of Cambridge

Co-presenter: Hernán Theiler, Research Engineer at IBM Research Labs, IBM Haifa Research Lab

Blending Web Technologies to Create an Archive on Musical Experiences in Political Detention Centres in Chile under Pinochet’s Dictatorship (1973-1990)


The dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet operated over 1,000 
centres for political detention, where torture was a central pillar 
(Comisión Nacional sobre Prisión Política y Tortura 2004). Cantos 
Cautivos (Captive Songs, is a bilingual digital 
archive compiling music and testimonies of experiences in these 
contexts. First developed in collaboration with the Chilean Museum of 
Memory and Human Rights, our project uses crowdsourcing, personal 
interviews and public events to collect primary materials. Music acts as 
an emotional bridge to help survivors access memories and express 
difficult feelings; music is also a means to sensitise audiences to 
human right violations. After contextualising the project, our talk 
explores the process of building the current website. We will discuss 
the decisions we have taken to connect different types of archival 
materials, using a category-based relational data model and internet 
technologies. Drawing on our experience as well as on musicological, 
ethnomusicological and software research on archives, memory and social 
responsibility, we shall demonstrate that this blended approach has been 
effective in achieving the main purpose of the Cantos Cautivos project, 
which is to contribute to the collective memory of the dictatorship and 
to the moral reparation and public recognition of victims and their 


28 October 

Dr Ian Pace, City, University of London

The Ethnomusicology of Western Art Music and the Application of Meta-Critical Scholarship on Ethnography: Reinscribing Critical Distance


A branch of ethnomusicology no longer focuses on music, musical and cultural practices either outside of the Western world or in Western communities who continue to practice vernacular traditions with significant histories of their own. Instead, its practitioners apply, they apply ethnographic methods, generally developed in these former contexts, to the study of Western Art Music. A moderate-sized canonical tradition of this type of work has grown, beginning with Robert Faulkner's 1973 study of perceived hierarchies between orchestral players and conductors, and Catherine M. Cameron's 1982 dissertation on 'experimentalism' in American music, then key works of Christopher Small, Henry Kingsbury, Ruth Finnegan, Bruno Nettl, Georgina Born, Kay Kaufman Shelemay and others. Subsequent writers invariably pay homage to this body of work, almost as if it were a catechism, whilst many of the same waste few opportunities to assert the superiority of their approaches to most other branches of musicology, usually characterised as homogeneous and utterly oblivious to any issues of social or cultural context.

In the wider fields of ethnography and anthropology, however, a lively and robust self-critical discourse has proceeded over four decades, beginning with critiques in the 1980s of what was labelled 'ethnographic realism'. Major methodological work on ethnography, from diverse and sometimes irreconcilable perspectives, can be found in the work of George E. Marcus, James Clifford, Martyn Hammersley, John van Maanen, Charles Kurzman, Harry F. Wolcott, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Tim Ingold, and Mitchell Duneier, some of whom have been prepared to look more critically at classic anthropological work of the likes of Bronisław Malinkowski and Margaret Mead, as well as that of more recent figures. Furthermore, in 2018, law professor Steve Lubet published his important Interrogating Ethnography: Why Evidence Matters, after being dismayed by the generally uncritical reception of Alice Goffman's study of low-income African-American communities, On the Run, which Lubet felt violated fundamental scholarly and ethical principles of research.

Other than through a nod in the direction of the 1980s 'postmodern turn' informing a few of the writers from this time, very little of this work appears even to have registered in writings on the ethnography/ethnomusicology of Western Art Music. In this paper, I will give an overview of this meta-critical field and the key issues it raises, and also briefly of the body of ethnographic literature on Western Art Music, in which I identify two key phases: the first characterised in many cases by outright hostility on the part of the ethnographer to the field studied (as with Kingsbury, Nettl, Christopher Small and Born); the second overwhelmingly by supposedly disinterested 'description' (in reality a long way from Clifford Geertz's idea of 'thick description'), and generally taking the word of subjects at face value (as anticipated in the work of Finnegan, and developed in that of Shelamay, Stephen Cottrell, Amanda Bayley and Michael Clarke and Pirko Moisala). I focus on several key points: central amongst them Duneier's conception of an 'ethnographic trial', and some of the conclusions of Lubet. I also consider how an attitude entailing some degree of deferential humility towards the subjects studied may make some sense in a situation in which there is a clear power differential between the ethnographer and their subjects, when the same attitudes and methods – not least such as entail large quantities of quotations presented without any critical analysis – are transplanted to a non-colonial situation, as with much of the work in question, the result can simply become hagiography. I also make brief mention of the problems of a field so beset by territorialism that it must disregard almost all methods for analysing aural data, leading to what I have elsewhere called 'musicology without ears', and also a concomitant antipathy towards historical methods, thus running the real risk of reification, in line with earlier anthropology dealing with purportedly 'timeless' communities. I maintain and defend the value of ethnographic approaches, but argue that they constitute a supplementary method to an extensive and diverse field of existing musicology, and in no way supplant it. Above all, I maintain the importance of musicologists' maintaining a proper critical perspective upon their field of study, together with a critical distance from their subjects, an especial challenge when these are contemporary.


4 November 

Dr Hettie Malcomson, University of Southampton

A conversation about music studies, whiteness and racism


In response to what has been happening in analysis, ethnomusicology, 
music disciplines and more broadly, accentuated by events this summer, 
we think it would be really timely to stop and have a conversation about 
racism and music.

11 November

Professor Julian Horton, Durham University

Beethoven's Error? The Modulating Ritornello and the Type-5 Sonata in the Post-Classical Piano Concerto


In his analysis of the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 
3, Op. 37, Donald Francis Tovey dismissed Beethoven’s decision to 
modulate for the second theme in the movement’s opening tutti as an 
‘error’, which gives the impression of a symphonic exposition rather 
than a concerto ritornello and thereby undermines the work’s generic 
identity. For Tovey, Beethoven and practitioners falling under his 
influence misunderstood a fundamental principle of concerto 
first-movement form, enshrined in Mozart’s predominant habit of 
associating structural modulation with the solo exposition. More recent 
theories of concerto first-movement form, including James Hepokoski and 
Warren Darcy’s model of the ‘type-5’ sonata, sustain both Tovey’s view 
of Op. 37 and the normativity of Mozart’s example.

Drawing on a corpus study of 87 piano concerti by 20 composers written 
between 1789 and 1848, this paper challenges the centrality of the 
monotonal ritornello to the theory of the type-5 sonata. It demonstrates 
the overwhelming generic predominance of modulating ritornelli in this 
time and discloses a range of practices, which have thus far escaped 
theoretical attention. I develop a post-canonical theory of concerto 
first-movement form, which questions the centrality of Mozartian norms 
on historical and empirical grounds, and advocates for an approach that 
restricts theory’s purview to the evidence of historically and 
generically bounded corpora.


18 November 

Dr Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, University of Cambridge

Title: Jewish Music in Northern Morocco and the Building of Sonic 
Identity boundaries


Music has served as a place of veiled communication in the Maghreb for 
centuries and continues to do so until today. The place of Jewish 
singers and their repertoire within the community itself, as well as in 
its interaction to wider Moroccan society has much to do with dynamics 
of integration, separation, and individuation of this ancient minority 
community. This presentation presents the conclusions drawn from ongoing 
field work done in Morocco since 2007 of the Judeo-Spanish repertoires 
of Northern Morocco and their internal societal functions. My findings 
conclude that their primary function is strictly inner facing and 
specific to their current life in Morocco and not a representation of a 
long nostalgia for life in pre-Expulsion Spain, contrary to the 
prevailing focus in previous studies on this repertoire. Their use of 
music for constructing boundaries exemplifies Andreas Wimmer's 
sociological theories on boundaries and community identity which 
demonstrate a complex weaving and nesting of multiplicity of identities 
within their sung repertoires.  Sephardi Moroccan Jews have repurposed 
the material drawn from the cultures of contact to fulfil the function 
of sonic protection against assimilation to the majority culture through 
a complex system of encoded messages woven through song texts, their 
contexts, and moments of performance. Gendered spaces and repertoires 
are of vital importance to both the protection of communal inner 
boundaries and the performance of intrinsic belonging to Moroccan, 
French, and Spanish culture.


25 November 

Dr Anthony Gritten, Royal Academy of Music

How to do things with plants: Cage in the 1970s


In the mid-1970s John Cage created a triptych using natural resources: 
Child of Tree, Branches, and Inlets. These works utilized plants, sea 
shells, water, and fire. Some plants needed to be living, others dead 
and dried; some needed a particular geographical provenance; others 
needed amplification. Cage's triptych resonated deeply with the end of 
the Vietnam war, the rising tide of ecological concern (e.g. Carson's 
Silent Spring, the emerging concerns of acoustic ecology, future energy 
consumption post-OPEC crisis), and the evolution of experimental 
Performance Art (e.g. Beuys, Brecht). Cage's concern with nature was not 
new (he had long been fascinated by Thoreau's Walden), but the links 
forged between performativity and both political and ecological 
perspectives on nature opened up new horizons.

This paper situates Cage's triptych in terms of two discourses: ecology, 
considering the materiality of the instruments, and the unconventional 
relationship between rehearsal and performance; and performativity, 
considering the plants' unusual resistance to agency and subjectivity, 
and the relation between notation and realization (I Ching). Rather than 
simply concluding that "the performers [of these works] make 
discoveries", it is argued that they presented somewhat more complex 
examples of where performance was going in the 1970s; of the sorts of 
materiality that afforded "relational listening"; of a hybrid of utopian 
and pragmatist thought; and of a performativity that challenged 
prevailing assumptions about music's relation to ecology and nature.

2 December 

Orr Lecture: Professor George E. Lewis, Columbia University

The Idea of Eastman: The Otolith Group’s The Third Part of The Third Measure


The Otolith Group’s digital video The Third Part of The Third Measure (2017) incorporates a complete performance of a work for multiple pianos created by the queer African American composer, pianist, vocalist and conductor Julius Eastman (1940-1990). According to The Otolith Group, Eastman “wrote and performed compositions whose ecstatic militant minimalism initiated a black radical aesthetic that revolutionized the East Coast’s new music scene of the 1970s and 1980s.”  Even so, after a turbulent creative and personal life, Eastman died homeless and practically destitute, with most of his scores and papers considered lost.  However, over the last few years prior to this writing, a number of lost Eastman works have been unearthed, with new performances and recordings worldwide, and a rapid accretion of posthumous acclaim that has been described as “Eastmania.”  This talk engages the ways in which both Eastman’s music and the Otolith film exemplify a creolizing dynamic that ever more strongly marks the present situation of contemporary classical music. This new reality demands a revision of the field’s identity toward a new usable past that not only re-situates its present, but provokes its future.

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