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Fall 2023

Modernism, Modernity/Coloniality, and the Social Stratification of Musical Experience in the Twentieth Century

Aaron HarcusDr. Aaron Harcus
Thursday, 2:00-4:50 pm

This seminar explores recent efforts to rethink the history and nature of the diverse forms of musical modernisms in the twentieth century by reexamining the relations among aesthetic modernism, Western modernity, and what Walter Mignolo famously described as its “darker side,” coloniality. In particular, this seminar examines the ways in which ideas of the progress of musical (ir)rationality, long central to discourses of Western musical modernity (including what Joseph N. Straus has recently argued is the fundamental disability aesthetics underlying European musical modernism), have been profoundly shaped by the social stratification (i.e., various forms of inequality and hierarchical organization) of musical practice and experience by various social actors under modernity/coloniality in the twentieth century. By thinking through the relation between musical modernism and modernity/coloniality—an important thread since the emergence of the “new modernism studies” since the early 2000s—and focusing on the stratification of musical practice and experience, we will scrutinize those historiographic methods that continue to maintain traditional dividing lines in modernism studies (even if unintentionally) between “high” and “low” culture, art vs. vernacular music, and “Western” vs. “nonwestern” musical modernisms in music studies. As such, case studies for this seminar include explorations of the experiences of the musically irrational, in the realm of tone presence, rhythm and meter, and the technological mediation of timbre throughout the long twentieth century among diverse social actors (talent scouts, early twentieth-century comparative musicologists, songwriters, record collectors, producers, DJs, composers, casual fans) across lines of race, class, ability, gender and sexuality, participating in a range of art worlds, musical scenes, social fields, and other institutional settings. Weekly assignments will include readings and short reading responses to topics from a diverse range of theoretical approaches from social theory, phenomenology, historiography, and music theory (among others), and short listening/analysis projects. The seminar culminates in a research paper and conference-style talk based on the interests of seminar participants.

Voices in the Archives

Mark KatzDr. Mark Katz
Monday, 2:00-4:50 pm

This seminar explores the presence and absence of the voices of marginalized musicians in archival collections and their inclusion and exclusion through archival practices. The impetus for this course and its structuring feature is the creation of the Alim Braxton Collection, which will hold hundreds of letters and other documents related to the life and music of the collection’s namesake, a rapper, writer, and activist currently incarcerated on North Carolina’s Death Row. Students in the class will work with the instructor in consultation with Braxton and his family to assemble, organize, and document the papers, which will become a part of UNC’s Southern Historical Collection. (The collection will be the SHC’s first to gather the papers of an incarcerated person.) This work will be informed by readings on the history and ethics of archival practices within the fields of archival studies, ethnomusicology, and historical musicology. Activities and discussion will be guided by this question: What can or should an archival collection that centers the voice of an incarcerated musician look like?

Recent Seminars