Colloquium: Georgina Born, OBE FBA

Georgina Born, OBE FBA

May 3, 2024 | 3:30PM
Fulton Recital Hall, Goodspeed Hall, 4th floor

The Dynamics of Pluralism in Contemporary Digital Art Music

Georgina Born, OBE FBA
Professor of Anthropology and Music, Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London

How to capture the transformation, from without and within, of a dominant art music genre? Academic electroacoustic music, and specifically acousmatic music, the modernist lineage that came to prominence from the 1970s in universities in Britain, Canada and Europe, has been both hegemonic and waning for the past two decades. In this presentation, based on a chapter from Music and Digital Media: A Planetary Anthropology, I explore this state of affairs through an ethnography of British university trainings in digital art musics and sound art, trainings that I gather under the rubric 'music technology degrees'. My aim is to probe the burgeoning pluralism of digital art music in the UK as this presses on contemporary music writ large. My fieldwork focused on three leading British centres: the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast, the Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre at De Montfort University, Leicester, and the Music and Music Technology groups at the University of Huddersfield. It also involved contacts with music departments at the universities of York, Edinburgh, East London and East Anglia, and the sound art research centre at London’s University of the Arts. I observed teaching and events, attended gigs and conferences, and made relationships with teaching staff, Masters and PhD students. By analysing the music technology degrees the chapter narrates a heterogeneous field in motion, buffeted by larger historical processes. A core premise is that educational change of this kind is at once a barometer and a catalyst of wider musical, cultural, social and political change. The net effect is the blossoming of an extraordinary but patterned diversity of idioms in digital art music, analysed in the final part of the chapter. This leads into a final discussion of how we should conceptualise pluralism in music today.

NB: Those attending are invited to read in advance the book chapter on which the colloquium will be based: ‘The Dynamics of Pluralism in Contemporary Digital Art Music, which is Chapter 8 from Prof. Born's edited volumeMusic and Digital Media: A Planetary Anthropology (University of Chicago Press 2023/UCL Press 2022). The book can be downloaded open access from UCL Press here.

About Georgina Born

Georgina Born is Professor of Anthropology and Music at University College London. Previously she held Professorships at the Universities of Oxford (2010-21) and Cambridge (2006-10). Earlier she had a professional life as a musician in experimental rock, jazz, and free improvisation. Her work combines ethnographic and theoretical writings on music, sound, digital/media, and interdisciplinarity. Her books include Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde (1995), Western Music and Its Others (ed. with D. Hesmondhalgh, 2000), Uncertain Vision (2004), Music, Sound and Space (ed., 2013), Interdisciplinarity (ed. with A. Barry, 2013), Improvisation and Social Aesthetics (ed. with E. Lewis and W. Straw, 2017), and Music and Digital Media: A Planetary Anthropology (ed., 2022). She directed the ERC-funded research program ‘Music, Digitization, Mediation’ (2010-15) and since 2021 has directed a second ERC-funded research program: ‘Music and Artificial Intelligence: Building Critical Interdisciplinary Studies’. She has held visiting professorships at UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and Aarhus, Oslo, McGill and Princeton Universities.