Here’s the abstract for my upcoming paper at the 6th Conference of the Royal Musical Association Music and Philosophy Study Group.
Adorno’s concept of musical material during and after the New Materialisms
Materialist thinking has enabled the reappraisal of music and its associated cultural and aesthetic practices (e.g. Born 2011; Cox 2011; Dolan 2013). Simultaneously, scholars outside of the musicological frame have sought to develop ‘new materialist’ perspectives in the context of myriad cultural and artistic phenomena (Coole & Frost 2010; Dolphijn & van der Tuin 2012; Bolt & Barrett 2012). However, these latter contributions’ potential relevance to our thinking about materiality and musical aesthetics is as yet underappreciated.
I consider these developments in the light of Theodor W. Adorno’s concept of ‘musical material’, read in the context of these new materialisms. Correspondences and tensions are explored within and between Adorno’s materialism and contemporary materialist perspectives, which are brought into dialogue. Particular reference is made to Jane Bennett’s ‘vital materialism’ (2010), on which the impact of Adorno’s materialism is apparent.
Through a dialoguing of Adornian and contemporary materialisms, three interconnected issues are considered critically. First, by reading Adorno’s work through these materialisms, it is argued that musical materials and materialities might be more fully articulated as potentially active forces in compositional processes (building on DeNora 2003, Paddison 2010, and others); they are not mere passive resources shaped by compositional activity. Second, in contrast with the monism present in many contemporary materialisms, it is argued that by reading these materialisms in light of Adorno’s thinking dialectics proves to be a productive force in thinking through the particularities of musical materials. Third, the question of compositional agency is explored. It is suggested that agency may not be solely the “possession” of the composer – it is also observed in manifold material and historical relations.