Publications

Please note that where pdfs of publications are made available below, this is for educational purposes only. 

Books, collections, and dissertation:

New Music and the Crises of Materiality: Sounding Bodies and Objects in Late Modernity (Routledge, in progress).

This book explores the transformation of ideas of the material in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century musical composition. New music of this era is argued to reflect a historical moment when the idea of materiality itself is in flux. Engaging with thinkers such as Theodor Adorno, Sara Ahmed, Zygmunt Bauman, Rosi Braidotti, and Timothy Morton, I consider music’s relationship with changing material conditions, from the rise of neo-liberalisms and information technologies to new concepts of the natural world. Drawing on musicology, cultural theory, and philosophy, I develops a critical understanding of musical bodies, objects, and the environments of their interaction. Music is grasped as something that both registers material changes in society whilst also enabling us to practice materiality differently.

‘Musical Materialisms’, special issue of Contemporary Music Review 39/5. Edited with Matthew Sergeant and Isabella van Elferen (2020).

[First paragraph of the editors’ introduction, in lieu of an abstract] A distinct if diverse musical research area has begun to emerge in recent years. While there is enough common ground to define it as a research field, its objects and themes are not yet delineated, its methodologies are divergent and multi-disciplinary, and its key players dispersed over many areas. These developments and their critical discursive exchanges contribute to the emergence—and contestation—of materialist approaches to music. This area in music research currently takes the shape of an intellectual and creative meeting point, an interest shared by music and sound researchers of differing backgrounds. One can trace in contemporary musical materialisms various genealogies arising from theoretical traditions—prominently including Marxian, Deleuzian, Spinozan, and feminist and queer theoretical perspectives—as well as from contributors working within historical musicology, compositional and performance practice-research, popular music studies, ethnomusicology, and beyond.

Music – Psychoanalysis – Musicology. Edited by Samuel Wilson. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2018.

There is a growing interest in what psychoanalytic theory brings to studying and researching music. Bringing together established scholars within the field, as well as emerging voices, this collection outlines and advances psychoanalytic approaches to our understanding of a range of musics—from the romantic and the modernist to the contemporary popular. Drawing on the work of Freud, Lacan, Jung, Žižek, Barthes, and others, it demonstrates the efficacy of psychoanalytic theories in fields such as music analysis, music and culture, and musical improvisation. It engages debates about both the methods through which music is understood and the situations in which it is experienced, including those of performance and listening. This collection is an invaluable resource for students, lecturers, researchers, and anyone else interested in the intersections between music, psychoanalysis, and musicology.

An Aesthetics of Past-Present Relations in the Experience of Contemporary Art Music’. PhD dissertation. Royal Holloway, University of London, 2013.

Focusing on a selection of musical works from within three genres – symphony, string quartet, and the piano repertoire – I argue that the experience of music from the late 20th and early 21st centuries must be understood in terms of its mediation by the continued presence of the past, not simply through reference to past musical formal materials, but also to the history of experience as musically mediated. Following this logic, I explore a discursive strategy based around philosophical tensions central to the aesthetics of post-Enlightenment musical experience – in particular, the dialectics of nature and culture, and of mind and body. This allows me to interweave closely strands of musicological and philosophical thought, exploring and developing the latter as they have been taken into, exhibited, and played with in a range of late modernist works. I focus on works that draw attention to their historical situatedness, music by Wolfgang Rihm, Helmut Lachenmann, Giya Kancheli, Valentin Silvestrov, Alfred Schnittke, Thomas Adès, Morton Feldman, and Jukka Tiensuu. I draw on, though outline the need to take forward, Theodor Adorno’s understanding of the historical qualities of musical material, yet also foster an understanding of musical experience situated between past and present without recourse to explicitly postmodern quotation or “intertextuality”, something I implicitly critique. Through illustrating points of affinity and convergence between musical works and experiential issues, I pull together seemingly disparate methodological approaches. These include musical semiotics, Critical Theory, embodied phenomenology, and psychoanalytic theory.

Journal articles and reviews

Musical Materialisms (Plural)‘, coauthored with Isabella van Elferen and Matthew Sergeant, editors’ introduction to a special issue of Contemporary Music Review 39/5 on ‘Musical Materialisms’ (2020).

[First paragraph of the editors’ introduction, in lieu of an abstract] A distinct if diverse musical research area has begun to emerge in recent years. While there is enough common ground to define it as a research field, its objects and themes are not yet delineated, its methodologies are divergent and multi-disciplinary, and its key players dispersed over many areas. These developments and their critical discursive exchanges contribute to the emergence—and contestation—of materialist approaches to music. This area in music research currently takes the shape of an intellectual and creative meeting point, an interest shared by music and sound researchers of differing backgrounds. One can trace in contemporary musical materialisms various genealogies arising from theoretical traditions—prominently including Marxian, Deleuzian, Spinozan, and feminist and queer theoretical perspectives—as well as from contributors working within historical musicology, compositional and performance practice-research, popular music studies, ethnomusicology, and beyond.

Strategies of Conquest and Defence: Musical Encounters with the Object in Twentieth-Century Music,’ Journal of the Royal Musical Association 145/2 (2020), pp. 457-484.

Reacting to recent materialist developments in music studies and beyond, I argue for the value of dialectics in accounting for compositional orientations vis-à-vis their objects – be these objects sound-producing, non-human entities, such as musical instruments, or the object that is ‘sound itself ’. Engaging the compositional thought and practice of Busoni, Russolo, Varèse, Cage and Tudor by way of example, I highlight two intersecting tendencies: the first constitutes a presumed mastery over the object in question; the second is suggestive of an exploration of the object on its own terms. Interweaving aspects of post-Marxist and psychoanalytic theory, I argue that, ultimately, our orientation towards the object manifests a negotiation of the self in a changing material world.

[Book review] Tim Rutherford-Johnson, Music After the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture Since 1989.’ Twentieth-Century Music 15/1 (2018), pp. 131-136.

A book review of Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s Music After the Fall.

Notes on Adorno’s “Musical Material” During the New Materialisms’, Music & Letters, Vol. 99/2 (2018): 260–275. https://doi.org/10.1093/ml/gcy002

In this article I develop a dialogue between TheodorW. Adorno’s concept of musical material and aspects of ‘new materialist’ thinking. Correspondences and tensions are explored within and between Adorno’s materialism and contemporary materialist perspectives (with particular reference to Jane Bennett’s ‘vital materialism’). Three main issues are discussed. First, musical materials and materialities are considered as not only passive but, potentially, as active forces in compositional processes. Second, dualisms are considered with respect to compositional practices, discussions of musical material, and their ultimate problematization. Third, the question of compositional agency is explored. Through a dialogue between Adornian and other materialisms, it is suggested that agency may not be solely the ‘possession’ of the composer: it is also observed in a series of diverse material and historical relations.

The Composition of Posthuman Bodies’, International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, special issue on ‘Bodily Extensions and Performance (Avatars, Prosthetics, Cyborgs, Posthumans)’, Vol. 13/2 (2017): pp. 137-152. https://doi.org/10.1080/14794713.2017.1338854

A collision of two thoughts on prostheses provides a point of theoretical ignition for this article: the first is that ‘the musical instrument is a prosthetic augmentation of the human body, enabling the body to exceed itself’ [Johnson, Julian. 2015. Out of Time: Music and the Making of Modernity. Oxford: Oxford University Press]; the second that ‘the posthuman view thinks of the body as the original prosthesis we all learn to manipulate’ [Hayles, N. Katherine. 1999. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press]. I consider how musical prostheses critically bring into focus the cultural and material conditions of recent modernity. I suggest that by compositionally engineering bodies in posthuman terms, one may dissolve the body into its nonhuman extensions, such that it may be, paradoxically, located therein; through engaging, for example, cyborg identities, bodily extensions enable for the body’s possession, in transformed terms, during a historical moment when the embodied nature of the subject is in crisis. Brian Ferneyhough’s Time and Motion Study cycle (1971-1977), in which the composer entangles performers with technological networks, provides a principal frame of musical and historical reference.

After Beethoven, After Hegel: Legacies of Selfhood in Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 4’, International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, 45/2 (2014), pp. 311-334.

Music can articulate ideas of selfhood, as is often illustrated with regard to the ‘Heroic’ works of Beethoven, and the relationship found between Beethoven’s music and Hegel’s philosophy. Alfred Schnittke confronts this tradition in aspects of his String Quartet No. 4 (1989), a work that highlights contemporary music’s subtle and complex relationship with the entangled histories of both music and philosophy. In the second movement of his
quartet, figures of musical closure, as metonymic symbols of musical and subjective self-coherence, are taken as a discursive starting point, as images of an objectified self. Contradictions within this symbolic presentation of selfhood are then opened up dialectically. In so doing, a critical exploration of self-understanding – of its process, reifications, and paradoxes – is performed musically.

 ‘Building an Instrument, Building an Instrumentalist: Helmut Lachenmann’s Serynade’, Contemporary Music Review, Vol. 32/5 (2013), pp. 425-436. https://doi.org/10.1080/07494467.2013.849871

In Helmut Lachenmann’s Serynade (1998, revised 2000), the solo piano is explored as a pianistic resource from which to build a new instrument and new experiential relationships to it. Drawing on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment, I show that implicit to building instruments are encounters with wider aesthetic and historical questions—particularly of the relationships between the body and technology as they mutually mediate one another. As such, Lachenmann’s exploration of pianistic technologies inherently engages with the handed-down embodied relationships that exist between player and instrument—pedagogy—both finding themselves modified and reconfigured in the moment of performance. Instrument and instrumentalist are rebuilt
in relation to one another.

Book chapters

‘Musical Time in a Fast World’, in The Oxford Handbook of Time in Music. Edited by Mark Doffman, Emily Payne, and Toby Young. Oxford: OUP, in press 2021.

In this chapter Wilson addresses the relation between musical temporality and dominant conceptions of time under recent or ‘liquid’ modernity (Bauman, 2000). He argues that the sonic arts (music, sound art, etc.) variously withdraw from and/or embrace normative time-making – thereby critically calling into question our assumptions about lived temporality. Wilson engages two examples, both intimately connected with the city of New York and the year 1983: Morton Feldman’s minimal yet durational String Quartet No. 2, and Bill Fontana’s Oscillating Steel Grids Along the Brooklyn Bridge, the latter of which involved sounds from this bridge (traffic, the metal strut work, etc.) relayed live and broadcast in downtown Manhattan. Both works criss-crossed different temporalities and lived rhythms that contrasted with the speed implicit in 1980s hypercapitalism.

As Ben Highmore (2005) has pointed out, assumptions about the acceleration of modern urban life tend to obscure the temporal contradictions involved in actually living it, as well as artistic reactions against normative assumptions about time as lived. Feldman’s quartet withdrew the listener from regulated time and repetition, and focused instead on duration and the impossibility of repetition. Fontana’s Brooklyn Bridge sonically represented the movements of commuters and commodities, and the physicality of these daily rhythms (Lefebvre, 2004). The work also marked the bridge’s centenary, suggesting that ideas of historical time complicated these more immediate temporal concerns.

Both artworks explored manifold contradictions of musical time and its place in a supposedly ‘fast’ world. Furthermore, these late modern temporalities disturbed the normative teleological, linear temporalities that Karol Berger (2005, 2008) has suggested were constitutive of an earlier stage of musical modernity, and addressed a new context for what Benedict Taylor (2016) calls the ‘problem of time’ in music of the modern age. The chapter therefore contributes to discussions regarding musical time and the cultures of its production.

‘Introduction’ in Music – Psychoanalysis – Musicology. Edited by Samuel Wilson. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2018.

This chapter introduces and contextualises the edited collection. It also explores some key themes in debates interrelating music and psychoanalytic theory.

‘Does the Psychoanalysis of Music Have a “Subject”?’ in Music – Psychoanalysis – Musicology. Edited by Samuel Wilson. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2018.

In this chapter Samuel Wilson explores who or what provides the musical ‘subject’ that is interpreted psychoanalytically. Through a critical reading of a number of historic and contemporary sources, the author highlights perspectival and theoretical connections between psychoanalytic and musicological literatures. Three common trends are identified through the terms tangiblefictional, and fictive. These identities are considered in their interrelation (through acts of identification, for example). The author then problematises these terms in reference to the transindividual themes and processes that are foregrounded in some recent psychoanalytic and musicological writing.

Valentin Silvestrov and the Symphonic Monument in Ruins’ in Transformations of Musical Modernism (eds. Julian Johnson & Erling E. Guldbrandsen), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, pp. 201-220.

This chapter uses the aesthetics of ruination to theorise Silvestrov’s approach to symphonic writing. Moreso, this is developed in order to consider the symphony’s historical and aesthetic situation within the cultural conditions of the late twentieth century.


Conference and seminar papers

‘Musical Encounters with the Object in Twentieth-Century Compositional Thought’, on panel ‘Music and Materialisms: Between Affect, Attitudes, and Affordances’, 54th Royal Musical Association Annual Conference, University of Bristol (Sept. 2018, accepted).

‘Reappraising Musical Materialism and the “Stuff” of Composition’ [invited talk], Guildhall ResearchWorks Series, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, June 2018.

‘Vibrant Matter and Musical Materials’ [invited talk], Sonic Materialities Research Series, Bath Spa University, Jan. 2018.

‘The Composition of Posthuman Bodies’, Tenth Biennial International Conference on Music Since 1900, University of Surrey (Sept. 2017).

Adorno’s Concept of Musical Material During and After the New Materialisms’, 6th Conference of the Royal Musical Association Music and Philosophy Study Group, King’s College London (July 2017 – accepted).

‘Musical Time in a Fast World’, Making Time in Music: an International Conference, University of Oxford (Sept. 2016)

‘New Music, New Materialisms: Musical Material and Materiality after Adorno and during the New Materialisms’ [poster presentation], 52nd Royal Musical Association Annual Conference, Guildhall School of Music and Drama (Sept. 2016).

‘Does the Psychoanalysis of Music Have a “Subject”?’ at Annual Conference of the Royal Musical Association’s Music and Philosophy Study Group, King’s College, University of London (July 2015).

‘Immateriality in the Arts and Practice: Introduction and Framing Statements for Conference Panels’ [stream convenor’s framing statements for three interrelated conference panels] at London Conference in Critical Thought 2015 (Stream: ‘Immateriality in the Arts and Practice’), University College London, University of London (June 2015).

‘New York, 1983: Or, Sounding the Temporal Logic of Late Capitalism’ at London Conference in Critical Thought 2014 (Stream: ‘Time Discipline’), Goldsmiths College, University of London (June 2014).

‘Silvestrov and the Symphonic Monument in Ruins’ at RMA Study Day: Memory in Post-1980s Music: History, Form, Perception, University of York (Feb. 2014).

‘Musical Analysis, Dream Analysis: Silvestrov’s String Quartet No. 1’ at RMA Music and Psychoanalysis Study Day, The University of Liverpool (Nov. 2013).

[Above paper also presented (in an extended form) at Transformations of Musical Modernism International Seminar, Centre Franco-Norvégian en Sciences Sociales et Humaines (Paris, Oct. 2011).]

‘The Object(s) of Musical Experience: Potentials for Cross Disciplinary Dialogues’ London Conference in Critical Thought, Birkbeck Institute of the Humanities, University of London (June 2012).

‘Building an Instrument, Building an Instrumentalist: Helmut Lachenmann’s Serynade for Solo Piano’, Symposium for Performance of Electronic and Experimental Composition: “Building an Instrument”, University of Oxford (Jan. 2012).

‘Confronting Self-Understanding in Alfred Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 4 (Second Movement)’, Postgraduate Day, Royal Holloway, University of London (Nov. 2011).

‘Semiotics of Past and Present in Silvestrov’s String Quartet No. 1: Musical Analysis, Dream Analysis’, Transformations of Musical Modernism International Seminar, Centre Franco-Norvégian en Sciences Sociales et Humaines (Paris) (Oct. 2011).

‘“Bodies of Knowledge”: the Historicity of Expression in Contemporary Music’, Royal Musical Association Student Conference, University of Manchester (Jan. 2011).

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