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Argument (en)

Origin-musics: Argument (en)

Origin-musics. 1st International Symposium of the POLIMUS program

Part of the Cluster of Excellence (Labex) “Pasts in the Present: history, heritage, memory”


1-2 October 2015

Université Paris Ouest Nanterre, Maison de l'Archélogie et de l'Ethnologie (MAE), "Salle du Conseil" (4th Floor)

The quest to reconstruct the styles and histories of musical genres of the past is an old preoccupation. Since the 19th century, the orientalist imaginary contributed considerably to the notion of the existence of “origin-musics”. Whether “Pharaonic,” “Arab,” or “Hindu,” a common reference to the past, seen as prestigious and immutable, contributed to the rationalization of musical knowledge on the basis of constructed connections. The orientalist period being relatively well documented, this workshop is more focused on ways of speaking of and describing the past over the course of the 20th century and into the 21st. Bringing anthropologists and historians together, it encourages not only a particular emphasis on the process of recounting the past as-such, but also the specific processes involved the narrative’s construction. We will focus on constructs emerging from scientific disciplines like musicology and musical archaeology, and those playing out within artistic creation itself – both areas that are also tied in with local, national, and international political stakes.

In so doing, we will explore the kinds of narrative of the past that correspond to three priority fields of study:


1) The construction of a narrative of a musical genre’s origins and relatives through discursive-type accounts


Musicological conferences and the processes that rationalized musical theories into the “classical” arts over the 20th century will provide examples, from the emergence of nationalist movements in the 1930s through the development of heritage policy in the 1980s. Case studies will mainly be based on the construction of specialized knowledge, such as “musical notation” and other forms of music theory (such as rhythmic and melodic classifications) that provide substance to the narrative.


2) Musical performances, observed in situ, that narrate past events


The ethnography of the “oral histories” developed within various musical practices will place particular emphasis on the narrative’s pragmatic dimensions and the forms of attachment their narrators have with the real or supposed past of their community. Particular attention will be given to the forms of vocality employed, what forms performances take, their intrinsic emotional charge, and the range of appropriations of the past that they mobilize.


3) Reconstructions of lost musical practices


The desire to make ancient melodies heard came with the development of musical archaeology over the course of the 20th century, not to mention an output of performances and recordings that knew a certain success with the general public. Unlike the preceding field of study, this creative process is not part of a living musical tradition. Efforts to reconstruct the musical genres of antiquity will provide an interesting case study of narration and staging of the past based on examples of copies of instruments from Pharaonic and Greco-Roman antiquity. They will show how these replicas are based on the overlapping study of many sources (notation, materials, iconography, execution, and playing techniques) to rediscover lost sonorities.


Within these three fields and not aiming to be exhaustive, workshop organizers anticipate the use of a variety of musical media (notations, classifications, vocal textures, instruments, etc.) to identify the complex articulations they establish between discourse and practice, as so many forms of particular experiments connecting past and present.


Keywords: Music, History, narratives, performance, instruments reconstructions, ethnomusicology, Antiquity