Friday, February 12, 2010

Cold War and Music Session, AMS 2010

Greetings Cold Warriors! Paper proposals are being accepted for this year's study group session to be held at the annual meeting of the AMS in Indianapolis. The deadline for proposals is March 1st and can be sent to me (Ryan Dohoney) at coldwarpanel2010 at gmail dot com.

The Cold War and Music Study Groups
Evening panel and discussion session
AMS Annual Meeting 2010, Indianapolis

The Cold War Sensorium: Sound, Affect, Politics

The archive of Cold War history is marked by emotionally charged rhetoric. Phrases like “the Red Scare” and “the Age of Anxiety” suggest an historical present shot through with crisis ordinariness—a longue durĂ©e of negative affect coursing through bodies politic. Other Cold War tropes—the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction, homosexual suspicion, and the culture of feminine sentimentality—locate daily life as a site for the negotiation of politics, intimacy, and mortal danger. Air raid drills, political rallies, and protests, too, were defined by sonic presence, affective intensity, and political engagement.

This panel invites scholars to consider the role of sound and affect in such scenes of crisis. Panelists might consider how Cold War era events were marked by aesthetic response, how sound enabled the production of politicized emotion, or what sort of soundscapes musical performances, improvisations, recordings, and compositions delineated. The panel does not seek to assert the hegemony of political anxieties and negative affects, but will hopefully provide alternate ways of articulating how sounds were heard and felt in the postwar decades. Papers might also question how a focus on ordinary events as well as their sonic and affective environments afford a view of Cold War culture that is less totalizing and more locally descriptive.

Please send short proposals (.doc or .pdf) of no more than 250 words to coldwarpanel2010 at gmail dot com by March 1st.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Belated Reflections on Philadelphia

I was delighted to see so many papers on topics related to music and the Cold War at this year’s AMS meeting—far more, it seemed to me—than in previous years. In addition to the Cold War and Music Study Group panel, there was a full session dedicated to “Reds.” Also scattered throughout the program were papers dealing with themes at least indirectly related to Cold War culture: postmodernism, musical borrowing and appropriation, film music, opera, and American experimental music. And even if they did not deal with the Cold War (directly or indirectly), a number of other presentations examined music written and performed during the Cold War period.

I confess: at times I need to remind myself not to equate post-1945 topics with Cold War topics. Nonetheless, is it possible to draw a meaningful distinction between studying “the Cold War and Music” and simply music that happened to be composed or performed during the Cold War? Indeed, the Cold War and Music Study Group has defined its work quite generally; according to its original mission statement (found on its original website),

Topics that fall under the rubric of the “Cold War and Music” include, but are not limited to: music composed under the encouragement of governmental or non-governmental agencies that explicitly engaged with the ideological issues of the Cold War… musical styles that tacitly or implicitly engaged with the social, political, or economic issues of the Cold War… as well as music that was produced outside of either the United States or the U.S.S.R., but was nonetheless involved with political or social issues emanating from those superpowers… Music both “high” and “low,” “art” and “popular,” “cultivated” and “vernacular,” is open to discussion. The period of the Cold War is generally considered to extend from 1945-1991, though material from either the pre-Cold War or post-Cold War period that engages with the central issues of the Cold War and the arts is welcome. Issues of aesthetics, signification, representation, politics, economics, historiography, and biography are only some of the possible avenues for further discussion and research, while a wide range of methodologies are encouraged, including musical analysis, archival research, and hermeneutic, ethnomusicological, and oral-historical approaches.

In light of this rather broad definition of the “Cold War and Music,” it should not be surprising that most recent research has focused more on the what of Cold War music than the how of research methodologies. The diversity of Cold War research was in part what inspired this year’s topic for the Cold War and Music Study Group panel, “Music Historiography in Cold War Contexts.” The principal aim of the panel was to offer a forum for discussing the broader historiographical, methodological, and ethical issues that scholars on Cold War music face. Over the course of the session, a number of general themes and questions emerged:

1. Most Cold War scholarship linking music with the global political climate has focused on the U.S./Soviet polarity. Tamara Levitz questioned this model at the CWMSG session two years ago, and the matter emerged again at this year’s panel. As Heather Wiebe pointed out in her presentation, less attention has been paid to the relationship between post-1945 musical development and the decline of British (and, I would add, French) imperialism. What implications does this more complicated international picture have for musicological research on both the developed and developing world?

2. Lee Bidgood, Wiebe, Elaine Kelly, and Hon-Lun Yang all discussed various forms of musical appropriation and resignification: Czech bluegrass, Benjamin Britten’s interest in Asian music, canonic reception in the GDR, and the celebration of western classical masters in China. (Lisa Jakelski and Beate Kutschke examined similar issues in the session “Looking Forward, Looking Back.”) What connections, if any, might exist between the appropriation of the foreign and the appropriation of the past (real or imagined)? How might we balance an inquiry into the general phenomenon of postwar musical borrowing with an approach that situates borrowing practices within a specific political, cultural, and even biographical context?

3. Marcus Zagorski argued that serial and post-serial composers shared a belief in an objective dictate of musical progress, in which “the objective dictate of historical progress, which was not determined by human actions but, rather, determined human actions.” How does this Geist compare with narratives of musical progress in the Eastern Bloc? How do the obvious political and philosophical differences between East and West complicate any similarities we might find? Might such similarities serve as reminder of a shared intellectual history prior to 1945?

4. The Cold War is recent enough that many of the people we study are still alive. How do we balance archival work with musical study, ethnography with historiography? Although many individual musicologists have already integrated oral histories into their research, there has been little open discussion of these methodologies or their implications for scholarship—at least to the extent that ethnomusicologists and anthropologists have dealt with these issues in recent decades. Yet determining the relationships between Cold War scholarship and Cold War survivors is one of our most urgent tasks, particularly as the ranks of living witnesses dwindle by the day. As Amy Wlodarski noted during the discussion period, Cold War scholars would do well to look to studies of the Holocaust, which have examined similar questions of memory, narrative, and trauma.

5. How do we define “Cold War” music—and, by extension, Cold War musicology? Could this label apply to any aspect of musical composition, performance, reception, patronage, etc. between 1945 and the early 1990s? Is it possible (and even desirable) to study music that was written during the Cold War while sidestepping the Cold War context? While an overly simplified model that ties everything back to Cold War politics is obviously to be avoided, it seems to me that a constant awareness of the Cold War context is necessary—even in topics that seem less overtly “political.” After all, it wasn’t until the 1990s that musicologists have generally acknowledged the political subtexts of supposedly apolitical modernism.

6. Finally, to what extent do lingering Cold War anxieties continue to influence current research directions—indeed, is this unavoidable?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

AMS 2009: Philadelphia

Music Historiography in Cold War Contexts
Saturday, 14 November, 9:00am–noon
Logans I

[[ Click on the presenter's name to view each abstract, or download the abstracts here. ]]

Laura Silverberg, A-R Editions, Organizer and Respondent
Lee Bidgood, University of Virginia
Elaine Kelly, Edinburgh University
Heather Wiebe, University of Virginia
Hon-Lun Yang, Hong Kong Baptist University
Marcus Zagorski, University College, Cork

Nearly two decades have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of communism in Eastern Europe, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The passing of time has enabled musicologists to approach the Cold War with increasing critical distance, and recent publications and conference presentations offer more nuanced perspectives on the relationship between musical, social, and political developments after the Second World War. Yet Cold War prejudices still risk coloring scholarly investigations into the music of this era.

The assembled panelists will discuss a web of themes relating to music historiography and the Cold War. In particular, this session will consider constructions of the past that emerged after 1945, present-day musicological narratives of the Cold War, and competing conceptions of the musical canon. Panelists will draw from their own research to address the following questions: How did composers and musicians conceive of their musical past, and how did they position their own activities within these carefully constructed historical trajectories? How have authoritarian regimes defined and appropriated the musical heritage? What processes enabled certain musical works to be accepted as part of a musical canon during the Cold War? Finally, what are effective strategies for studying the music of authoritarian regimes, where access to information is carefully controlled?

The research of the assembled panelists reflects diverse geographic regions, methodologies (from archival research to participant observation), and musical genres. Marcus Zagorski ("Historical Narrative and Aesthetic Judgment: Serial and Post-serial Music in West Germany") will examine how composers active in West Germany during the 1950s and 1960s believed that the techniques with which they worked were prescribed by history rather than subjectively chosen. His paper cites examples of this conception of history and outlines its effects upon aesthetic judgments in the period. Elaine Kelly ("Conceptions of Canons in a Post-Cold War Climate: Interpreting Narratives of the Past in the GDR") will explore the limitations of assessing East German music according to aesthetic criteria shaped by the hegemonic "western" canon. In the process, she will suggest alternative means of interpreting narratives o the past in Cold War and post-Cold War contexts. Heather Wiebe ("Britain's Cold War") will examine how some of the Cold War's most pressing issues were addressed in a specifically British context. Focusing on Britten's treatment of themes of communication and freedom, as posed against the forces of both capitalism and totalitarianism, she suggests that the particularity of British cultural responses to postwar modernity complicates familiar dichotomies of populist and avant-garde, East and West. Lee Bidgood ("Czech Bluegrass Music, Ethnography, and the Liminal Presence of the Past") will examine how three generations of Czech bluegrass musicians active both during and after the Cold War conceived of their music in terms of an imagined "American" past. Drawing from her research experience in the People's Republic of China, Hon-Lung Yang ("Researching Music in the People's Republic of China") will reflect on the contemporary challenges of studying music of an authoritarian regime, dealing with government censorship, and confronting the socialist worldview ingrained in Chinese historiography.