Music & Culture Lecture Series

Begun in 2002, MMaP’s Music & Culture Lecture Series presents cutting-edge research by leading scholars in ethnomusicology and allied disciplines. The talks, which are free and open to the public, take place in the MMaP Gallery on the second floor of the John C. Perlin Arts and Culture Centre. Since February 2017, all of the talks in the series have been livestreamed on the MMaP YouTube channel, and videos of past lectures from the series can be viewed there as well.

2023–2024 Lecture Series

By Musical Means:
Cultural Techniques of Disentangling in Littoral Myanmar

Friedlind Riedel (Bauhaus-University Weimar)
Tuesday, September 26, 2023

This talk navigates the conceptual waters between two texts: the commentarial works on the Theravāda Abhidhamma by fifth-century philosopher Buddhaghosa, and the musical drama U Shin Gyi, Lord of Brackish Waters by librettist Ko Maung Gyi, which was published in 1905 and is staged to this day by theatrical companies or lay performers on makeshift stages along Myanmar’s littoral coast.

In keeping with the dramatic setting and the eponymous hero of the second text, the talk sets sail in brackish waters, a zone of elemental indistinction where mangrove swamps interlace land and sea and where heterogeneous domains of clean water and turbid water, nature and culture are quite literally fluid. In entangled worlds such as these, where distinctions and categories are not given in advance in the order of things, a basic principle of Abhidhamma thought becomes evident: namely, that it requires tools and techniques of parsing and disentangling—just like a “man standing on the ground and taking up a well-sharpened knife might disentangle a great tangle of bamboos” as Buddhaghosa puts it—to discern and distinguish fundamental entities, categories, and relations. In the musical drama, the tool at hand is not a knife but a musical instrument, the saung gauk (curved harp). Since harps operate quite differently from knifes and since techniques of music making differ sharply from techniques of mindfulness, these procedures each fashion very distinct modes of existence.

This talk takes propositions from Abhidhamma thought, ones that thoroughly destabilize the epistemic frameworks that undergird much scholarship on music and sound, as its point of departure. Close attention to the operational logic of the Burmese harp, however, complicate any simple correspondence between Buddhist thought and musical practice.

Silence(ing) = Death:
On Ethnomusicology, Queer Studies, and the Monologic Humanities

Stephen Amico (Grieg Academy, University of Bergen)
Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Are ethnomusicology and queer studies—as are so often portrayed—sites of diversity and equity within Western academia?  Or are they, on the contrary, exemplary of deeply problematic, foundational aspects of countless humanities disciplines?  In this lecture, with attention to continuing gendered and colonial epistemic and disciplinary inequities, I enlist the sonic (in its metaphoricity and materiality) as a productive gesture toward imagining and implementing futures for socially engaged, just, and (radically) reimagined sites of inquiry, learning, and creativity.