Taking Pleasure Seriously: Theorising Pleasure and Music



9:00 -- Registration

9:45 -- Welcome and Introduction. Katherine Butler Brown, King’s College London


Panel 1: Valuing Pleasure in Political Thought and Practice

10:00 -- ‘La belleza no está reñida con la revolución’: Luigi Nono’s Politics of Love. Huw Hallam, King’s College London

10:30 -- Talking about Trad: Discourses of Pleasure, Use, and Performance in Traditional Arts Policy Debates in Ireland. Lauren Weintraub Stoebel, CUNY


11:00 -- Coffee


Panel 2: Pleasure, Seriousness and Taste in Popular Music and Dance

11:30 -- Serious Joy: How Vietnam War-Era Protest Songs Invoke Pleasure. Erin R McCoy, University of Louisville

12:00 -- Morrissey and the Importance of Not Being Earnest. Gavin Hopps, University of St Andrews

12:30 -- Unlikely Resemblances: Theorising Dance as a Performance of Musical Tastes. Mary Fogarty, University of East London


1:00 -- Lunch


Panel 3: Pleasure and the Individual in Daily Life and Learning

2:15 -- Pleasure and Detachment in Everyday Music Listening Experiences: Absorption, Dissociation and Involvement. Ruth Herbert, Open University


2:45 -- The Ecstasy of Music Acquisition in a Rajasthani Village. Nicholas Magriel, SOAS


3:30 -- Coffee


4:00 -- Informal Responses and General Discussion.

Caroline Bithell, University of Manchester;

Matthew Head, King’s College London; TBC;

Katherine Butler Brown, King’s College London


5:00 -- Closing Remarks





The conference will be held in Room K2.31 (Lecture Theatre 2C), in the King’s Building, Strand Campus, King’s College London. Directions to the Strand Campus may be found here, and on Google Maps using King’s postcode WC2R 2LS. The Strand Campus is next door to Somerset House and directly opposite the Indian and Australian High Commissions.


Tube and Rail:


The closest London Underground (tube) stations are Temple (District & Circle), Holborn (Piccadilly, Central), and Charing Cross (Bakerloo, Northern).


If you are catching trains to the capital, take the following tube lines from these mainline stations:

Waterloo – walking distance across Waterloo Bridge

Victoria – District & Circle

Paddington – Bakerloo

King’s Cross / St Pancras – Piccadilly

Euston – Northern

Liverpool Street – Central



If you are flying into Heathrow, by far the cheapest route into Central London is via the Tube; take the Piccadilly Line to Holborn. The quickest route is the Heathrow Express to Paddington and then the Bakerloo Line to Charing Cross. Gatwick and Stansted are served by mainline trains to Victoria and Liverpool Street respectively. Taxis from Heathrow to Central London are in excess of £60 one way.




The central London coach station for long-distance buses is at Victoria. For local bus routes, see the London Bus maps available on the Transport for London website http://www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/9440.aspx




There is no car parking available at KCL Strand Campus (but please email the convenor if you have a registered disability). We strongly advise you not to bring a car into Central London.





Should you need to book overnight accommodation, we recommend the Penn Club in Bedford Place, a ten-minute walk from the conference venue - it’s best to book by telephone.


Central London is packed full of hotels catering for every taste and budget. There are numerous websites offering hotel listings, reviews and contact details, such as Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum.


Please email katherine.r.brownatkcl.ac.uk

 for any further information about the conference. We are very much looking forward to welcoming you to King’s in November.



Original call for papers follows


You are cordially invited to the annual One-Day Conference of the British Forum of Ethnomusicology, which will be held on Saturday 7 November 2009, at King's College London in the Strand:

Taking Pleasure Seriously: Theorising Pleasure and Music

King’s College London, Saturday 7 November 2009

Convenor: Dr Katherine Butler Brown, katherine.r.brownatkcl.ac.uk

CALL FOR PAPERS (Deadline for abstracts, Monday 31 August 2009)

Taking pleasure in music is a cross-cultural phenomenon; indeed, it has a proven neurological basis. But these pleasures have also, in many cultures, long been subject to aesthetic discourses about the nature of music and its peculiar powers for good and for ill. They are often multiple: in the sociability of dance; in the seduction of love song; in ecstatic union with the Divine beloved. Pleasures are there too in analysing what makes music meaningful to people; in burying oneself in the notes; in finding an uncut diamond in the dust of the archive. Even the most extreme grindcore or the most taxing avant-garde composition affords its aficionados highly cultivated aesthetic, intellectual and social pleasures. Beneath and beyond music’s ritual functions, its significations, and its connections with wider society, the most fundamental reason we listen to and think about music is because it gives us pleasure.

And yet, many music scholars still seem uncomfortable about taking music’s pleasures seriously – about examining this most important of music’s affordances in its own right. There are, of course, illuminating exceptions. But music’s pleasures seem too often to be reduced to the erotic, or invoked as an ethnographic deity, or hedged around, or altogether absent. We seem to be hamstrung by two problems with the word pleasure itself: its post-Enlightenment associations with the trivial and optional, with “non-essential” leisure as opposed to “essential” work; and on the other hand, its recently intensified erotic connotations – after Sontag, Barthes, Lacan and Foucault, pleasure in the arts has ever more insistently been folded into the erotic, to the exclusion of other kinds of pleasures, and the continued severance of the realm of pleasure from the realm of so-called “serious” concerns.

Yet other cultures, at other times, have treated the domain of pleasure not as a pendant to the domain of work, but as its indispensable antithesis, essential to the functioning of good government: of the self, of social relations and of the state. A starting position for this conference might be the proposition that our understanding of any of the world’s musics, past or present, is weakened if we do not take all of music’s pleasures seriously, and consider their capacity to undertake serious work in human affairs. To do so, however, means thinking our way beyond the current dualism of work vs. leisure, transcendence vs. triviality; and beyond the honey-trap of music’s erotic pleasures, however important. Ideas for papers might include:

Examining current problems in theorising pleasure and music, e.g.:

· Have ethnomusicologists, faced with the West’s association of the “exotic” with sexuality, had to occlude music’s pleasures in favour of social function in order for non-Western musics to be taken seriously?
· Has musicology had to insist on the “seriousness” of art music to earn respect as a scholarly discipline?

· Do recent examinations of pleasure in popular music offer new paradigms for studying other kinds of music? Or are they still dependent upon a dualism that insists on the inconsequentiality of pleasure?

· Do studies in the area of music cognition offer ways forward?

· What might be the implications for music studies of foregrounding the pleasures of music?


Conceptualising alternative theoretical approaches to pleasure and music, e.g.:

· How do we begin to dismantle the trivial–transcendent dualism in music?

· What alternative frames do other cultures employ in thinking about and practicing pleasure in music?

· How do we move beyond the erotic without diminishing its importance in music? How do we conceptualise other pleasures in music, and the significant role they may have to play in human affairs?

· How can we begin to think and write about music’s pleasures in and of themselves? Or is it still necessary to read them as fundamentally connected to other human domains, e.g. politics, economics, society?

· What other discourses can we draw on to illuminate the relationships between music and its pleasures?

· What vital work do music’s pleasures perform in human societies?

If you have been thinking seriously about the relationship between pleasure and any of the world’s musics, we would welcome a proposal for a 20-minute paper from you.

Please send abstracts of 300 words, including AV requirements, by Monday 31 August to Dr Katherine Butler Brown, Department of Music, King’s College London, Strand, WC2R 2LS; email katherine.r.brownatkcl.ac.uk


Conference dates: 
7 Nov 2009
King's College London (Strand)