Conference reports

Conference report by Thomas Graves

In a sectoral atmosphere which has seen music departments closing and shrinking opportunities for music research, this year’s theme, the impacts of ethnomusicology, is urgent. This conference has truly shown the wide breadth of impacts ethnomusicology can have in the world. Presentations explored relationships between music/sound and  the climate crisis, mental health, decolonisation, deforestation, political movements, poverty, migration, access, EDI, and technological change, to mention just a few. But it is not only the impacts of music on the wider world, and of the world on music that are of concern to ethnomusicologists now. It is also for ethnomusicologists to themselves take action and do what they can to conduct research that has a positive impact in the world: for people, musics, and planet. Therefore, it was also wonderful to learn of so many projects doing just this – projects making music more accessible, projects connecting people with the natural world through music, projects using music to connect people with each other, and many others. The excellent keynote speech from Professor Beverley Diamond covered a great many of these topics, while also highlighting the need to be aware of both the positive and negative impacts of ethnomusicological work. The conference took place, for the first time in the history of the BFE, in the Republic of Ireland, at University College Cork.

Beverley Diamond presenting the keynote address " Spaces of Impact". Photo by Liu Tianyu.

For me, one of the most thought-provoking and coherent panels of the weekend was entitled “species in counterpoint”. This panel included three papers addressing the theme of musical relationships between humans and non-human life. Rowan Bayliss Hawitt explored community music groups working with folk music and the natural environment in England and Scotland, showing both how such things intend to connect people to land, and how they may actually contribute to harming the animals they seek to act in solidarity with. Similarly, Andrew Green considered the relationship between acoustic violence and environmental loss, in his discussion of how the sounds of chainsaws are heard in Ajusco, Mexico City, and how this helps halt deforestation.

Rowan Bayliss-Hawitt presenting her talk "Fiddling While the World Burns? Sounding out Multispecies Accountability in Ethnomusicological Research" in the "species in counterpoint" session. Photo by Leandro Pessina.

Similar considerations of the relationships between positive and negative impacts played out in many of the papers and in Beverly Diamond’s keynote speech. Discussions of EDI, decolonization, and accessibility of music all touched upon this. Sunday morning’s roundtable from Sheffield’s Access Folk project demonstrated a rigourous but humane way of both including research participants as co-creators of research, and mobilizing ethnomusicological research to produce tangible, positive change in peoples’ musical and social lives. They described a process beginning with gathering information about the demographics of folk music performance and putting together a team of co-researchers including folk musicians and organisers, then of collecting further information about the accessibility of folk music through focus groups and participants interviewing people they know, and finally an action phase in which small grants are distributed according to the needs of local musical projects. While such projects require large amounts of funding, they present an interesting approach to the impact ethnomusicological research can have. Other similar approaches to accessibility and representation in music making were explored by Tenley Martin’s presentation on the Bradford Dhol Project or Daniel Woodfield’s presentation “Queering Cornish Song”, in which he explores a collaborative process of making Cornish song lyrics more inclusive. Turning to the context of Namibia, Amanda Bayley and Perminus Matiure explained how teaching of traditional music and skills in instrument crafting could both divert young people from the dangers of drug use, and find them a source of income in the local tourism industry.

Roundtable: "Laying foundations for Impact: Access Folk, Participatory Research and the Ethics of Change". Pictured left to right: Jonathan Stock (organizer), Daniel Woodfield (audience), panel -Rebecca Draisey-Collishaw, Chris Butler, Morag Butler, Roary Skaista, Kirsty Kay, Esbjörn Wettermark. Discussant on the right of the room – Alexander Douglas. Pictured online via Zoom – Cat McGill (top) and Fay Hield (bottom). Photo by Liu Tianyu.

Amanda Bayley presenting "Transforming Lives through Ethnomusicological Engagement in Kwando, Namibia" in the "soundly organized humanity" session (Perminus Matiure attending online - off-screen). Photo by Liu Tianyu.

Despite a few absences from musicians who were unable to make it at the last minute, the conference had its usual warmth and produced many fascinating conversations. There was a particularly strong group of postgraduate students this year, putting forward a wide range of new ideas for the field to consider. It was over almost too quickly, but at least there is next year to look forward to in Cambridge, with Fiorella Montero-Diaz as the new BFE chair.

Report by George O. Speck

Running from 10-12th January at Cardiff University, the collaborative nature of the BFE-RMA Conference always leads to an environment of fruitful interdisciplinarity. This year was no different, and a wonderful way to kick off the new calendar year. Whilst presenters unable to travel were able to make use of Zoom, 2024 also adopted a fully in-person format for attendees, allowing us to all benefit from free-flowing conversations in coffee and lunch breaks. Not to mention a fabulous trip to Tŷ Cerdd (Music Centre Wales) and the Wales Millennium Centre for those on-the-ball enough to sign up in time!

Over 3 days the conference played host to a staggering 80 postgraduate papers, 4 electroacoustic performances (music by Stephen Jackson Banks, Jérémie Martineau, Rachael Gibson and Juan Hernández), 4 training discussions, 2 keynotes, musical workshops and panels, and one captivating evening concert (the wonderful Trio Anima, performing music by John Dowland, Nathan James Dearden, Hilary Tann and Claude Debussy). The presentations and recitals were divided into 30 sessions by theme, all tied together by the common concept of ‘Identity’.

There was a clear sense that the quality of student research on show was outstanding, and a number of sessions that I attended tied in to ‘Identity’ in especially interesting ways. At one of the opening sessions, the methodological contrast between Anna Tharia’s (University of Liverpool) historically grounded investigation of the ‘Relationship Between Place and Class Identity in the Beatles’ Ascent to Fame’, and Luigi Monteanni’s (SOAS, University of London) ethnographic deep-dive into the connection between ‘Extreme Metal Ideology’ and ‘Countryside Imagery in West Java’ showcased the advantage of the broad theme, with the resultant discussion benefitting from the input of multiple backgrounds.

Dr E. Falade, presenting on “Queering the Black Musical Atlantic”. Photo by BFE/RMA Twitter page.

A personal favourite was the session grounded by our geography and dedicated to Welsh Perspectives, in which Isabel Grace Thomas (University of Newcastle), Fenella Briggs (Cardiff University) and Roddy O’Keeffe (MTU Cork School of Music) delivered papers on the ‘Tensions between Industrial Heritage and Music Practices in Working Men's Clubs of the South Wales Valleys’, ‘Welsh National Identity, Music and the Master at the Investiture of the Prince of Wales, 1969’ and ‘The Guinness Choir at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, 1964 and 1967’, respectively. As we return to fully in-person conferencing, special mention must also go to those who travelled from afar to be with us this year. For instance, Kelwin Mateus Monteiro (University of Aveiro) travelled all the way from India to present on the construction of a New Historical Identity of Goa in Dulpods.

This year’s evening keynotes were given by Dr Gabrielle Messeder (City, University of London) and Dr Saeid Kordmafi (SOAS, University of London). Reflecting the interdisciplinary setting, the presenters had diverging approaches to their musical study. On the Wednesday, Dr Messeder showed us the continuing value of ethnography as explorations of the praxis of musical communities. The explored cases of samba musicians in the Lebanese wedding industry are stark examples of both the musical and practical issues that performers working in diasporic communities continue to face, from the need to ‘tropicalise’ their work to the pressure they can face from immigration regulations.

Dr Gabrielle Messeder, delivering the Jerome Roche Keynote Lecture. Photo by BFE/RMA Twitter page.

The day after, Dr Kordmafi provided sharp insight into the value of Artistic Research as a means of exploring and transforming a musical style and community. In his case, this was a move to revive an Iranian classical style perceived as stagnant by incorporating ‘transnationality’ and increasing rhythmic interplay in improvisations. Both presentations were grounded in the scholars’ own experiences and were supplemented with useful video examples to directly highlight the phenomena under discussion. This contributed to an impressive clarity of message in both keynotes, aided further by the speakers’ impressive responses to questions from their audience.

Dr Saeid Kordmafi’s BFE Keynote. Photo by BFE/RMA Twitter page.

On top of the excellent scholarly content, the presentation skill level on display was also noticeably high. I would personally reserve special commendation for those who were doing so for the first time in their careers, all of whom took to the task of delivering their research naturally. I wouldn’t have been able to work out who the first-timers were, such was their ability to deliver their research like an experienced speaker!

Jimmy Goeijenbier, playing as a part of a lecture-recital on Performing the Commissioned Works of the Dublin International Piano Competition. Photo by BFE/RMA Twitter page.

Another highlight were the two practical workshops of Javanese Gamelan and Collective Improvisation, providing a delightful contrast to the surrounding presentations and grounding the conference through their focus on practical music-making. We also benefitted from four training sessions, a great forum for postgraduates to hear the practical expertise of established scholars in areas such as academic resilience, the path to successful publishing and chairing sessions at conferences. The final day also included an insightful panel discussion on the challenges that scholars can face freely expressing viewpoints within the field, notable for its focus on the realistic action that can be taken in this area. All of these discussions were incredibly useful for early-career scholars as they look to enter and contribute to the academic industry in meaningful ways.

Javanese Gamelan workshop. Photo by BFE/RMA Twitter page

The warmest of thanks must be given to all the students and staff at Cardiff University who worked tirelessly to help deliver a wonderful three days of idea-exchange for the postgraduate musical community. Thanks also goes to the technology team, both for their role in facilitating the smooth running of slides and their facilitation of online presentations, without which several of us would not have been able to share our research. They now pass the BFE-RMA torch on to the University of Aberdeen, who are due to host the 2025 edition.


Bio: George Speck is a second year PhD candidate at City, University of London. His research focuses on the experiences of jazz musicians participating in Networked Music Performances.


Report by Charlotte Schuitenmaker

BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference 2023 – Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne

What a pleasure it was to start off 2023 with yet another in-person BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference. Hosted by Northumbria University, many of us made our way to Newcastle upon Tyne – with the additional online day for those unable to attend in person, facilitating an inclusive and more environmentally-friendly event.

With this year’s theme “Borderlands,” I was excited to see a variety of papers on the programme covering global as well as local insights of music-making crossing, blurring, and (re-)imagining borders in the areas of gender, disciplines, nation, landscape, and, of course, musical genre. On the first day (online), Monday 9th, the RMA EDI Working Group facilitated an important session on EDI (Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion) that combined contributions from Amy Blier-Carruthers, Diljeet Bhachu, Shzr Ee Tan and Laudan Nooshin. For those interested, the Music Higher Education EDI report which was discussed in the session can be found here:

This was followed by the first in-person day of the conference (Tuesday 10th): full of excitement and ready to fill our newly acquired notebooks (thanks Northumbria University!), we kicked off the day with panels on language, genre, and musical institutions. Luigi Monteanni (SOAS University of London), for example, set the tone with his enthusiastic energy exploring genre formations between Réak and Extreme Metal in West Java. Directing our focus from Bandung to Berlin, Kirsten Etheridge (Oxford Brookes University) followed with an in-depth exploration of David Bowie on the New Romantics. Michael Saunders (Northumbria University) closed one of the first in-person sessions with a valuable contribution on the collaboration between Charles Mingus Jr and Joni Mitchell, deconstructing ideas on cultural appropriation and gender issues.

A music conference isn’t a music conference without an engaging form of music education. Yanyi Lu (University of Hull) managed to make the whole room sing in Chinese, enriching my personal Chinese vocabulary with words such as ni hao and xie xie (we all have to start somewhere!) through the children’s song “Are You Sleeping?”. She convincingly explored the connections between language acquisition and singing and showcased a variety of teaching techniques.

Eimear Hurley presenting on music education in Yorkshire. Photo by author.

The first keynote address of this conference was delivered by Professor Juan Diego Díaz (BFE, University of California, Davis) titled: “Traveling Together: Reflections on Accompanied Ethnomusicological Fieldwork in West Africa”. This inspiring talk presented an insight into Professor Díaz’s fieldwork processes, that entailed travelling to various communities connected over ancestral ties: Brazil’s Bahia, Togo and Benin, together with Tabom musician and master drummer Eric Odwarkei Morton. He showed us the diasporic connections within Tabom populations while exploring intricacies around issues such as cultural authenticity and the bureaucracy around the selection process of the chosen travelling musician, Eric. This journey is also presented in the form of a documentary:

We continued the conference on day 3 (Wednesday 11th) with the first panel in Northumbria University’s Great Hall, which started the day off right with Ke Ma’s (Guildhall School of Music and Drama) presentation illustrating the ways in which Chinese musical influences have shaped Western piano music. She demonstrated her argument with beautiful live piano-playing, exploring Chinese cultural influences in these compositions.

Leandro Pessina presenting on music tourism. Photo by BFE/RMA Twitter page

The third day was packed with 17 different panels, covering a wide range of topics including cultural heritage, composition, place, and a variety of workshops. While Rowan Bayliss Hawitt (University of Edinburgh) explored the relations between geology and Scottish Folk Music through an important focus on Deep Time in our current time of climate crisis, Ruari Paterson-Achenbach (University of Cambridge) investigated affective listening experiences through music by singer-songwriter Connie Converse. Ruari aims to explore alternative forms of (queer) knowledge making through intuition and intimacy.

A very welcome session was the “What Next?” training, convened by Dr Núria Bonet (RMA, University of Plymouth) joined by panellists Hannah Rowe (Routledge) and Dr Clare Seymour (Trinity College London), with impromptu input from Dr Matthew Machin-Autenrieth (BFE, University of Aberdeen). This session provided insights on potential avenues post-PhD: the world of (academic) publishing, what it entails to be a music examiner, how to obtain that teaching opportunity, and tips and tricks around postdoc applications. I am sure I am not alone in saying that this was a much-valued addition to the programme tailored towards postgraduate students.

The second keynote was delivered by Dr Brianne Dolce (RMA, University of Oxford) with her presentation titled “In Search of Women in Medieval Music History”, providing us an insight into musical engagement by women in the medieval Low Countries. Often not included in music histories, Dr Dolce illustrates that women did indeed very much participate in musical life, such as those living in beguines for example. With this, she reveals alternative histories of medieval musical cultures. We celebrated a great third conference day with drinks and (an abundance of) nibbles, and finished the day where we started: in the Great Hall where Trio Northumbria played pieces by J.S. Bach, Zoltan Kodály and Ernest John Moeran.

And how time flies! Day 4 (Thursday 12th) included panels on environment, women, and instruments. Dieter Hearle (University of Plymouth), for example, showcased a brilliant sonification of the Plymouth buoys’ light sequences, which led him to build a computer game exploring alternative tools for music composition. Those fortunate enough to register for the IKO workshop on time had the pleasure of listening to sounds through the first IKO icosahedral loudspeaker in the UK. This loudspeaker makes sounds “move” in various directions, an experience not to forget! We finished this year’s BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference with final panels, which included topics such as ambient and environmental Japanese music by Matthew James (SOAS University of London) and an engaging exploration of the global race for the world’s largest pipe organ by Michael Koenig (University of Oxford).

The IKO speaker. Photo by author.

It was a successful edition, and we must give a very special thanks to this year’s hosts at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne. Next year’s BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference will take place at Cardiff University on 10-12 January 2024. See you then!


Report by Charlotte Schuitenmaker (SOAS University of London)

Report by Ellen Stokes

The annual BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference, a collaborative event between the British Forum for Ethnomusicology and the Royal Musical Association, was held at the University of Plymouth from 6-8 January 2022. The conference is always a wonderful opportunity for graduate researchers to present their work, with a wide array of topics and approaches to music facilitated through the combined interests of the organising associations. The conference ran in a hybrid format, allowing for researchers who were unable to travel to attend, as well as fostering the in-person conference feeling that we have all been missing in the last couple of years! Both the staff and students at the University of Plymouth worked hard across the conference to ensure a smooth running of this hybrid set-up, which made for a largely successful interaction between those in the room and those on Zoom.

Over the course of the three days, there was an extraordinary array of topics presented, with 35 sessions comprised of 88 student papers, compositions, and lecture-recitals. Topics ranged from eighteenth-century music and opera to country and pop music, performance practice, current compositional outputs, responses to the pandemic, and the Porthcawl Elvis Festival. Complementing these student-led sessions were keynote lectures and training sessions that gave further insight and support regarding academic life and ECR trajectories. Finally, two composition sessions with the Hermes Experiment and electroacoustic composers showed the wide range of research carried out in the field.

Two keynote lectures were given at the conference:  Dr Amanda Hsieh’s ‘From Hasegawa’s Terakoya to Weingartner’s Die Dorfshule’, and Dr Lyndsey Copeland’s ‘On Touching: Techniques of the ear in online genres’. Both papers presented contrasting topics and approaches to research, reflecting the interdisciplinary setting fostered by the collaboration of the BFE and RMA. I found the breadth of these topics particularly engaging in their approaches to the subjects, presenting work that was stimulating both in terms of content and research strategies. Hsieh’s RMA keynote used Hasegawa and Weingartner’s works as anchors for a wider discussion on Japanese-German relations in the early twentieth century, weaving together aspects of politics, cultural exchange, and gender studies to present a fascinating insight into the musical and historical links between these two nations. On the opposite side of the research spectrum, Copeland’s BFE keynote focussed on the contemporary topic of digital media for private listening. Inspired by the rise in ASMR and its associated genres throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Copeland guided her audience through this online world and the technologies utilised to combine social and scientific studies focussed around the auditory role of the ear in such intimate settings.

We were fortunate to have the expertise of these keynote speakers not only for their own research presentations, but also for a Q&A training session. It was a great opportunity to hear about the career trajectories of both academics, and ask our own questions as to pursuing academia and for the advice of two researchers who have both been through the post-doctoral/ early career stages recently. Other training sessions organised throughout the conference included a session on mental health for research students, which included the official launch of the new RMA-affiliated Music and Mental Health Group, run alongside a session about the EDIMS Parenting and Caring Working Group, as well as training on Articulating Practice Research. These training sessions covered a wide range of focusses, and it was good to see attention on the holistic as well as academic across the conference.

Due to the wide-ranging parallel sessions that ran across the three days, I am not able to comment on all sessions, however will focus on some of the papers and panels that particularly stood out to me. Two sessions on women musicians presented important research being carried out into a number of performers and composers, including Clara Wieck-Schumann (Ning Hui See, Royal College of Music) and Czech women composers (Barbora Vacková, University of Huddersfield). In the first of these sessions, Rachel Watson (King’s College London) gave insight into an organisation active in the late-nineteenth century in her paper ‘Imitating Vienna? The Baden-Baden Lady Orchestra at the Royal Aquarium’. The focus of female musicians active in London organisations was picked up again in the second of these sessions by Anastasia Zaponidou (Bangor University) whose research centres upon May Mukle in ‘A Life in Paper: Exploring the Activities of the Female Cellist in the Society of Women Musicians’. A session on Music and Authorship provided insight into these issues across a number of historical and contemporary settings, with papers by Céleste Pagniello (Princeton University), Clive Mead (University of Plymouth) and Eirini Diamantouli (University of Cambridge) covering topics of authorship in ballet, composing without credit, and Soviet Union songs in the Greek resistance. These threads of historical and contemporary research into issues of gender, identity, and theatre were also addressed in research concerning operatic settings. Tomos Watkins (University College Dublin) presented on ‘White self-fashioning in Les Indes galantes’, addressing eighteenth-century representations of race and gender in France. In the same session, Ali McGowan (Edinburgh Napier University) presented current thought on expression and self-actualisation as realised in new perspectives on operas in ‘Queering Carmen – telling trans and nonbinary stories in the current operatic canon’.

On Thursday 6th, The Hermes Experiment were the ‘in house’ ensemble (on ‘The House’ Stage) for a composition workshop, allowing for the professional performance of a number of student works. The composers received a filmed recording of their piece as well as valuable feedback from the members of the prestigious ensemble. On Friday 7th, electroacoustic composers assembled in the House to listen to and discuss their pieces in a session led by Dr Archer Endrich and Dr Núria Bonet (University of Plymouth). A poster competition also ran throughout the event, which was sponsored by Cambridge University Press. The winning entry by Yanyi Lu (University of Hull) was titled ‘Second language singing curriculum design: learning Mandarin through singing’.

As always, this year’s BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference was a wonderful way to begin 2022, and special thanks must be given to Dr Núria Bonet and all at the University of Plymouth for hosting so successfully, and facilitating a warm and welcoming environment for new and returning students alike. Looking ahead, the next conference will be held at Northumbria University from 10-12 January 2023.

Report by Ellen Stokes (University of Huddersfield)

Ellen Stokes is a third-year PhD researcher at the University of Huddersfield, whose work focuses on the instrumental manuscripts of Antonio Salieri.

Additional information by Núria Bonet (University of Plymouth)


Conference report by Peter Underwood

When the BFE 2020 Annual Conference was postponed in March 2020, I’m sure that many of us were not anticipating that we would still need to be gathering online a year later. However, thanks to the wonders of technology and the efforts of the conference organisers at Bath Spa University, the BFE Annual Conference 2021 provided that sense of community and sociability that many of us miss and gave us a thriving space to discuss its theme of Music, Culture and Nature - a theme which has only grown in relevance and importance over the past year. Coming together from locations all over the globe, delegates attended a welcome address from Professor Sue Rigby (Vice-Chancellor of Bath Spa University) and Professor Amanda Bayley (Professor of Music at Bath Spa University and conference organiser). They ushered in four illuminating days of paper presentations, panel discussions, training workshops, performances, film screenings, and social and networking events. Within the overarching theme of Music, Culture and Nature, the full breadth of ethnomusicological study was on show, as were the results of, and further possibilities for, interdisciplinary research and collaboration.These topics included gender, socio-cultural notions of aesthetics, artistic and cultural traditions, colonialism, multidisciplinary research, and environment, approached through the multiple lenses of ecologies, activism, and climate crises.

Photo by Ruard Absaroka

Despite the disappointment that digitally transmittable ice-cream is still yet to be invented, the first day’s SEM panel (and associated ‘ice-cream social’) was a fascinating discussion, chaired by Tomie Hahn, foregrounding the intersections between ethnomusicology and climate crises. Jennifer Post started the panel weaving ideas of sonic practice with the realities of industry and climate change, while Michael Silvers discussed lutherie in Brazil with a focus on issues of sustainability. Both these issues were linked in Rebecca Dirksen’s talk on the role of museums in sustainability and preservation, and what the effects of the changing climate are on sacred instruments in Haiti. Finally, Jeff Todd Titon provided the energising point of action for us all, in examining ‘what might ethnomusicologists do’ to assist environmental conservation based on insights gained from cultural conservation projects. These themes threaded throughout the rest of the conference, with the addition of an afternoon block folding in concepts of politics, power, and migration on day two, and issues of place and space being included in day three. Angela Impey’s Keynote considered what climate insights may be revealed through listening to contrasting rhetorical practices of weather prediction. Bringing together academic, scientific, and quotidian views on weather, she argued that our contributions may be most useful when considering disparate climate ontologies holistically, locally and globally – continuing the conference’s overall atmosphere of encouraging collaboration across knowledge practices. Drawing the second day to a close was a celebratory evening: in the first part, delegates joined current and former editors of Ethnomusicology Forum to commemorate its 30th birthday, organised by Laudan Nooshin; the second part was a musical tribute to Zimbabwean mbira master, Chartwell Dutiro (1957-2019), curated by Amanda Bayley and edited by Matt Dicken.

Alongside the wide-ranging research being presented, a number of development workshops, social gatherings and BFE meetings helped to bring our community together, as well as extending its reach to a more global audience. On offer was information about careers outside academia, an Early Career Researcher workshop and the BFE AGM. A virtual version of the much-loved ‘jam session’, coordinated by Cassandre Balosso-Bardin, showcased live music from our members, ending with a fun adaptation of ‘Nambu Ushioi Uta’ (‘Oxherd Song from Nambu’ – area of northeast Japan) by David Hughes, who led the audience participation (pictured below). In addition, the recently formed EDI Working Group hosted the BFE Equality, Diversity and Inclusion workshop, which generated honest, useful and eye-opening discussion from many members about how the BFE can assist in developing a more equitable ethnomusicology.

Photo by Emma Batley

While we are all aware that the online nature of recent academic gatherings has had its frustrations, I think it is important to celebrate the positives as well – especially prescient given the conference’s theme and the recent formation of the BFE EDI Working Group and growth of the EDIMS network. Firstly, it could be argued that the ecological impact of the conference was lessened given the removal of the need for long-distance travel; and secondly, the virtual nature of the event removed a number of accessibility barriers for speakers and attendees all over the world (the conference had approximately 400 registered attendees). I hope that the success of the 2021 BFE Annual Conference will highlight further the benefits of an online conference format and that opportunities can be found to preserve these advantages going forward, as in-person gatherings slowly resume.

Report by Rowan Bayliss Hawitt

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that 2020 was a disorientating year to be a research student. Imagine my delight, then, at remembering that there are others out there doing excellent work, even if we haven’t come together in person for many months. Such was the effect of the 2021 BFE-RMA Research Students’ Conference, which took place (online) from January 12th–14th. Hosted by the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge, the conference brought together students from a wide array of institutions (and time zones) for three days of paper presentations, professional development sessions, and keynotes.

After a welcome address from chair Dr Matthew Machin-Autenrieth (representing the BFE) and co-chair Professor Katharine Ellis (representing the Faculty of Music, Cambridge), the paper presentations began. Needless to say, with four or five sessions at once, the diversity of topics and issues was enormous. Panels themed on postcolonial perspectives, music and wellbeing, and performance studies sat alongside those on digital musicology, queer musical methodologies, and composition workshops.

The reclamation of untold musical stories and suppressed agencies was a recurrent theme across several of the sessions. Alice Masterton (University of York), for instance, invited us to explore how we remember female musicians after they have died, pointing out that posthumous narratives of Janice Joplin’s career framed her as especially vulnerable to substance abuse and hedonism in a way her male colleagues were not. Attending to the often moralising way in which Joplin was characterised after her death, Alice argued that taking such characterisations at face value risks further undermining Joplin’s agency. Meg Hyland (University of Edinburgh) drew on ethnographic sound archives to explore the Gaelic songs of Scottish female herring gutters in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She showed that this repertoire was excluded from contemporary accounts of Gaelic work song, in turn emphasising the central role oral histories can play in redressing the balance of canonical social history.

The disruption of hegemonic ideals was a stimulating and important thread throughout the conference. Irfan Rais (Bangor University) sketched out the limitations of Western notated musical theory; his compelling alternative theory of musical grammar employs sound recordings and concepts from descriptive linguistics as part of efforts to decolonise music studies. Like Irfan, Alex Ho (Royal College of Music) explored the tensions (productive and otherwise) which can emerge in cross-cultural music-making. Facilitated by a collective listening of his piece …chinese whispers… Alex outlined the reciprocal relationship between his own identity and creative processes, while also highlighting the ongoing racism experienced by British-Chinese communities.

Interspersing the fascinating paper sessions was a well-curated series of professional development panels. From insights into getting published (always know your audience) to applying for postdoctoral positions (build upon rather than extend your PhD topic), these discussions covered issues which everyone seems expected to know about, but nobody seems to talk about. Refreshing indeed! While the intended Gamelan workshops could not go ahead, a pre-recorded performance with commentary was provided to watch at delegates’ leisure. Coaching sessions with researchers were also made available; I gained many brilliant nuggets of knowledge from Dr Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, up to and including her thoughts on Arab-Andalusian cosmology. An eye-opening panel on careers beyond academia showcased just how useful a postgraduate degree can be in many professions – ever since the panel, I have been intensely jealous of Dr Janet Topp Fargion’s job at the British Library.

This was a conference which very much responded to events of the last year; not just in the necessity of an online format, but in the attention given to structural hierarchies and inequalities which have recently come further to the fore. Dr Emily MacGregor gave the keynote on behalf of the RMA, focussing her paper on the symphony in 1933. She demonstrated that the reception histories of symphonies by the likes of Kurt Weill and Florence Price indicate that it is a genre which remains implicated in racial hierarchies and questions about who is ‘worthy’ of being a symphonist. The BFE keynote, delivered by Dr Thomas R. Hilder, dealt with the hierarchies which pervade academia itself. In a moving autoethnographic ‘storying’ of his experiences as a queer music scholar today, Hilder outlined the ethical stakes at play in teaching and learning from students, especially in light of Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. According to Hilder, storytelling is not ‘telling’, but ‘sharing’, not ‘authority’ but ‘involvement’; this is certainly what he and MacGregor achieved in their keynotes, which both invited listeners to investigate their own positionality. A most fitting end to the conference, then, came in a discussion session hosted by the LGBTQ+ Music Study Group and the recently-formed Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Music Studies Network (EDIMS). Representatives from each set out the urgent and important work to be done on decolonisation and equality in music education. The ensuing conversation with students in attendance underscored the need for intersectionality and offered compelling practicable insights into how these goals might be achieved.

The BFE-RMA Conference, I feel, continued many vital conversations, while also opening up new ones – I very much look forward to hearing more about these at next year’s conference, hosted by the University of Plymouth. For three days this year, though, I found myself forgetting I was sitting at the same desk I’ve been stuck at for months, such was the spirit of warmth and social and intellectual company. I, for one, owe a great deal of thanks to the conference committee and all who took part for brightening what was an otherwise decidedly odd start to 2021.


Rowan Bayliss Hawitt (University of Edinburgh)


Report by Stephen Wilford

Images by Casandre Balosso-Bardin

On Saturday 7 November, the BFE took its first steps into the world of online conferences with our 2020 One-day conference hosted by the University of Lincoln. With a theme of ‘Ethnomusicology and music enterprise in catastrophic times’, people’s minds were inevitably focused upon the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact that this has had upon music academia and musicians around the world. And while many of the papers presented did indeed explore the changing shape of musical practices over the last year, the discussions throughout the day considered the broader musical responses to local, national and international moments of crisis.

If one positive has emerged for our discipline from the pandemic it is surely the increasingly global connections that we are forming with colleagues in other countries, and it was pleasing to see presenters from Israel, Nigeria, Switzerland, and the US, as well as the UK. As ethnomusicology faces increasing pressures here and abroad, in light of economic and political uncertainty, it appears more and more vital that we grow these networks and offer our support to ethnomusicologists and musicians around the world.

A number of themes emerged throughout the day: the power of musical production and listening during the pandemic (Kadupe Sofola, Modupe Oluwadeyi and Pauline Adeolu-Abe; Tal Vaizman; Ellan A. Lincoln-Hyde; Elise Gayraud); the increasing importance of online communication and creativity for musicians (Sarah-Jane Gibson; Lea Hagmann; Sara McGuinness); and local musical responses and reactions to moments of crisis (Jonathan Gregory; Laura Risk; Javier Rivas).

The conference finished with a fantastically engaging and thought-provoking keynote from Queen’s University Belfast’s Ioannis Tsioulakis, who explored musical labour and charted the struggles faced by Greek popular musicians from the economic ‘Greek Crisis’ to the current pandemic. Later in the evening, the BFE hosted Ioannis’s book launch for his new monograph Musicians in Crisis: Working and Playing in the Greek Popular Music Industry (Routledge, 2020).

We clearly do not currently know when we will be able to meet again for another face-to-face conference with our colleagues, and we are all undoubtedly missing the social aspect of our BFE events calendar. However, this conference showed that we can continue to host stimulating ethnomusicological conversations, and the online format enabled us to bring together in the region of seventy scholars from around the world.

I would like to finish by thanking my fellow members of the conference’s local arrangements committee, including Lonán Ó Briain (University of Nottingham) and Rob Dean (University of Lincoln) for all their hard work. Special thanks are due to Cassandre Balosso-Bardin (University of Lincoln) who proposed the conference and did the bulk of the work in organising and facilitating such a wonderful event – you have the thanks of the entire BFE! 

Steve Wilford

University of Cambridge/Wolfson College Cambridge

Report by Rashel Pakbaz

Images by Gerard Giorgi-Coll

The 2020 annual BFE-RMA Research Student Conference sponsored jointly by the British Forum for Ethnomusicology and the Royal Musical Association was hosted by the Open University’s Music Department from 9 to 11 of January 2020 at the OU’s Walton Hall campus in Milton Keynes.

UK and international graduate and post graduate students presented their research in an inclusive, welcoming, and encouraging atmosphere. The conference also comprised of other events such as training workshops, informal performances and social events.

Participants were offered an array of interesting topics including papers in relation to music and pedagogy, opera, analysis, instruments, history, health and wellbeing, popular music, place, religion, politics, autoethnography, technology, identity, gender, women, fandom, film, and dance. The conference programme also included lecture-recitals and sessions on compositional processes, as well as composition workshops. Each presentation concluded with a conversation. Highlights included the session on music and politics, which surveyed the music making scene in twenty-first century China, and music and fandom, which focused on the audience and their activities in relation to popular music songs and artists. Both of these sessions were followed by a lively discussion.

Katherine Butler Schofield

Keynote lectures were given by Katherine Butler Schofield from King’s College, London and Sean Curran from the University of Cambridge. In the BFE Lecture, “Archives Differing: The Practice of Global Music History and the Paracolonial Indian Ocean, c. 1760-1860”, Dr Butler Schofield presented the trials and benefits of bringing different types of colonial archives from the Bay of Bengal and Malay together in order to investigate the ways in which music and sound were produced. The RMA Roche Lecture by Dr Curran, “Music Writing and Music History in a Thirteenth-Century Song”, discussed ideas around power and the documenting musical works in the thirteenth century.

Sean Curren and Simon McVeigh

Training sessions at the conference involved discussions about how to explore and plan careers, publication, funding applications and resilience-building. A career consultant and an expert on research grant applications from staff at the Open University led the workshops on career planning and finding funds. These sessions helped attendees to explore different industries outside academia where music graduates can seek jobs and how to write a successful bid for funding for postdoctoral programmes. Four music academics shared their valuable experiences with the attendees at workshops on “Thinking about Publication” and “Resilience-building for Research Students”.

During the day, participants engaged in informal conversations at tea and coffee breaks and continued socialising and networking during wine receptions in the evening. The 2020 BFE-RMA Research Student Conference provided participants with a friendly environment to present their works, learn from each other’s research experiences and meet new scholars. Congratulations and many thanks to the conference committee and the Music Department at the Open University.

Venue: Department of Music, City, University of London

Report by Mez van Slageren

Beginning on the day that Britain might have left the EU (again), the Department of Music at City, University of London hosted the three-day Autumn Conference of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology and Société française d'ethnomusicologie. This was the second time that the two societies have come together for a conference, following on from a previous meeting at the Musée de Quai Branly in Paris in 2015. In a thoroughly amicable atmosphere, three days of thought-provoking papers highlighted the overlap between ethnomusicology and sound studies, and explored the places and spaces in which music and sound are produced, contested and consumed.

Photo by Steve Wilford

After a bilingual welcome, the first day consisted of two plenary panels: ‘Listening in France’ and ‘Mediated Listening, New Spaces and the Shifting Sonic Experience of Islam’. Papers focused upon a range of topics, including music at the 1931 'Exposition Coloniale' in eastern Paris, the forming of sound hunting clubs – both amateur and professional – using tape recorders to capture ambient sounds, the car as a counterprivate arena for Islamic ethics in the United Arab Emirates, and much more in between. In some cases the theme of ‘space and place’ was explored through a lens of disconnection, as evident in Professor Rachel Harris' (SOAS, University of London) discussion of Qur'anic recitation among Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Professor Harris described the separation of recitation aesthetics from the religious ideology: for example, a Wahhabi recitation style in a Sufi-inflected ritual, in a context where Wahhabi preachers strongly oppose Sufi practices, is possible due to it being removed from a socially Wahhabi space. The day was rounded off with two sound walks to the British Library, where Dr Janet Topp Fargion (British Library) delivered the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Annual John Blacking Lecture. Dr Topp Fargion’s presentation was entitled ‘Archiving World Music Cultures and the Impacts of Listening’, and explored a range of issues relating to the collection and preservation of sounds from around the globe.

Photo by Steve Wilford

Day two was characterised by friendly duality: parallel panels, with papers in both English and French (meaning that I could only attend half of the sessions). Papers pertaining to contested, ritual, urban and judicial spaces highlighted how the environment (natural, social and physical) influences the production and consumption of music. While this may not come as a surprise, Dr Darci Sprengel's (University of Oxford) observation that working-class Egyptians say all the rubbish they see in the streets makes them aggressive, and that their music is loud because it needs to transform the noise of the city, certainly puts this into perspective. At the other end of the spectrum Dr Heikki Uimonen (University of Eastern Finland) presented ACMESOCS, a four-year Finnish project researching the carefully mediated sounds present in commercial areas such as shopping malls. It was a reminder that background music – the music we tend not to actively hear – nevertheless merits scholarly attention.

Photo by Laudan Nooshin

In other panels, papers discussed archaeology and archives, including some that forced us to consider elements of field recordings that are not directly the sound itself. Andrea Zarza Canova (British Library) highlighted the additional context that field notes can provide that may not be immediately obvious from the sound recording, and Jonathan Henderson (Duke) unpacked how studio processes contribute to understanding cultural practices of negotiation and power in music production. Kit Ashton (Goldsmiths, University of London), meanwhile, presented work on how music was being used to save language, through the case of Jèrriais on his native island of Jersey.

Photo by Steve Wilford

A buzzing wine reception on the Friday evening, kindly sponsored by the BFE, offered an informal space to discuss the papers presented so far, before an evening concert run in conjunction with SPARC (Sound Practice and Research at City), which featured work by sound and visual artists in response to the conference theme of 'music, sound, space and place'.

Photo by Laudan Nooshin

The third and final day of the conference featured excellent panels on instrumental sounds and ecomusicologies, followed by a final plenary panel on virtual spaces, which considered sound and music in Virtual Reality experience, music-making in virtual social spaces (such as mobile phones) and streaming online spaces (such as YouTube). The wide variety of research elicited by these contemporary virtual spaces seemed a fitting end to a fascinating three days that started with listening for the past in Paris.

Photo by Steve Wilford

Throughout the conference the papers encouraged thinking about how physical and virtual spaces influence the type of music and sound practices we encounter as ethnomusicologists. The close relationship between ethnomusicology and sound studies was brought to the fore, echoing the relationship between the BFE and the SFE. We can only hope that this was the second of many more joint conferences in the future.


Report by Nuria Bonet Filella

The Music, Wellbeing and Mental Health Study Day and Workshop Day took place at Hereford College of Arts on 11 and 12 May 2019; it was organised between the Royal Musical Association, Hereford College of Arts, the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, and the National Association for Music in Higher Education. The Saturday programme included a range of papers by students and early-career researchers, which displayed the latest research around the effects of music on wellbeing and mental health, as well as musicians’ health. On the Sunday, the delegates took part in different workshops that explored similar themes practically.

Following on from the success of the event at York St John last year, Hereford College of Arts and popular music lecturer Rosario Mawby welcomed the event to their institution with open arms. The technical set-up was carried out by undergraduate students who actively participated in the event; it was great to have them participate in important conversations around music and mental health!

Study Day on Music and Health

The first session of the study day was centred around the theme of the wellbeing of musicians. Marriana Cortesi (University of York) discussed the effect of competitions on musicians’ mental health. Davinia Bailach Cabrerizo (University of Derby) presented her excellent undergraduate dissertation for which she examined the effect of wellbeing session for young musicians at a local conservatoire in Spain. Finally, Nellinne Rannaweera (Royal Northern College of Music) showed her study into musicians’ leisure activities. While the session flagged up the potential risks to wellbeing and mental health that high-performing music students incur, there is also a high rate of personal satisfaction among conservatoire students, for example, and musicians’ health can be improved through specific interventions and leisure activities.

Session 2 included a paper on the therapeutic use of music in care home settings by Anthony Mangiacotti (University of Padua and Middlesex University) and a paper by Sara Clethero (Brunel University) on the benefits of musical activity for autistic people. Finally, Rosario Mawby (Hereford College of Arts) used her own experiences of music in academia to launch a discussion on what individuals can do to lead positive change in wellbeing and mental health.

After a tasty and regenerative lunch, Lucinda Heyman (Royal College of Music) kicked off the third session with a paper focusing on the health of popular musicians. She explained, for example, that while younger artists might be more aware of and willing to talk about this topic, younger music students are also increasingly worried that a career in the arts would negatively affect their health. A possible answer to this conundrum might lie in Alfia Nakipbekova (University of Leeds) and Caterina McEvoy (University of Sheffield) presentation. The cellist and composer, respectively, showed the relationships between music performance and martial arts, and how their own practice in both fields interact with each other. The paper was illustrated by a performance of their piece of Flux and Flow. Caterina’s captivating soundscapes accompanied Alfia’s performance on an electric cello; including Qi Gong movements and strings played by a sword!

The study day concluded with Claudia Nader’s (University of York) paper on the potential use of the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) to treat mental health conditions. This is the sensation that we might get when hearing someone whispering or crunching a piece of paper, for example; often described as a ‘tingling’. The presentation included live performances of sounds intended to provoke an ASMR experience in the listeners. The lively discussions that were initiated during the study day were continued during the dinner at an excellent local curry house.

Workshop Day

The Sunday was reserved for practical sessions around some of the topics that had been explored the previous day, with some of the presenters also delivering a workshop. Case in point, Sara Clethero ran a singing session like the ones that she runs for autistic adults. The participation of one of her regular attendees proved insightful as he gave us an ‘inside’ perspective to the sessions. Then, Alfia Nakipbekova – a Tai Chi champion as well as a cellist - delivered an energising Qi Gong session during which she explored movements that are both accessible but useful to musicians and their wellbeing. We made the most of the beautiful weather and the session took place on the lawn of the College’s Edwardian building!

Before lunch, Claudia Nader taught the delegates how to record sounds that might produce an ASMR sensation. Armed with individual headphones, many of the delegates joined in and explored the close micing of everyday sounds; they included keys, zips, paper clips, etc. After an inspiring morning, the delicious lunch gave everyone a chance to continue debating issues around music, wellbeing and mental health.

They ‘keynote’ workshop was led by Sarah Brand (Guildhall School of Music and Drama). The experience trombonist and music therapist introduced us to teaching music therapy students how to improvise in a therapeutic setting. The fascinating hands-on session was also a chance for the undergraduate HCA students to improvise and engage with the event. Sarah was able to answer the delegates’ many questions and overall was an excellent workshop leader. Energised by Sarah’s session, the day’s last workshop was introduced by Greg Leutchford from the Hereford-based mental health services provider Oak House, who gave an introduction to music therapy sessions currently running in Hereford. This led to a final discussion during which all delegates were asked to give any feedback or thoughts they wished to. The overwhelming feeling was that the discussions that we had during the weekend need to be continued. We also need to find ways to talk to a wider public who might not be aware of issues around wellbeing and mental health, or what can be done about them.

This was another successful edition of Music, Wellbeing and Mental Health and we hope that it will continue to happen. Hereford College of Arts was a very welcoming host institution which set the perfect scene for a weekend of music and discussions.


Venue: Department of Music, University of Sheffield

Report by Elsa Marshall

Communal spirit and interdisciplinary discussions were abundant at this year’s BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference, held at the University of Sheffield From January 10 to 12. The three days were framed by the BFE keynote lecture by Prof. Laudan Nooshin (City, University of London) on diversity and disciplinary identities in the study of music. She presented the progress our field has made in considering diversity as well as the steps still needed for university music departments and research to be more inclusive. Part of this has involved acknowledging the complexity of music and our different relations to it, which has lead to the creation of many sub-disciplines to accommodate the more focused creation of research frameworks and forums. What Nooshin left us with, amongst many valuable lessons and perspectives, was the encouragement to continue unified and interdisciplinary discussions while we forge these new avenues for research.

Prof. Laudan Nooshin (City, University of London) presents her keynote lecture, "Space Invaders? Reflections on Diversity, Disciplinary Identities and a Music Studies for the 21st Century." Photo by Rebecca Burrows.

The importance of this was evident at the conference with such a diverse range of papers allowing many presenters and attendees to be equals in talking outside their areas of expertise and thus finding common ground and forging links. Indeed, a sense of community was partly facilitated by the camaraderie of students from Sheffield (some of whom lead a folk session at the University Arms on the Friday night) as well as those who had met at previous conferences, with several presenters coming from Huddersfield (BFE/RMA Student Conference 2018) and Liverpool (RMA 2017). Additionally, creative and participatory workshops were offered by Musicians in Residence at the University of Sheffield. These included composition workshops with members of the Ligeti and Gildas quartets and a world music workshop led by John Ball that gave participants a chance to play the tabla and learn musical terminology from across India.

Members of the Ligeti Quartet and the Gildas Quartet rehearsing a composition by Tom Crathorne (University of Sheffield). Crathorne's piece uses a Tibetan temple bell activated by the bows of the string players. Photo courtesy of the Centre for New Music at Sheffield.

Many of the research presentations questioned not just music, but the systems by which we understand it when we listen and when we conduct research. Both Will Finch (University of Bristol) and Eleanor Smith (University of Huddersfield) presented papers on screen music that showed its ability to curate how we view real-world subjects. Finch examined how the smooth repetition of noisy field recordings over changing clips of animals and the use of electro-jazz over segments about the human impact on nature and indigenous communities in a 1990 BBC Arena’s “Lifepulse: A Natural Thriller” documentary distance the viewer from the reality of the subject at hand. In contrast, Smith analysed musical techniques used in the 2002 movie The Magdalene Sisters that remove this distance. She demonstrated how the film used exaggerated sound effects and traditional Irish folk tunes to frame the harrowing experience of women in the Magdalene Laundries and create a discomforting sense of immediacy.

While these papers showed how music and sound mediate what we watch, Jonathan Higgins’ (City, University of London) paper investigated how the noise of old recording and playback technology mediates our understanding of music itself. His recent electroacoustic composition, “Faking the Past,” uses the mechanical sounds of obsolete technologies to play on listeners’ nostalgia (whether first- or second-hand) for an imperfect-sounding past.

Two notable studies uncovered the inner-workings of award systems and showcased the importance of context when discussing current and historical markers of musical credibility. Joyce Tang’s (University of Southampton) investigation of international piano exhibitions from 1880 to 1894 showed that representation of different nations varied substantially between exhibitions and the piano manufacturers argued over the purpose and set-up of competitions. Emma-Jayne Reekie (University of Liverpool) showed how, in the face of declining sales and rising independent labels in the US, major record labels formed the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the Grammy Awards in the 1950s whereby they gave themselves credibility and successfully regained the market.

Stuart Young (University of Sheffield) presenting his research on the Paisley Folk Song Club and its relevance to the Scottish Folk Revival. Photo by Michael Walsh.

Dr. Yvonne Liao’s (University of Oxford) RMA keynote lecture touched on the ways in which research frameworks can unintentionally narrow the understanding of our subject. In her investigation of the colonial promotion of Bach in Hong Kong, she revealed that continued local interest and reinterpretation complicate perceptions and definitions of colonialism and post-colonialism. She also argued for a reconsideration of how we understand Europe, “after-Europe,” and the classical music canon in a global context. Yuemin He (Newcastle University) similarly demonstrated the importance and benefit of a global context when presenting her research on the 1667 Chinese publication Collection of Elegance (a canonic female compiled collection of songs by women). Her detailed study provided rich examples of gender- and class-diverse music and lyrical compositions and stories.

This year’s BFE/RMA Research Student Conference has prompted us to reflect on our responsibility, as upcoming music researchers and educators, to develop ways of communicating across an increasingly open and diverse field. This is a continuing process that requires constant thoughtful and critical discussions. Congratulations to the organisers of this year’s conference at the University of Sheffield for successfully creating a respectful forum in which to have these conversations. I hope this discourse continues to build at next year’s conference at the Open University in Milton Keynes.

Many thanks to my University of Sheffield colleagues Alejandro Albornoz and Michael Walsh for their help in compiling this report.


Elsa Marshall is a PhD Music candidate at the University of Sheffield, researching the cinematic production practices of the 1954 MGM musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers under the supervision of Dr. Dominic McHugh.


Venue: Department of Music, Keele University

Report by Andrew Green

Images by Stephen Wilford

The theme of this year’s BFE One-Day Conference was Beyond Memory and Reconciliation: Music, Conflict and Social Manipulation in Post-Conflict Contexts. It was held at Keele University – where ethnomusicology has only recently become part of the Music curriculum – and organized very smoothly by Dr Fiorella Montero Diaz. The conference was highly international, with speakers travelling from France, Spain, Japan and the United States, as well as the UK.

This year was a highly enjoyable and informative conference which showcased some of the excellent research being done on music and conflict across the world. Equally, it served to highlight for this attendee the enormous challenges that ethnomusicologists face in seeking to address the often desperate, fragile situations conflict leaves behind, and keep up with the frighteningly complex new forms that conflict can take.

The impetus for focusing on conflict and post-conflict from an ethnomusicological standpoint is very clear: we have long observed music’s use as a means of processing grief, for coming to terms with otherwise inexpressible experiences of social breakdown, and for trying to heal divides and get along together after conflict. More recent research has also highlighted music’s role in driving conflict and constructing out-group enemies. Yet this is also an area of study whose comparative absence from the literature has historically frustrated some ethnomusicologists, so it’s heartening to see how much new research is being carried out on music, conflict and post-conflict.

The day opened with a panel on “Musical nostalgias and nationalisms in conflict and post-conflict”. Violeta Ruano (Independent Scholar) spoke about musical creativity as a means of constructing national identity in the Saharawi diaspora, in an ongoing ceasefire which had left Saharawi in a state of uncertainty. Marta Amico (University of Rennes 2) then gave a detailed paper on the ways that Tuareg groups in urban Mali perform nostalgia for nomadic desert life. In the context of a conflict involving the Malian state and Saharan nomadic peoples, such performances allowed Tuareg to construct a community which resisted the frames of the national state. Finally, Eric Schmidt (Boston University) talked about his research in Niger, where the government sought to promote “ethnopreneurialism” and a “culture of peace” through an annual festival that presented nomadic forms of cultural expression to international tourists. It will be apparent that the papers of this panel were related in multiple ways – most notably through the common connection to the Sahara, but also with the underlying themes of mobility and marginality at the edges of state influence.

Panel 2, “Music Interventions in Post-Traumatic Contexts”, contained reflections both on applied ethnomusicology into post-conflict and on social research that drew ethnomusicologists uncomfortably close to conflict. Maya Youssef (SOAS, University of London) talked about her applied work with Syrian child refugees in Europe; she was followed by Yasuko Harada (Tokyo University of the Arts), who presented a critical perspective on musical interventions into conflict in Acholiland, Uganda. Hettie Malcomson (University of Southampton) concluded the panel by discussing rappers hired to write music for Mexican drug cartels. These scholars had wrestled with thorny methodological issues resulting from proximity to conflict. Youssef talked about her project to use music to help Syrian refugee children in Europe with post-traumatic stress disorder. Here practical challenges emerged relating to child-specific triggers for trauma. Malcomson’s research had, for a time, drawn her into dangerous territory, into a position of reliance on musicians deeply involved in cartel activities. These challenges pointed to a conclusion elaborated more directly during the evening session – that ethnomusicological interventions into situations of conflict or post-conflict are only likely to be effective if they pay attention to the distinct experiences of particular groups and individuals.

The day’s third session was entitled “The Role of Music in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies”. Kelso Molloy (New York University) looked at the ways that Roger Waters has adapted live performances of the album The Wall to new political contexts – from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the emergence of far-right politics in the present-day United States. Maria Rijo Lopes da Cunha (SOAS, University of London) provided an in-depth focus on one song, “Autism” by Mustafa Said, which “noisified” contemporary Lebanese music and, Lopes da Cunha argued, subverted traditional notions of state and nation in the process. Focusing on a venue rather than a piece, Stephen Millar (Cardiff University) spoke about The Rock in Belfast, a centre for republican “rebel music” used to cultivate identities of resistance and construct a sense of (unified) Irish nationhood. As Millar told us, this venue has found itself the target of attacks from across the sectarian divide, including an attempting bombing. Ariana Phillips-Hutton (University of Cambridge) concluded the panel on a more theoretical note, focusing on the aesthetics of testimonies about conflict – and prompting critical discussion on the role of empathy in motivating ethical action.

An ongoing point of debate is the use of music to commemorate victims of conflict and come to terms with traumatic histories. This was the subject of two of the contributors to the keynote roundtable at the end of the day. John Morgan O’Connell’s (Cardiff University) paper analysed a contemporary musical commemoration of the Gallipoli campaign sponsored by the Turkish Navy, based on a folk song, “Çanakkale Türküsü”. These performances constructed both a sense of unison and presented navy members as “regular Turks”. Yet ultimately, O’Connell concluded that such performances were rather duplicitous: they used musically presented reconciliation to conceal resurgent nationalism and dissimulate dissent within present-day Turkish society. Commemorations are especially complicated when one’s own community is identified as the perpetrator of atrocities. Felicity Laurence (Newcastle University) spoke about her role in a musical commemoration of the Holocaust in a small town in Germany in the 1990s. They recreated Brundibár, a children’s opera written in 1930s Czechoslovakia whose creators, along with most children performing in it, were sent to a concentration camp in Terezín; many were subsequently murdered in Auschwitz, including composer Hans Krása. The recreation represented an attempt to cope with a horrific past in a constructive fashion sensitive to the needs of the present.

Discussed during the morning session, and referenced during the evening, was the creation of a series of European military bases in the Sahara – something which could be interpreted as a new European frontier within Africa. In recent years refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East and North Africa have been used by the far right in Europe in order to gain a political foothold, even as European governments’ hostility to refugees has been reflected in, for example, repeated instances of European coast guards opening fire upon refugee boats in the Mediterranean. This formed the background for the roundtable talk given by Rachel Beckles-Willson (Royal Holloway, University of London). Discussing an applied recording project with refugees on the island of Sicily, Beckles-Willson showed us how WhatsApp had been used not only to co-ordinate these activities, but to allow participants to openly express their feelings about this process. It was yet another example of meeting survivors of conflict on their own terms: in this case, by embracing individuals’ “cyborg” status, and moving beyond popular notions of technological alienation.

Throughout the day, the temporality of conflict was a recurring theme. There’s certainly a need to move beyond temporally bound notions of “conflict” and “post-conflict” in a world in which cruelty has become increasingly normalized. While it’s very difficult to keep research up to date with recent political developments, the recent year has been full of instances of apparent “post-conflict” driving new conflict: during the conference a caravan of refugees fleeing Central America was making its way through Mexico, something that was leapt on by the US President to send the military to the US-Mexico border in an act of apparent political opportunism. Indeed, I also attended the conference thinking about recent news relevant to questions about “pre-conflict”. October’s report by the Intercontinental Panel on Climate Change concluded that dramatic action is needed in the next 12 years to mitigate the worst effects of global warming: flooding, more extreme weather events, and collapses in the food and water supply almost guaranteed to drive a long period of conflict over resources. The grief felt at the corresponding rapid disappearance of global biodiversity may be negotiated and expressed by participating in music, but we are also aware of contexts in which emotion itself is codified or expressed in musical dialogue with the natural world.

The ecocide brought upon by human overconsumption and (corporate) exploitation of our surroundings perhaps ought to broaden our definition of conflict: this is a violent process, but its long-term victims don’t yet exist, and its immediate victims are apparently voiceless creatures excluded from definitions of the term ‘music’ which are normative within our discipline. Well, there’s enough ethnomusicological literature that can tell us this: creatures under threat are only voiceless if we choose not to listen to them.


Andrew Green is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the University of Glasgow’s School of Culture and Creative Arts. His research focuses on music, politics and social change in Mexico.


Conference report by Solène Heinzl and Katie Young

The 2018 annual conference of the BFE was hosted by the International Centre for Music Studies, Newcastle University between the 12th and 15th of April 2018, and had the theme ‘Europe and post-Brexit Ethnomusicologies’.

The call for papers provided an opportunity to think about the various roles, identities, and approaches of ethnomusicology within the current socio-political and economic global context. The call was met with an array of interesting reflections on ethnomusicology’s practices and impacts. In preparation for the conference, the Ethnomusicology Reading Group offered useful online skype discussions that reviewed articles in relation to music and politics, bringing many attendees into conversation before the gathering even commenced.

Colleagues met for four days of engaging conversations, workshops, and social events. Highlights included the session ‘Reflections on Ethnomusicology’, which explored emerging methodologies in our discipline, and ‘Musicologists of Brexit’, which detailed the impacts of larger political and economic crises within the discipline. The conference benefited from a variety of sessions that focussed on music and current issues, such as neoliberalism, nationalism, transnationalism, the migrant crisis, conflicts, and power and politics.

Kristine Ringsager presenting her paper. Photo by Matthew Machin-Autenrieth

‘Ethnomusicology in the 21st Century: A European Perspective’, the keynote by Britta Sweers (University of Bern), bound the conference together. Sweers showed how ethnomusicologists can contribute to fostering tolerance and integration on the global stage. Her paper was followed by a lively debate concerning the impacts of applied ethnomusicology and a discussion regarding the intersections of ethnomusicology with governmental policies.

Keynote by Britta Sweers. Photo by Matthew Machin-Autenrieth

Attendees also enjoyed the various workshops held this year. The ‘PhD students and Early Career’ workshop proved very informative, offering advice and a safe space to discuss various ways to get published, improve CVs and network at conferences. The ‘Ethnomusicology and Parenting’ session provided an open space for parents and families to exchange personal experiences, explore the benefits and difficulties of parenthood in academia, and discuss ways toward a more family-friendly discipline.

Henry Stobart presenting his paper. Photo by Matthew Machin-Autenrieth

PhD and early career researcher workshop. Photo by Solène Heinzl

The conference was punctuated by lighter and more social sessions such as the SEM Ice Cream Social. It was also packed with live music, including a capoeira workshop, a concert by The Catriona Macdonald Trio, and a pub jam.

The Catriona MacDonald Trio concert. Photo by Solène Heinzl

Jam session at the Hotspur pub. Photo by Solène Heinzl

Overall, the event was a success: attendees had the chance to exchange scholarly ideas throughout the day, and to socialise and play music together each evening. Special thanks are due to the organisers and facilitators of this fantastic gathering: conference organiser Simon McKerrell, as well as Ian Biddle, David Clarke, Niall Cushnahan, Byron Dueck, Alix Ferrer-Yulfo, Fiona Finden, Simon Hirst, Nanette de Jong, Matthew Ord, Ruairidh Patfield, Becca Twist, and Stephen Wilford.


Report by Helen Gubbins

Tea break in the foyer (Image by Morgan Davies)

The 2017 BFE One-Day conference, 'Listening to Difference': Music and Multiculturalism, was hosted by the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge on the 21st of October 2017. Energised by a clear theme and a helpful preliminary literature review in the Call for Papers, the conference aimed (amongst other things) to examine the terms ‘multicultural’ and ‘intercultural’ in the light of recent immigration and increased political attention to migration and difference. Specifically, the conference aimed to explore the relationship of music to these terms. The conference focused its attention on how, in the UK and beyond, music ‘unveils social relations in multicultural societies at the level of day-to-day experiences’ (CFP).

The conference organisers asked for presenters to consider how music transcended or reinforced difference in settings we describe as multicultural, and they were rewarded with a diverse and engaging set of responses. The papers presented across the day covered both contemporary and historical contexts and methods, and took us on intellectual journeys across multiple countries and political and economical contexts. The day’s first speaker, Dr Toby Martin (University of Huddersfield), utilised a social media platform’s video chat facility to perform live with his musical collaborator, and to demonstrate some of the principles of their collaboration which he had introduced in his paper. This sparked a discussion amongst the delegates about tuning negotiations and other challenges presented by the interaction of musicians and instruments with different aesthetic systems, getting to the heart of the question of how music transcends or reinforces difference in multicultural settings.                                                                                   

In their co-authored paper, Dr Laudan Nooshin and Professor Amanda Bayley discussed how the term multicultural could mean many different things in diverse contexts; this became a recurring theme throughout the day’s proceedings. Indeed, several of the presentations that followed reiterated the idea that multiculturalism as a term is not always sufficiently clear in its meaning or use to be as effective as we need it to be in our research. A group of cosmopolitan musicians from different countries may have much more in common, Dr Nooshin argued, than they might have with musicians from rural areas of their own respective countries. She thus questioned the use of the term ‘multicultural’ as a marker of difference when commonalities of greater significance may exist.

Dr Phil Alexander (Image by Stephen Wilford)

Dr Victor Vicente (Chinese University of Hong Kong) considered Macau’s Lusofonia multicultural festival, its ethnically diverse audience, and the festival’s resultant expressions of both collective affinity and cultural alterity. He also reiterated some of the recurring challenges of ethnographic work; festival ethnographies are formed from large and necessarily incomplete data sets, and are accompanied by the age-old issues of coding, storage and maintenance. Dr Phil Alexander (University of Glasgow) put contemporary conceptualisations of the multicultural into relief with his historical descriptions of music and immigrant identity amongst Glasgow Jews of the early 20th century.

Kate Walker (University of Sheffield) spoke about how music can be used expressly as a tool of soft power. Her presentation discussed how Wadaiko is used to promote British values in Japan and how these values are articulated with other state conceptualisations of Britishness. The paper of Luke Fowlie (University of Montreal) highlighted the use of music as a tool for retaining and transmitting cultural heritage, for increasing visibility, and for fostering conviviality in the intercultural context of Cameroonian cultural and development associations in Montreal. Dr Ulrike Präger (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) focused on a Syrian peace choir and their performance of a song, 'Janna', and its expression of resistance to the current political leadership in the country. This provided the context for her examination of the voice of the individual refugee and their motivations in the use of music to negotiate difference.

Raquel Campos Valverde (London South Bank University) presented a theoretical discussion of how music exemplifies difference, and how it has the potential to act as a tool for the articulation and contestation of regional and national identities. She asked why people post music online using social music and what others made of these postings. She placed her discussion in the context of recent political events in Catalonia and Spain, and examined the responses of research participants to these events online. Dr Laryssa Whittaker (Royal Holloway, University of London) discussed how musical and linguistic differences were 'accommodated' in the context of a post-apartheid South African church. She proposed that, in their drive beyond mere multicultural ‘coexistence’, linguistic differences sometimes created greater tensions for worshippers than musical differences.

Prof. Tina K Ramnarine and Dr Matthew Machin-Autenrieth (Image by Morgan Davies)

Our conceptualisations of the relationship between ‘indigenous’ and ‘immigrant’ and how a celebratory musical multiculturalism might be usefully calibrated formed one of the core themes of Professor Tina K. Ramnarine’s (Royal Holloway, University of London) keynote paper. In a talk full of musical examples, Prof. Ramnarine highlighted the challenges that music scholarship faces from contemporary political discourses and presented ‘multiculturalism’ as a term under pressure in contemporary times. By probing the idea of the ‘stranger’ – a figure she described as marking the intersection of multiculturalism and postcolonialism – she drew together several theoretical disagreements regarding the term ‘multiculturalism’. Moving us towards an 'analytical calibration of difference, xenophobia, and immigration', her paper resonated with points raised throughout the day.

Over the course of the day, it became clear that speakers found the term 'multicultural' to be useful, complex, but sometimes troubling. Many conference discussants agreed that the term can transmit multiple meanings in different musical contexts. While the conference set out to explore those meanings and contexts in greater depth, discussions after paper presentations returned to the question of the efficacy of the term ‘multiculturalism’ and whether other terms (such as ‘culturalism’) may instead perform a more effective role. Future publications from the research presented at this event will likely provide further conclusions in this regard.

Congratulations are due to conference host Dr Matthew Machin-Autenrieth (University of Cambridge) for organising such an interesting and engaging conference. Thanks are also due to the conference committee members and administrators: Dr Byron Dueck (The Open University), Dr Stephen Wilford (City, University of London), Dr Thomas Hodgson (King’s College London), Dr Rachel Adelstein, James Gabrillo and Daniel Jordan (all University of Cambridge); and to the BFE and the University of Cambridge for their support of the event.

The day ended with a conference dinner where organisers, speakers and attendees continued the discussion in a more informal setting over food and a glass of wine.

Helen Gubbins is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Sheffield. Her research investigates the mediation of music on Irish radio


British Forum for Ethnomusicology 2017 Annual Conference

Department of Music, University of Sheffield

The Diamond, 20–23 April 2017

Report by Evanthia Patsiaoura

The BFE’s 2017 Annual Conference, hosted by the University of Sheffield, had as its theme ‘Tradition Today’. The theme was addressed in an array of presentations, with further reflection on it provoked by informal discussions inside and outside the university’s striking Diamond building, by fascinating musical and gastronomic experiences, and by the university area’s ethnically diverse locals and locales.

The conference highlighted the interdisciplinarity of ethnomusicology even as it revisited longstanding disciplinary preoccupations – for example, the importance of understanding not only musics, but the people who make them. Thought-provoking papers, drawing on research conducted around the globe, discussed music and tradition in relation to religion, identity, politics, popular music, composition, recording, minorities, migration, diasporas, ecoactivism, environmental performance, collaborative research, and education, among others.

Highlights included a special roundtable on ‘The Ethics and Aesthetics of Studying Music in Situations of Conflict and Violence’, at which some attendees found themselves holding their breath as accounts of risks encountered during fieldwork were related. Keynote speaker Michael B. Bakan presented a multi-dimensional exploration of ‘tradition today’, suggesting moral and ethical ways our field might respond to an era of crisis and uncertainty. The customary open mike event following the conference dinner allowed scholars to share their knowledge of musical traditions through performance. During the concert, two Greek colleagues and I sat with a table of academics from China, Kazakhstan and Australia, an arrangement that granted us some truly constructive and engaging moments of mutual learning. The closing plenary session, entitled ‘Ethnomusicological Traditions Today?’ addressed vital issues including the development of new pathways in education and ethnomusicology. Invited speakers and audience members reflected on how the teaching of ethnomusicology informs the tradition of the field and its future directions.

Abigail Wood presenting at the panel on ‘The Ethics and Aesthetics of Studying Music in Situations of Conflict and Violence’ (Photo by Helen Gubbins)

Once again, the annual BFE conference was a reminder of the importance of community as an integral part of tradition. The members of our scholarly community cultivate our disciplinary tradition and influence society at times of intense instability. Thanks to all of the participants who contributed to this work at the event. And special thanks to the Local Arrangements Committee – Simon Keegan-Phipps, Helen Gubbins, Timothy Knowles, Kate Walker, Michael Walsh, and above all, the tireless chair of the committee, Andrew Killick – for the immense effort they put into this highly successful conference.

Andrew Killick, chair of the Local Arrangements Committee, with some notices to help keep presenters to time (Photo by Helen Gubbins)


Report compiled by Christina Homer and Hannah Marsden

The second joint Research Students’ Conference continued in the spirit of last year’s collaboration between the British Forum for Ethnomusicology and the Royal Musical Association. The sessions were grouped by theme, thereby encouraging discussion and sharing commonalities between our various subjects. The conference theme, “exploring musical practice”, threaded its way through many of the sessions, with lecture-recitals being a particular feature.

Two plenary training sessions offered advice from senior academics about archival sources and working with communities. Additionally, a plenary round table focussed on “practice and your PhD”, with expert practice-based academics offering valuable insights into their experiences.

Our two keynote speakers were Dr Kate Guthrie (University of Bristol), recipient of the 2015 Jerome Roche prize, and Prof. Anna Morcom, winner of the 2014 Alan Merriam Prize. Kate gave a fascinating historical paper about music education in boys’ grammar schools in 1950s’ England, with emphasis on the educational work of Sir Peter Maxwell Davis. She played a few examples of Maxwell Davis’s avant-garde pieces for the boys in his charge, which were very interesting to hear. This was a very accomplished paper with lots of well researched historical references; it was impressive especially in the light of how recently she qualified as an academic. An inspiration for all students!

Anna’s paper explored the performance of gender in Bollywood musicals and face-to-face dance contexts, drawing on ethnographic research conducted in India. As well as framing her research in gender and performance theory, Anna gave honest accounts of her own fieldwork experiences. It was clear she had thought about her audience of students, and it was appreciated. This was a thoughtful and fascinating keynote, with a seemingly effortless balance between theory and ethnographic experience.

The extra-special performance events provided by Canterbury Christchurch were particular highlights, and they couldn’t have been more different. An evening of installations and wine was provided by the Canterbury Christ Church University centre for practice-based research, and featured student work based around music and visual art. This was much appreciated and gave us a chance to visit the Sidney Cooper Gallery in the city centre. The following day, the Cantuar quartet gave a fun lunchtime concert full of quaffing and conviviality. Their repertoire comes from the historic Canterbury Catch Club, which was active in the 18th and 19th centuries. Both events emphasised the scope for practice-based research across disciplines.

Congratulations are due to Vanessa Hawes and the rest of the committee, and we look forward to next year’s conference in Huddersfield.


 BFE One-Day Conference

Researching Music: Radio and Ethnomusicology: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

22 October 2016

Report by Lawrence Davies

Regular passengers on the 08:41 train leaving Edinburgh Waverley on Saturday 22nd October may have noticed that their service was busier than usual, as ethnomusicologists from around the UK and abroad made their way across the Firth of Forth to attend the BFE's latest one-day conference. Although the conference was organised by the Reid School of Music at the University of Edinburgh, the event itself was held outside the city at the Museum of Communication in Burntisland, a small Fife coastal town in the shadow of Craigkelly Transmitting Station, which transmits commercial and Gaelic-language radio across central Scotland.








Radio has been one of the twentieth century's most important technological innovations. It has frequently shaped not only the production and consumption of music, but also music's capacity to underpin notions of community, nationhood, and many aspects of individual and group identity. Yet as a medium of musical and intellectual communication it remains under-researched compared to other technologies, such as sound recording.

The conference began with a panel entitled 'Broadcasting Beyond Borders', which showcased recent research on diaspora music-making and transnational musical revivals. Focusing on the performance and broadcasting of Cornish Christmas carols by Cornish mining communities in Grass Valley, California, Elizabeth Neale (Cardiff University) showed how 1940s radio programming consolidated key elements in narratives surrounding Cornish choral traditions, while also helping members of diaspora communities reposition their identities within broader notions of Californian and American identity. The transatlantic flow of music was reversed in the next paper, in which Lawrence Davies (King's College London) examined how early 1950s BBC radio broadcasts by the American folklorist Alan Lomax introduced new ideas about the history and development of jazz and blues to British audiences. Yet, Davies argued, Lomax's reliance on extant patterns of transatlantic musical and intellectual exchange when writing and recording these programmes suggests the need to understand the specific appeal of radio's sonic and dramatic potential for Lomax's research activities. The final paper in this panel returned to Cornwall, as Lea Hagmann (Universität Bern) examined how the recording of a 2013 episode of Music Matters at Perranporth for BBC Radio 3 became a flashpoint for Cornish music revivalists' competing claims of authority over the tradition. Hagmann showed how debates around the relationship between 'Cornish' and 'Celtic' musical identities map to the now multigenerational Cornish music revival, raising the need to consider the existence of multiple and competing 'revivalist' impulses that often lie beneath claims of a tradition's coherence.

The next panel, 'Selecting Music for Radio' focused on industry approaches to music production and dissemination. Katrine Wallevik (University of Copenhagen) discussed her recent ethnographic research into pop music programming at Danish Broadcasting Corporation, explaining how decision-making processes used by prominent broadcasters at the station, while often mystified in public debate, rely on a number of cultural models mediated through the station's production software and digital music library. The changing role of radio in light of recent developments in digital music services was the subject of Mark Percival's (Queen Margaret University) paper. Revisiting earlier doctoral research conducted before the advent of digital music streaming, Percival examined how networks of industry 'song pluggers' have needed to adapt radio's role in the dissemination of new music in order to weather changing patterns of music production and consumption in the digital age. The final paper in this panel, by Kristine Ringsager (University of Copenhagen), discussed the production of 'world music' programming on Danish Broadcasting Corporation radio. Rather than examining broadcast music, however, Ringsager interrogated more complex issues surrounding radio presenters' voices and their role in representing cosmopolitanism and 'Otherness'.

During a well-provisioned lunch, conference attendees took advantage of the break in proceedings to look round the Museum of Communication's extensive collection of historical radio technology, much of which is maintained in full working order. Many sets in the collection demonstrated radio's unique facility to cross national borders by indicating broadcast frequencies for stations as diverse as Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, and North America. In stark contrast to these devices was the austere 'people's radio', produced in Nazi Germany. Modified to restrict listening to German stations only, this device offered a sobering reminder of how radio has also been used to coerce and control.

The afternoon session began with the conference keynote. Prof. Timothy Taylor (University of California Los Angeles) examined the need for a more nuanced consideration of the circulation, value, and exchange of music in the context of radio broadcasting and consumption. Taylor warned against the uncritical usage of common metaphors like 'flows' and 'circulation', recommending instead that we examine the specific dynamics of movement in the areas we are researching, and in particular their relationship to notions of value. Revisiting not only hallowed theorists like Marx and Gabriel Tarde, but also contemporary economic thinkers such as Anna Tsing, Taylor explained how cultural goods and forms of capital move through a system of constant exchange. Through fieldwork conducted on the indie rock scene in southern California, Taylor traced the role of radio as a site of such exchanges between musicians and audiences, and reflected on broadcasting's continued relevance in structuring cultural workers' ideas about exchange and value in the digital age.

In our afternoon panel, 'Mediating Place', we returned once more to radio's power to construct national and regional identity in music. Helen Gubbins (University of Sheffield) drew on recent archival research to examine how 1930s broadcasts from Renfro Valley, Kentucky helped to build notions of Appalachian regional identity. As with Neale's paper earlier in the conference, Gubbin's research explained how the production of musical identities on radio relied on techniques intrinsic to the medium such as location recording, as well as the assertion of particular narrative tropes regarding everyday life and music-making amongst the inhabitants of early twentieth-century Appalachia. Lonán Ó Briain's (University of Nottingham) paper reported on a recently commenced project investigating the role of Voice of Vietnam Radio in the formation and maintenance of the nation state. Drawing on interviews with some of the station's early employees, Ó Briain traced how the station's musical activities have underpinned the dissemination of political narratives and public culture in Vietnam since independence and through the country's recent economic liberalisation.

Theodore Konkouris (Queen's University Belfast) provided conference attendees with a though-provoking reflexive narrative of his research amongst hunter-musicians in Bamako, Mali. Konkouris showed how radio programming has facilitated the national transmission of otherwise localised musical and social rituals, intersecting with broader issues of morality and identity in contemporary Malian life.

The final speaker of the day was Rebecca Draisey-Collishaw (Memorial University of Newfoundland), who addressed the performance of multiculturalism in the Canadian music series Fuse between 2005-8. While the series ostensibly offered a site for reconfiguring existing cultural and social divides through musical interaction, Draisey-Collishaw demonstrated how the program could also unwittingly reinscribe these divisions through its musical categorisations, production decisions, and through failing to contest common tropes in guest musicians' own mythologies of music and identity.

This one-day conference brought together a broad range of research from ethnomusicologists at different levels of their careers, demonstrating the conference theme to be a fruitful area for research. The emphasis on music and identity found in this year's papers will hopefully be balanced by further ethnomusicological scholarship on the act of radio listening itself, as well as the explicitly technological aspects of broadcasting.

Thanks to organisers Dr. Annette Davison, Prof. Simon Frith, Dr. J Mark Percival, Dr. Tom Wagner, and Dr. Tom Western at the University of Edinburgh; and to the staff and volunteers of the Museum of Communication, Burntisland, for a successful and thought-provoking conference in an ideal setting.


Joint IMR/BFE/IASPM (UK & Ireland) Study Day: Researching Music: Interviewing, Ethnography, and Oral History, 6 June 2016

Report compiled by Yuiko Asaba 


The joint IMR/BFE/IASPM (UK & Ireland) Study Day, “Researching Music: Interviewing, Ethnography, and Oral History” held at the Senate House, provided a convivial and stimulating opportunity for students and experts in ethnomusicology and related fields, to share the often ‘hidden’, yet profoundly rich methodological stories behind the weaving of ethnography and oral history. Delegates were fortunate to engage with a wide range of topics enabled by the ten-minute presentation format given to each speaker. This was followed by four keynote speakers whose expert knowledge and experiences led to deeply thought-provoking discussions. This conference included perspectives and reflections on the issues surrounding ethnographic methodologies and oral history.

Organised by Dr Byron Dueck (Open University), Professor Geoff Baker (Royal Holloway University of London) and Sam Murray (Cardiff University) supported by the IMR, BFE, IASPM (UK & Ireland) and HARC (Royal Holloway), the day got off to an inspiring start with a packed audience. The first panel “Ethnography and access,” wonderfully introduced by the panel chair Professor Ruth Finnegan, included themes on reflexivity in research on reputation building and prestige in orchestras (Francesca Carpos), hierarchy in the uses of language and its positive complexity in the study of amateur community gamelan groups in Indonesia (Dr Jonathan Roberts), ethnographic tensions in ‘accessing’ Julio Iglesias (Dr Katia Chornik), and the impact of the researcher’s life changes upon the outsider/insider binaries in studying choirs of post-conflict Northern Ireland (Sarah-Jane Gibson). The panel opened up fantastic opportunities to acknowledge and to discuss similarities and differences in ethnographic methodologies in a vibrant and inspiring debate. This gave a wonderful lead into the next session “Ethnography and voice” chaired by Dr Sarah Hill. This session included issues of vagueness when discussing music that lead to marking of important areas in Drone Metal reception (Dr Owen Coggins), insider identification in multi-cited fields of international jew’s harp revival (Deirdre Morgan), and organisation of ethnography that “emerges from unfinished world” in a participant study of the British Northern Soul scene (Sarah Raine). Marion Wasserbauer who was also scheduled to talk unfortunately could not attend this conference. A question from the audience surrounding authenticity of questionnaire further invigorated the debate on negotiating “voice” (or indeed “voices”) within ethnography.      

The lunch break provided great opportunities for further discussions on topics deriving from the morning panels, and to share commonality in our approaches to researching music. The vibrant conversations were once again the evidence of the wonderfully diverse topics and approaches that exist in our field today. The superb quality of the catering later on in the day must also be noted. There was no shortage in the choices of cookies and tea flavours, which accompanied the lively discussions throughout the afternoon coffee break.

The afternoon sessions began with “Ethnography, performance and art” introduced by the panel chair, Dr Byron Dueck. Dr Lucy Wright discussed ethnographic perspectives of an artist’s residency in light of ethnomusicological study of the troupe dancing from the North of England and Wales. Louise Marshall’s presentation suggested the sonic artefact and its performativity as analytical ways to unpick levels and layers of interview data. Dr Sara McGuinness then discussed the overarching roles as performer, researcher, and collaborator with other musicians. The vibrant processes of gigging/recording and making sense of similarities/differences between Congolese and Cuban music through performance were highlighted. Dr Joseph Toltz’s paper moved on to discuss ethical dynamics surrounding staging memories of the Holocaust by means of oral history. Discourse of fearlessness as well as ethical concerns within an applied ethnomusicological inquiry were addressed. The next session “Ethics; researching networks” was led by Professor Sara Cohen. Dr Terence Curran raised ethical as well as broader issues concerning collecting interviews, influences of memory, and presenting data within the methodologies of oral history. Dr Fiorella Montero-Diaz discussed “studying up” at home, access, and ethics. Applicability, adaptability and boundaries of fieldwork rules were questioned. Dr Andrew Bowsher challenged the concept of multi-citedness in ethnography based on his research on the flow of music media. Dr Marilou Polymeropoulou presented her visualisation method of the chipscene based on ethnography and social network analysis. 

Following the coffee break, delegates were fortunate to have four wonderful invited speakers. Dr Sue Onslow’s presentation focused on interviewing Commonwealth politicians and those in related professions for the AHRC-funded Commonwealth Oral History Project. Multiple perspectives on techniques of interviewing in a web of gender and power dynamics were debated. Dr Jaime Jones discussed issues and challenges surrounding self-curating in ethnography. Dr Laura Leante revealed pre-fieldwork naïvity that transforms interdisciplinary (teamwork) approaches to ethnography, providing opportunities for collective ownership. The last invited speaker was Dr Lucy Durán, who shared her experiences of interviewing a Malian singer, Fanta Sacko. Dr Durán’s first encounter with Sacko was met with delicate issues of gender, while recent reencounter has further enriched the ethnography.

Delegates engaged in further lively discussions with all the panel chairs, beautifully summing up shared issues that emerged from the day. Congratulations to Professor Geoff Baker, Dr Byron Dueck, and Sam Murray for this very enjoyable, beautifully organised and successful Study Day. The opportunity to indulge in discussions about commonality and diversity in our ethnographic methodologies in a conference context was one of the most valued contributions of the day.  


BFE Study Day: Sounding Ethnicity, 30 April 2016

Report compiled by Stephanie Ford and Christina Homer

The BFE Sounding Ethnicity Study Day was a wonderfully stimulating and diverse event for students and experts alike of ethnomusicology and other related disciplines. Showcasing the interdisciplinarity of the field and its wide variety of approaches, papers presented by the eight invited speakers and a keynote address delivered by Professor Martin Stokes provided a myriad of new perspectives and considerations on the topic of music and ethnicity.

Organised by Dr Lonán Ó Briain, Assistant Professor at the Department of Music at the University of Nottingham and supported by both the BFE and the British Academy, the day got off to a promising start. Topics covered in the first session included concepts of resistance and resilience in Hmong musical and cultural identity in Vietnam (Dr Lonán Ó Briain), the representation of song and dance in Uyghur and Muslim transnational identity in China (Dr Rachel Harris) and the emergence of ‘sonic icons’ and the charting of soundworlds in Korea (Professor Keith Howard).

There were abundant opportunities for participants to learn from one another and find points of commonality, as well as the opportunity for lively and intelligent debate. This was the case in the following session on Laz musical culture and ethnicity in Turkey, with speakers Professor Thomas Solomon and Dr Eliot Bates engaging with various opinions and questions from the floor after their illuminating presentations on different aspects of Laz musical ethnicity.

A break for lunch offered the chance to chat about the day’s presentations and hear about the interests and research of other participants. The variety and liveliness of these conversations once again demonstrated the wonderful diversity that currently exists within the field.  It must also be noted that the quality of the catering and the service provided by staff at the University of Nottingham was exemplary. There was no shortage of choice nor any need left unattended throughout the course of the day.  

After lunch, the fascinating keynote speech delivered by Professor Martin Stokes (King’s College London) neatly summed up the reflective and discursive nature of the whole day. Acknowledging the changing and evolving nature of the discipline itself, Martin expounded on the necessity to revise and update considerations of ethnicity, identity and music, with reference to his own work on the subject and in light of more recent theorizations of affect, materiality and voice. Personal insights into the origins of his 1997 text, including the influence of Oxford anthropologist Edwin Ardener, gave new perspectives on this seminal work.

Following this, a session featuring Professor Jason Stanyek and Professor Henry Spiller offered illuminating insights into the relationship between iterations of musical identity and the place in which they are situated. In the first case, Brasiliadade/Brazilianess as expressed by idiosyncratic and entrained metrical fluctuations, particularly among diasporic and non-Brazilian sambaistas; in the second, the Sundanese gamelan musicians of Java and the links to their environment via bamboo anklung instruments. The relative proliferation of players of Sundanese gamelan in the audience made for a lively ensuing discussion.

The last paper of the day - delivered via Skype by Dr Nomi Dave from her office at the University of Virginia - demonstrated the influence (and wonders!) of modern technology, and tied in nicely with some of the other presentations of the day which addressed the influence of technology and media in sounding ethnicity. Nomi's exploration of the fluctuating nature of power relations, resistance and the state neatly referred back to the first paper of the day.

Indeed, several themes wound their way through the various sessions, regardless of methodology or geographical region: the multiplicity of musical expressions of ethnicity; the dichotomy of defining oneself against others and promoting continuity and connectedness; protest and resistance in parallel with sustainability and resilience. The recurrence of these themes exemplifies the common ground that we find in these disparate iterations of musical identity.

Delegates took advantage of the opportunities to socialise at the wine reception and conference dinner, both of which were again extremely well organised. Congratulations to Dr Lonán Ó Briain and his colleagues for a thoroughly enjoyable and well-run event are very much deserved. The collegiality and openness of the event and the diversity of approaches to the area were some of the many highlights of this successful study day.



Report from the 2016 BFE Annual Conference: New Currents in Ethnomusicology.

School of Music and Fine Art, University of Kent, Chatham Dockyard Campus, 14th-17th April 2016

Report compiled by Liam Barnard


The sun shone on at least the first and final days of this four-day gathering, the weather being typically British for the Friday and Saturday! Of course this made no difference to the fun and relaxed atmosphere that presided over this year’s annual conference. The quality of the papers was more than consistently excellent, and some unexpectedly deep conversations were initiated in question times, enabled somewhat by experimenting with maintaining a degree of anonymity beyond the review process, even through the process of grouping successful papers into sessions based upon themes. 

Despite the minor hiccough of lunch arriving half an hour late on Friday, the quality of the catering and the service provided by their team was exemplary, including organising the inaugural Society for Ethnomusicology Ice Cream Social, so successful an idea developed by Stephen Stuempfle of the SEM that Kent Hospitality have decided to offer this as a catering option for other conferences in the future! The evening wine receptions, one sponsored by T & F publishers and the other, in honour of the great Prof. David Hughes, added to the smiles and happiness that was a feature of our annual gathering this year. A favourite Facebook quote of mine regarding the conference read “It feels like I’ve just been on a holiday with all my friends!”. And smiles there were a-plenty during and after Prof. Jonathan Stock’s excellent and hugely entertaining keynote speech - “Sounding the Bromance”. After a long but rewarding three days of papers, Saturday night was party night in Coopers Bar, across the road from the Dockyard Campus, where the musical collaborations and the display of talents stretched on until closing time at midnight. Who could forget David Hughes’ performance of his JapRap, or the surprising versatility of Ruard Absaroka’s beatboxing! From Ceilidh Folk to Argentine Tango to Chicago Blues, the musical globe kept spinning throughout the evening.





          Keynote: Prof. Jonathan Stock                                               Wine reception in honour of Prof. David Hughes


By the time the plenary session commenced late on Sunday morning, with Tim Cooley’s take on the Shipping Forecast, accompanied by strains of the classic Radio 4 callsign, “Sailing By”, the sun was shining again, bathing our dockyard in golden morning light. This was a conference which took over a year to organise, and I must please extend my thanks to Byron Dueck, Barley Norton, Kevin Dawe, Jonathan Stock, Richard Lightman, Ruth Herbert, Alan Payne, Tom, Philippa, the BFE volunteers, Sam Cunningham, Jacky Olsen and everybody else who made this joyous celebration of ethnomusicology happen, and that includes everybody who came down to Chatham and shared our dockyard with us! 

Now it’s all over until Sheffield in 2017 it seems like a bit of an anticlimax for us to return to our daily academic lives. We hope you have as many happy memories to take with you as we have of hosting our four days in April, and that you take the Sunday sunshine with you wherever you go over the next year!

Some pictures of our BFE AGM at Kent University. Including some wonderful music provided by Liam Barnard and ShzrEe Tan. Thank you to all our membership for being there! See you next year in Sheffield!



                                 All that jazz!                                                                    BFE AGM is about to start