More than 150 delegates attended the combined International Conference on Music Since 1900 and Music Analysis Conference at Lancaster University. The conferences offered attendees the opportunity to hear papers covering a multiplicity of topics, a selection of concerts and a number of pieces related to some of the talks in a listening room to which delegates had access. Due to the plurality of subject matters, papers were categorised by theme, and sessions then ran in parallel. The plenary sessions included keynote lectures by Henry Klumpenhouwer from the University of Alberta, who presented a trio of vignettes offering different approaches to music and analysis, and Philip Bohlman from the University of Chicago, whose paper, ‘Analysing Aporia’, explored the analysis of silence, or the absence of sound, within music of various cultures. In this report, I will discuss a cross-section of the presentations in order to provide readers with a flavour of the diversity of topics covered over the four days.
The first afternoon saw Keith Potter (Goldsmiths, University of London) and John Pymm (University of Wolverhampton) give a joint paper that focused on Steve Reich’s seminal work, It’s Gonna Rain. The presenters provided a fascinating insight into how this piece came about, drawing on original source documents such as Reich’s tape recordings from that significant day in October 1964, alongside his manuscript sketches. The following morning, Flora Henderson (SOAS), one of the speakers in the session entitled ‘Culture, Identity and Place’, brought along a shakuhachi flute to help demonstrate the importance to this instrument of timbre and pitch in her talk, ‘Analysing Timbre as a Cross-Cultural Musical Experience’. A number of composers, most famously Toru Takemitsu, have attempted to blend traditional Japanese instruments with those found in Western orchestras. She argued that analyses of such compositions have proved challenging due to the emphasis on timbre for non-Western instruments. On Friday afternoon, Helen Alexander (Glasgow University) gave a paper that centred on the way composers matched music to visuals in MGM’s animated cartoons of the 1930s to 1950s in order to heighten comic effect for audio-viewers. Focusing on contrasting clips from two different Tom and Jerry cartoons scored by Scott Bradley, the speaker illustrated the importance of musical phrasing to maximise the humour of the visuals, and was rewarded by the reaction of her audience to the examples she played, which cemented her well-made points.
One of the parallel sessions on Saturday morning considered the topic of Music and Place. The paper presented by Sarah Hill (Cardiff University) explored the relationship between psychedelia and ‘art’ music in San Francisco during the 1960s. As she explained, the seminal minimalist piece, In C by Terry Riley, was composed during the period when the psychedelic pop movement was at its height. Hill provided an absorbing insight into the interactions between the two genres in the city at that time. The second Music and Screen session took place that afternoon. Amongst the speakers was Catherine Haworth (University of Huddersfield), who presented an intriguing paper on the musical representation of the femme fatale in the film noir Out of the Past (1947), by illustrating the different ways in which a popular song is used as part of the narrative to exemplify the two sides to the personality of the film’s main female character.
Anne Desler (University of Glasgow) opened the session entitled ‘Canons and Margins’ on the last morning of the conference. She considered why the music of Queen has not been taken seriously by academics in the field, despite the group’s more recent praise from pop music journalists. It was particularly interesting that she presented her arguments from a background in classical music – as she light-heartedly explained during the post-talk questions, she had only heard Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for the first time a few weeks earlier – in terms of praising the competency of the musicians in the group and their diverse output. The final session of the conference was a roundtable debate focusing on the manner in which jazz performances have been presented audio-visually and the ways in which these can be analysed. This session provided a vibrant and dynamic finish to the dual conference and offered an absorbing insight into the variety of ways jazz has been filmed within different contexts, such as Hollywood film, BBC television series, and other live concerts.
The miscellany of topics presented at this year’s conferences provided stimulating and inspiring discussions amongst delegates within a supportive atmosphere. The variety of papers showed the breadth of research that is taking place within the fields of musical analysis and regarding music from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.