17-18 March 2017: After Idealism Conference, Cambridge

A two day conference organised by dr. David Trippett and hosted by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH) in Cambridge. More information and full program here

The legacy of idealism has been a guiding doctrine for the study of 19th-century music, from an emphasis on neo-Platonic musical works, acousmatic voices and intangible structures, to listening experiences disembodied, creatively imaginative, and ineffable. But idealism has arguably obscured the emergent perspective of natural science during the period, and with it, those of philosophical and scientific materialism that engaged composers, listeners, and their art.

This conference aims to enlarge substantially our understanding of the dialogue between 19th-century music and natural science, examining in particular how a scientific-materialist conception of sound was formed alongside a dominant culture of romantic idealism. It takes as its subject sound as matter and medium, focusing on the domains of natural science, emergent technologies, sentient communication and acoustics. It investigates the view that sound, for a time the cherished mantle of idealist metaphysics, was also regarded by writers, composers, scientists and engineers as tangible, material and subject to physical laws; that scientific thinking was not anathema but—at key moments—intrinsic to music aesthetics and criticism; that philosophies of mind and theories of the creative process also drew on mechanical rules of causality and associative ‘laws’; and that the technological innovations brought about by scientific research were accompanied by new concepts and new ways of listening that impacted the sound world of composers, critics, and performers.

This event brings together approaches from the philosophy of science, musicology, phenomenology, sound studies, and media theory / communication studies.