MUS4651 – The Political Ecology of Music
What is the relationship between music and the environment? Music has been thought of as “the sound of circulation in Nature’s veins” and likened to “the clutter of the unkempt forest.” It has evoked breathtaking landscapes and voiced environmentalist criticism. But music has also contributed to noise pollution, and it has generated tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, music has always been a significant exploiter of both natural and human resources.
This course is about the history of musical thought and scholarship on the environment. It is equally about the history, current state, and future of the relationship between music and the environment. We will learn about foundational fields such as acoustic ecology and soundscape studies as well as emerging fields such as ecomusicology and the environmental humanities. We will place special emphasis on the material realities that constitute the very possibility of making music or listening to it—including issues such as deforestation and electric guitars, gendered labor and mica mining, forced labor and electronics assembly, electrical grids and social inequality, pollution and concertgoing, resource extraction and recording formats.
None of these realities take away from the beauty and goodness of music in certain contexts. They do, however, suggest that if we are serious about understanding the full extent of music’s involvement in the circumstances of thriving and suffering in this world, and if we truly want to intervene in those circumstances, then we have to confront the relationship between music and the environment in all its complexity. It is only then that we might develop a musicology in the future tense, which may lead toward post-catastrophic musical cultures.
On passing this course, students will be able to:
1. Critically analyze relationships between music and the environment, drawing upon:
- A range of musical genres and practices since the nineteenth century and around the world
- A range of traditions of critical thought both within and without musicology as such acoustic ecology, soundscape studies, political ecology, and environmental humanities
- Examples from academic literature, primary sources, and students’ own experiences.
2. Describe and evaluate the broad history and development of music’s relationship to the environment in theory and practice, including:
- How these histories manifest in past and present musical practices.
- Questions arising from environmental studies, soundscape studies, and infrastructural media studies.
- Critical thinking about the future of music
3. Outline and participate in current debates, explain different theoretical and academic positions, concepts, and methodologies relevant to musical and environmental research, in forms such as:
- Short critical written summaries of key literature
- Oral presentation and discussion
- Scholarly essay in the form of a white paper
8 double lectures + 4 double periods of seminars:
The seminars will be held after the lecture sequence. They will consist of discussions and clarifications of course concepts, workshopping essay ideas, developing writing and presentation techniques. The oral examinations will also be held during seminar time. There will be two qualification assessments:
Qualification Assessment 1 (English or Norwegian):
Students will write 3 short critical summaries on core readings of their choice, with their submissions distributed evenly throughout the semester (i.e. approximately one critical summary per month). They should submit their summaries after the core readings have been presented and discussed in class, so that they may incorporate class discussion into their own commentaries.
Qualification Assessment 2: Oral presentation (English):
Students will offer a 10-minute presentation on the research for their final essays, followed by 5 minutes of class discussion.
The main assessment for this course is an essay of 15 pages, each consisting of approximately 2300 characters (spaces not included). Students who choose to submit creative/practical components (see below) will write half as many pages. The essay asks students to experiment with environmental ideas that may lead toward post-catastrophic musical media, instruments, or performance practices.This could take place in the future tense—imagining new music technologies and forms of music-making. But students may also reimagine how music’s environmental and human consequences could have been mitigated in the past.
Students may also choose to include a creative/practical component that illustrates how post-catastrophic media might work. Creative/practical components may include recordings, videos, devices, and so on—as long as the creative component may be submitted for assessment. In cases where students choose to include a creative component, the creative component will account for half of the overall grade for the written examination. This means that students are expected to spend half of the time they would on the essay in developing the creative component.
In any case, the essay component will take the form of a white paper on the future of music. “White paper” is defined here as a concise report on a complex issue that is designed to provide information and offer proposals that allow readers to solve a problem, make a decision, or take action. Students who submit creative components must base their white paper on that component.
Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.
Explanations and appeals
Resit an examination
Special examination arrangements
Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.