SESSION 5: Musicology as a Political Act? Engaging with Arising and Recurring Crises

Friday, 27 November 2020


9:30 – 11:00 SESSION 5:

Musicology as a Political Act? Engaging with Arising and Recurring Crises

chair: Mojca Piškor

9:30 – 10:00 Jelka Vukobratović:

Ethnomusicological Nationalism and its Innocence in Times of Crisis

10:00 – 10:30 Branislav Stevanić:

A Scattered Protesting Mass During the Belgrade Spring Lockdown: Ethnomusicological Reflections on Sound Protests

10:30 – 11:00 Martina Bratić:

What’s Been Going on with Feminist Musicology Lately?

Jelka Vukobratović

Academy of Music, Department of Musicology, University of Zagreb


Ethnomusicological Nationalism and Its Innocence in Times of Crisis


The recognition of responsibility of ethnomusicology for participating in national mythologies stays today largely in the historiographic domain, as a common knowledge about the 19th century link between ethnomu­sicology and the creation of nation states, when even the seemingly most benign ventures of folk music collection had political undertones. At the same time, contemporary support of discourses of nationalism in ethno­mu­sicology remains unrecognised as problematic, often justified through the fact of its occurrence “in the field”. The question, however, remains, does (and to what extent) ethnomusicological fieldwork describe or in­scribe nationalism into the music practices it explores?

In particular, we should question the benignity of ethnomusicological na­tionalism in countries with a very recent history of inter-ethnic conflicts, such as Croatia. Several contemporary Croatian examples illustrate the fa­cility with which subtle nationalistic packaging of traditional music can be swiftly transformed into a weapon of discrimination. Similarly to the calls for de-colonising ethnomusicology in the countries with an imperial­ist past, is it perhaps time to make an attempt to abolish the inherent na­tionalism of Eastern European ethnomusicologies? Lastly, in the con­text of teaching, what would a curriculum for “de-nationalised” ethnomu­si­cology or “de-nationalised” traditional music look like?

Key words: ethnomusicology, nationalism, “de-nationalising” curriculum

Jelka Vukobratović is a teaching assistant at the Music Academy in Zagreb, Croatia. She graduated in flute performance in 2008 at the Music Academy of the University of Zagreb and musicology cum laude in 2012, gaining a master’s degree in musicology and ethnomusicology. She gained a PhD from the doctoral school of ethnomusicology at the University of Music and Per­forming Arts in Graz, Austria in 2020 with a thesis on the position of local mu­sicians in the Križevci area and their role in the building of local social life and cultural identity. Her other research interests include various aspects of the role of popular and traditional music in everyday life, including its rela­tion­ship to ethnic identities, memory, and musicians’ labour. She has pub­lished nine academic papers in domestic and international journals and sym­po­sia proceedings, as well as two book chapters, and has actively participated in several international academic conferences.

Branislav Stevanić

Faculty of Music, University of Arts, Belgrade


A Scattered Protesting Mass During the Belgrade Spring Lockdown: Ethnomusicological Reflections on Sound Protests

This paper focuses on the strategies an ethnomusicologist applies in order to participate in social processes through multidisciplinary contextualisa­tion of music. It implies direct exposure of causes of certain collective sound expressions. By observing or interpreting sound samples as potent ‘tools’, it can be concluded that two opposite concepts of social partici­pation prevail. The first one is an organic participation by forming a sound field and the other one through already formed and externally regulated participation. Also, by contextualising the sound reproduction, terms such as temporality and usefulness and creation of the position can be recog­nised as primary resources which position the sound as a field of multidisciplinary studies.

Inspired by physical isolation, organised protests in pandemic conditions both in the region and Belgrade come into the focus of collaborative hu­man­istic researches. In the context of the culture of empathy, rebellion and the so-called anti-rebellion occurring in Belgrade in the spring of 2020, the relevance of an ethnomusicologist in mutual cultural relation­ships is questioned. Apart from being a medical struggle, pandemic condi­tions quickly became a fertile ground for new/old political struggles. Tense, ambivalent political positions expressed through sound as an echo of the political opinion have become a regular cultural event where some­one else’s inclination towards future non-pandemic times is recognised. Accordingly, by exposing the causes of the sound appearance, by re­search­ing not only factual music but its processes of generation as well, i.e. the norms by which it is created, ethnomusicologists position them­selves as humanistic activists. An engaged scientist working in the areas of cultural phenomena interprets and associates social prerequisites which are then experienced as a whole. With the presence of ethno­musicology in society, reading the sound and its role prove to be inev­itable thus encouraging the scientific community to additionally engage ethnomusicology in the relevant scientific subjects. Therefore, the new paradigm of ethnomusicology should offer responses to social process developments, by establishing the sound effect analysis as one of the basic paradigms of political activity within the culture.

Key words: COVID-19 pandemics, lockdown, rebellion, social protests, sound studies

Branislav Stevanić (1987) is a BA student in composition at the Department of Composition at the Faculty of Music in Belgrade in 2017. At the same time, he attended studies in the Department of Ethnomusicology and completed Master academic studies in 2019, under the mentorship of Dr Iva Nenić, at the same faculty in Belgrade, with the thesis Reproduction of social authority, masculinity and creativity: music of fans in the context of professional football in Serbia. Currently he is on PhD studies in the Department of Ethno­mu­sicology, within which he is researching the music and sound in public and political context. He is one of the founders of the Ethnomusicological activi­ties centre (Belgrade, Serbia). Also, he is currently working as a teacher in the music high school Stevan Mokranjac in Kraljevo (Serbia).

Martina Bratić

Institute of Musicology, University of Graz


What’s Been Going on with Feminist Musicology Lately?

It has been almost 50 years since the feminist intervention in music started its roaring engine and changed the discipline of musicology for good. Since then, this perfect tissue of music history got scarred, some ossi­fied notions were shak­en up, some new subjects entered the scene, and some quarrels brought excite­ment into a dormant scenery. With time, it seemed a new ground was es­tab­lished, being finally solid for grow­ing a culture long over­due. Digging deep into the past, permeating the old, the traditional, and rec­re­at­ing the grand his­torical nar­rative, to­gether with establishing some new approaches to music and its pro­ce­dures, that was the story of femi­nist musicology. A great struggle with some great consequences, but for whom precisely and how effective? My paper ex­am­ines the historical tra­jec­tory of feminist musicology together with its con­tem­po­rary off­shoots, analysing closely the causal relationship between the two poles.

The relationship between the imagined and realised seems to be in a crisis, not only when it comes to defining objectives in the discipline to­day, but especially so in regard to the feminist musicology research sub­ject – the female composer. What happened to the subject of feminist musicology? How do the ‘old’ paradigms swim in the new waters? and What would the possible prospective outline of the discipline entail? are some of the ques­tions I would like to touch upon in my presentation.

Key words: feminist musicology, woman composer, gender and music, musical canon, New Musicology

Martina Bratić holds an MA in musicology and history of art (Zagreb-Buda­pest). She worked as an associate musicologist at the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zagreb and is now a pre-doctoral university assistant and a PhD candidate at the Institute of Musicology, at the University of Graz. From 2012 to 2015, she worked as a chief curator at the Galerija Inkubator(Incubator Gallery) in Zagreb and has finished a one-year training pro­gramme in Women’s Studies. Her area of interest is related to topics of femi­nist musicology and music and subjectivity; to the field of contemporary art and theory, feminist art, and gender- and cultural studies.

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