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UCLA PEER Lab to host symposium amplifying voices in musicology research

Musicology professor and founder of the UCLA Practice-Based Experimental Epistemology Research Lab, Nina Eidsheim, sits at a table with a computer. Eidsheim, the PEER Lab and Durham University music analysis assistant professor Daniel Walden will present free virtual symposium “Naming, Understanding, and Playing with Metaphors in Music” this weekend. (Kanishka Mehra/Daily Bruin senior staff)

"Naming, Understanding, and Playing with Metaphors in Music"

Virtual

Free

April 29-30

By Caden Chow

April 28, 2022 9:18 p.m.

Music isn’t just sound.

Striving to create a more inclusive space in the language used to describe music, the UCLA Practice-Based Experimental Epistemology Research Lab, musicology professor Nina Eidsheim and Durham University music analysis assistant professor Daniel Walden have collaborated to host a virtual symposium occurring Friday and Saturday. The symposium will feature keynote speakers from Asia, Europe and North America, connected through the goal of decolonizing each of the subdisciplines within musicology research, Eidsheim said. For the past two years through video calls and digital messaging, Eidsheim said she and Walden have discussed their individual research on the racialization and gendering of music through metaphors, leading to the development of this larger symposium.

“We (Walden and I) just thought it was such a rich and important conversation that we wanted to bring more people into it,” Eidsheim said. “That’s why we decided to do this symposium.”

In addition to keynote speakers, Eidsheim said moderators will be able to foster discussion between speakers and the audience, upholding the goal of expanding the conversation surrounding musical metaphors. Walden said three or four symposium poets will be present in order to help participants write their own poetry, translating the conversational themes into language forms other than prose.

[Related: New PEER Lab uses sensory experiences to explore music from global perspective]

With the theme of inclusivity in mind, Eidsheim said she and Daniel hired a live captioning company to provide accessibility to all participants, including those who are hard of hearing or deaf, or for whom English is a second language. Through this symposium, Eidsheim said she and the PEER Lab hope to show how language impacts the interpretation of music. She said their research on performing, listening and thinking about music, along with Walden’s collaboration, seeks to restructure the way people understand and discuss music.

“The (PEER) Lab is thinking about … all the aspects of music that we miss and all the experiences of music that we don’t acknowledge when we’re limited to sound,” Eidsheim said. “Because sound is just the confirmation that vibration through material has taken place, and we can have vibration through material that humans don’t recognize as sound, like a dog whistle.”

One of the graphic illustrations from the program booklet reads "Touching—A close shave—Hitting close to home" (top), "What part feels dirtiest?" (center) and "Is it camouflaging against anything?" (bottom). (Courtesy of PEER Lab)
One of the graphic illustrations from the program booklet reads "Touching—A close shave—Hitting close to home" (top), "What part feels dirtiest?" (center) and "Is it camouflaging against anything?" (bottom). (Courtesy of PEER Lab)

Trying to understand the diverse forms of music, Eidsheim said music metaphors, such as a blossoming melody, feed a rigid ideological system that fails to include other cultures whose music is not structured in the same manner. As a result, she said music that does not fit the standard of commonly used music metaphors are often regarded as bad or artificial music.

Eidsheim and Walden called these botanic music metaphors anchor metaphors because listeners are able to see the “flowering” melody on the surface but are unable to see the culture beneath the surface, Walden said. However, Walden said, the purpose of the symposium is not to say whether metaphors are good or bad, but to unveil the hidden values that are conveyed to individuals are not aware of these metaphors.

“When we’re talking about a certain kind of melody as one that develops organically from a seed into a tree, we value that particular melody – that particular thing – as natural,” Walden said. “We see it as part of the natural world, as it seems to grow without any sort of human cultural interference. … Music is a very culturally constructed thing. What seems natural in one context might not seem natural in another one. These metaphors … also direct us to valorizing certain kinds of music (and) certain approaches to how to listen.”

To delve into current applications of musical metaphors, the symposium will feature alumnus and UC Davis Native American studies associate professor Jessica Bissett Perea as a keynote speaker Saturday. Perea said her presentation, titled “More-Than-Metaphors: Toward the Generative Possibilities of Indigenous Languages,” aims to discuss the ways in which meaning is sometimes lost in English dialogue.

“The English language is often really representational, instead of generative,” Perea said. “When we speak in Indigenous languages, we’re actually calling ancestors – or places, ideas, other beings, other entities – into being with us like we’re in simultaneous space time. It’s really questioning or trying to trouble people’s easy assumptions that English language means the same for everyone. … I really want to encourage people to think about the particularities of not only who they are and where they come from, but how they understand the world based on those things.”

[Related: Bruin strums up focus on Indigenous punk music through band, online archive]

With new ways of thinking about how language can be used to interpret music, the keynote speakers will be able to unpack these sometimes sensitive topics through live interaction with audience members, Eidsheim said. By taking advantage of the Zoom era, Eidsheim said she and Walden were able to work closer toward their overall goal for the symposium, expanding the conversation about the impacts of musical metaphors by including a diverse and international cohort of speakers collected in one place.

“What’s considered sound research and airtight conclusions follow a specific kinds of thought cultures and practices,” Eidsheim said. “Very often, we see minority cultures or populations and their knowledge-making being completely left out of that, or that that kind of knowledge-making and research is not considered sound and conclusive. And, of course, we completely disagree with that. … It (the symposium) is very much like a decolonializing project in terms of what can be done within the resources of the university, within my field (of musicology and singing) and, for Danny (Walden), music theory and analysis.”

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