The social life of chords

The Dome, Bramall Music Building
Arts and Law, Research
Wednesday 18th January 2017 (13:00)
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  • Music Colloquium series 2016-2017

Speaker: Byron Dueck (Open University)

Venue: The Dome, Bramall Music Building (3rd Floor)


How do musicians initiate, affirm, and extend relationships through the musical materials they deploy? 
What kinds of connections do these deployments establish, and with whom (intimates, strangers, particular persons, abstract publics, spiritual beings)? Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, this paper looks at two sites where western harmony was initially disseminated in the context of colonialism: Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, and the western Canadian city of Winnipeg. In Cameroon, the focus is bikutsi, a popular genre that draws on both traditional and international influences; in Canada, it is country and gospel music performed by musicians of Indigenous heritage. In both cases, special attention is devoted to the roles harmony plays in mediating encounters and connections (in short, to ‘the social life of chords’). The discussion then turns to methodology and how further study of the social life of musical materials might be undertaken.


Byron Dueck is Lecturer and Head of Music at the Open University. He received his PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of Chicago in 2005 following degrees in piano performance at the University of Minnesota and Wilfrid Laurier University. His research interests include North American Indigenous music and dance, the music of Cameroon, and the musical mediation of relationships. He is the author of Musical Intimacies and Indigenous Imaginaries: Aboriginal Music in Public Performance (Oxford University Press) and the co-editor, with Martin Clayton and Laura Leante, of Experience and Meaning in Musical Performance (Oxford University Press). 


Byron Dueck, ‘Introduction: Publicity, Counterpublicity, Antipublicity’, Chapter 1 of Musical Intimacies and Indigenous Imaginaries: Aboriginal Music and Dance in Public Performance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 1-33.

Kofi Agawu, ‘Tonality as a Colonizing Force in Africa’ in Ronald Radano and Tejumola Olaniyan (eds), Audible Empire: Music, Global Politics, Critique (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), pp. 334-3.

Further Readings

The following readings provide some theoretical touchstones for the talk:

Beverley Diamond, ‘Music of Modern Indigeneity: From Identity to Alliance Studies’, European Meetings in Ethnomusicology 12 (2007): 169-190. Reprinted in Dan Lundberg and Gunnar Ternhag (eds), Yoik: Aspects of Performing, Collecting, Interpreting (Stockholm: Skrifter Utgivna av Avenskt Visarkiv, 2011), pp. 9-36.

Robert R. Faulkner and Howard S. Becker, ‘How Musicians Make Music Together’, Chapter 1 of their “Do You Know . . . ?”: The Jazz Repertoire in Action (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), pp. 1-16.