PP at Music & Philosophy

Performance Philosophy is hosting one of the pre-conference sessions for this year's 3rd Annual Conference of the Royal Musical Association Music and Philosophy Study Group.

Our session - 'Music Performance as Philosophy' - will be from 2.30-4.30pm on Tuesday 18th July at Kings College London.

Confirmed participants so far are:

Anthony Gritten (Royal Academy of Music) http://www.ram.ac.uk/find-people?pid=1795

Steve Tromans (jazz pianist and PhD candidate at Middlesex University) http://www.steve-tromans.co.uk/

Tom Armstrong (composer and Lecturer at University of Surrey) http://www.surrey.ac.uk/schoolofarts/people/complete_staff_list/tom_armstrong/

chaired and introduced by me, Laura Cull (University of Surrey and Core convener of Performance Philosophy)

Co-ordinated by Performance Philosophy (https://performancephilosophy.ning.com/ ), this session will feature a performance by Tromans and position papers from participants addressing the question of to what extent events of musical performance constitute their own form of philosophical enquiry. Does the performance of music resist conventional forms of philosophizing and if so, why? And if music does perform its own, alternative form of philosophy - what form does this philosophizing take and what can it do for our understandings, approaches to and experiences of music?

NB: You do have to register for the main conference on the 19-20 July in order to be able to attend the free pre-conference events. Please note that the early bird registration closes on 10 June - if you book by this time, the unwaged rate for a 1 day pass is only £20 (£25 for both days) and the waged rate £45 (£65 for both days).


Anthony Gritten (Royal Academy of Music)

Duchamp’s Ghost

This paper concerns the juxtaposition of performance and philosophy. What is it about the ‘and’ joining and separating performance and philosophy, which distinguishes and divides them while simultaneously drawing and determining their relationship? The paper is in two parts.

The first part unpacks an ideology at the heart of the vast majority of philosophy: only connect. This is frequently its first response to the wonder that has set it in motion. Philosophy returns repeatedly to the business of drawing connections between things, of drawing out connections, and in particular of drawing things together tightly into neatly ordered connections. In the philosophy of music, such connections include music and sound, sound and noise, mind and brain, brain and body, musical work and musical text, text and act, performing and performance, model and imitation, representation and embodiment, and so on – and possibly performance and philosophy. Such connections demand close, regular monitoring of whether they are accountable and transparent enough (the answer is always: not quite). And they provide the comfortable illusion of possession and property: that the things so connected are philosophy’s to manipulate as it sees fit, and that there is no resistance between things, no resistance to philosophy’s drive to connect things. In this ideology a certain type of dualism is assumed: music is constituted of, but is not merely, sound; the musical mind deals with the musical body; imagination and desire structure sound; form shapes content; the performer acts upon the text; music is sound heard in a particular way; music rejects noise; gestures supervene upon (metaphors for) physical movement; the performance is a representation of the work; and so on. This is perfectly reasonable, and is the basis of the development of a philosophy of music: I relate ‘to’ the music, which is thereby posited over and against me, as object to my subject. Under this ideology, the philosophy of music has made many advances.

The second part of this paper is an attempt to disturb this ideology. It will be argued that performance and philosophy should be kept separate, but that this separation is of a quite specific, productive type: “between the two, so absolutely foreign to one another, the closest unity: dissimulation” (Lyotard). The ‘and’ will be argued to be a conjunction that disturbs the relationship between performance and philosophy. This position will be approached through a brief reflection on one of Marcel Duchamp’s many memorable phrases: “A guest plus a host equals a ghost”. Marginalizing its playful humour, this phrase can be said to phrase an indirect sense – possibly no more than that – of the way in which connections can become disturbed, loosened, and productive. The significance of the remark is tied up in the way that different orders of work are blocked together within a single utterance yet distinguishable, differentiated, and distinct. For example, the playful use of letters targets the subject’s visual perception, alongside which the correct syntax and perplexing semantics provide material for her nominally higher-order cognitive mechanisms. The utterance has a looseness that remains after it has been assimilated and apprehended by the subject’s ears, eyes and mind. On the back of reflecting on Duchamp, this paper will attempt to connect and disturb two statements by Duchamp’s friend, John Cage: on the one hand, what it might mean to say (and the tense is important) that “What has happened is that I have become a performer and the music has become something to do”; and on the other hand, the claim that “The very practice of music, and [Morton] Feldman’s eminently, is a celebration that we own nothing”.


Anthony co-edited two volumes on Music and Gesture (Ashgate, 2006, 2011), and is co-editing Music and Value Judgement (Indiana University Press). He has written on collaboration for visual artists’ exhibition catalogues, on ethics in Jean-Francois Lyotard, and on issues including problem solving, ergonomics, phenomenology, performing and listening for the journals Musicae Scientiae, Performance Research, Dutch Journal of Music Theory, Musik-Konzepte, and the edited volumes Artistic Practice as Research in Music: Theory, Criticism, Practice; Music Semiotics: A Network of Significations; Performers’ Voices Across Centuries, Cultures, and Disciplines; Recorded Music: Philosophical and Critical Reflections; The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music; In(ter)discipline: New Languages for Criticism; and Phrase and Subject: Studies in Literature and Music. He is Head of Undergraduate Programmes at the Royal Academy of Music in London. A Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, he has played all over France, Canada and the UK, including several premieres of works by the French organist-composer Daniel Roth and cycles of the complete works of Buxtehude and Mendelssohn.

Dr. Tom Armstrong (University of Surrey, School of Arts)

A changing practice: confronting philosophy through composition and performance.

As a non-performing composer who writes primarily for acoustic instruments and voices I use staff notation as the principle means of forming my musical ideas and presenting them to musicians. Much of my work, therefore, conforms to a model of compositional practice that tends to place composition and performance in a hierarchical relationship leading to a dichotomy that is at best unusual (within the long tradition of Western classical music) and at worst damaging to the acceptance of new music by both performers and audiences.  Since 2009 I have been gradually adopting the less determinate notational practices found in experimental music in order to move towards a practice that places greater value on dialogue and collaboration between composer and performer(s). This change in my practice and conceptualisation of composition has raised many oft-posed music philosophical questions: the nature of, and the relationship between, composition and performance; the identity of a musical work; the creative function of notation; the point at which a work is complete. This paper does not aim to be comprehensive but, rather, to offer glimpses of an individual’s practice-led responses to such basic questions; in so-doing it underscores their importance in the continuous process of renewal that should characterise any tradition of music-making.


Tom Armstrong studied composition with Roger Marsh at York University; he also attended Vinko Globokar’s class at Dartington Summer School and the Advanced Composition and Performance course at the Britten-Pears School. His output encompasses work for the concert hall, theatre, amateurs and children with commissioners including Endymion, Making Music, [rout], the National Youth Ballet, Sinfonia Viva, Martin Feinstein and the Crossness Engines Trust.  Tom’s recent work has become more collaborative, engaging in various ways with performer creativity. Current projects include Arachne, featuring Melanie Pappenheim and Rebecca Askew, Albumleaves for trumpeter Simon Desbruslais with the Ligeti Quartet.

Steve Tromans (Middlesex University)

Philosophical Investigation in Music Performance in Jazz

 This presentation is in two parts.  The first is a paper featuring audio from a recent practice-as-research project as part of my PhD and details aspects of that project.  I argue in favour of my practice-as-research having involved a philosophical dimension, albeit one articulated in registers other than the discursive.  That argument draws on notions of the affective, a bergsonian ‘remembering’, and judgments of taste and quality, in accounting for what I consider to have been an enquiry into the temporal in our experiences of music-making in events of performance. The second part of the presentation is a solo piano performance, with a view to continuing the philosophical investigation in music-making.


Steve Tromans is a professional musician (composer and pianist) working in the interrelated fields of jazz and improvising music.  He has been undertaking doctoral research at Middlesex University in London, under the supervision of performance theorist, Susan Melrose.  In his practice-as-research enquiry, Tromans has investigated expert creative process in jazz performance of the standard repertoire, grounded in his professional work as a pianist and bandleader.  Further info: http://www.steve-tromans.co.uk

The session will be chaired by Laura Cull. Laura is Senior Lecturer in Theatre Studies and Director of Postgraduate Research for the School of Arts at the University of Surrey, UK. She is author of the book, Theatres of Immanence: Deleuze and the Ethics of Performance (Palgrave, 2012); editor of Deleuze and Performance (Edinburgh University Press, 2009) and co-editor with Will Daddario of Manifesto Now! Instructions for Performance, Philosophy, Politics (Intellect, forthcoming September 2013). Laura is Secretary of Performance Studies international (PSi) and in 2008 she founded the PSi Performance & Philosophy working group of which she was Chair from 2008-2012. She is now one of the founding conveners of Performance Philosophy – a professional association for researchers interested in the intersection of performance and philosophy, and which is hosting this session as a whole.

Music and Philosophy

3rd Annual Conference of the Royal Musical Association Music and Philosophy Study Group

King’s College London, 19-20 July 2013

Pre-conference activities on 18 July

Keynote speakers:

Georgina Born (University of Oxford), Stephen Davies (University of Auckland),

Peter Szendy (Université Paris Ouest)

Other plenary speakers, respondents, and panellists include:

Jeremy Begbie (Duke University), Mark Katz (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill),

Lawrence Kramer (Fordham University), Jenefer Robinson (University of Cincinnati)

The conference is conceived as a hub of interaction for scholars and students working in the

area of music and philosophy. The programme includes individual papers, keynote speeches,

plenary dialogue and debate, and newly extended Q&A time throughout. Pre-conference

activities include discussion panels, reading sessions, disciplinary introductions, and events by

outside organisations including the London Aesthetics Forum, NNIMIPA, the RMA Music and

Visual Arts Study Group, and Performance Philosophy.

Conference attendance is open to all and the participation of non-speaking delegates

is warmly encouraged. Reasonably priced accommodation is available. Early bird

registration closes 10 June; regular registration closes 30 June. Early booking is

recommended. For more information, please visit the conference website:


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