Musical instruments and friction: ideas for thinking historically

Wednesday 3 June 2015, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Professor Rachel Beckles Willson (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Musical instrument museums are often quite subduing spaces. Arrays of objects behind glass document histories of empire and/or private passion, while token sound samples over headphones do little to recapture the instruments' lives in their former environments. But perhaps certain museum instruments could challenge our thinking and creative work in interesting ways. In this talk I present some work-in-progress from Leverhulme-funded research on the ud (Arab lute) in Europe and the USA, referring in particular to instruments from Egypt and Syria currently held in London.

I suggest these material objects can nuance some of our historical thinking about their places of origin, European collecting practices, and more generally our methods for researching Empire. I also suggest we should use them to consider ways of presenting research findings. In today's political climate, and the rapidly changing world of academia, objects invite broader and more dynamic ways of communicating our discoveries. So I use part of my talk to think experimentally about how a musical instrument might be a trigger for collaborative creative work involving cross-disciplinary practice and cross-cultural negotiation. I also explore the difficulties of using creative responses to reanimate the past in the context of current relations between Europe and the Middle East.

Location: I/D003