Music, Materiality and Ownership
Music—in its various material forms—has long been collectable and collected. Scores into annuals, phonographs as furniture, building a library, record clubs, anthologies, limited editions, bootlegs, test pressings, remixes, hard drives, playlists, likes; music has been and is desirable, as capital and as property. But despite its centrality to everyday musical life, collecting has not been sufficiently studied. Collecting, elsewhere, contributes to compositional processes from song cycles to musique concrete and more. While from another footing, collecting occupies a central space in histories of folk and world music (the nomenclature of ‘the collector’ in these fields carrying through into the twentieth century—John and Alan Lomax both described themselves as ‘ballad hunters’—and beyond), with connotations of music’s thingness intact.
Sound archives have become repositories of collections; collectors have acted as catalysts for the global traffic of music: across continents, across formats, across economies, across regimes of value. Individual enthusiasts—private collectors—have contributed to the recent cultural blurring of oral history and institutional exhibition, as previously held assumptions about the disposability of popular musics and their attendant materials have been subverted in museum displays. And the act of collecting extends live music experiences through retention of the material extensions of gigs and concerts: posters, ticket stubs, set lists.
Digital music and its micromaterialisation have made music easier to gather and possess than ever, and new collecting practices have emerged: in the developing world, memory cards and USB sticks have become new containers for collecting and circulation; in the UK and USA digitisation has effected a rise in vinyl sales, and international events like Record Store Day exist to encourage the purchase of certain formats. Listeners continue to collect, digitally, even as the concept of ownership runs counter to streaming and subscription services.
In a variety of ways, then, collecting has a central role in many strands of music history and many practices that are currently unfolding. Yet it occupies a strange position: straddling processes of production, reproduction, preservation, mediation, consumption, and recreation. This conference seeks to explore music and collecting from cross- and interdisciplinary perspectives, from inside the academy and out: to contribute from musical perspectives to ongoing discussions of theorising materiality; to make sense of how the concepts of collecting inform relationships between music, ownership, and listening; to develop ideas on how to study music’s material forms; to understand how music consumption can become an act of composition or performance; to investigate how the act of collecting can compress processes of mediation and issues of power; to examine how collecting music interfaces with issues of gender (all the pronouns in the epigraphs on this website’s front page are male, for example), identity, class, affect, memory, and value.
Conference organisers: Tom Western, Sarah Worden, Tami Gadir, and Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen