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At the next Vossius Seminar Alexander Wilfing and James Kennaway will present their research. Alexander Wilfing (Vossius Research Fellow) will give the talk “The Strange Case of German-Language Musicology: Origins and Byways of Academic Musical Research, 1870–1945” and James Kennaway (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) will present "Enchanted Technology: Sound and Mind Control in Conspiracy Theory ".
Event details of Vossius Seminar
27 June 2023
15:30 -17:30
Artis Library

15:30 - 16:30 Alexander Wilfing (Austrian Academy of Sciences/Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage)

The Strange Case of German-Language Musicology: Origins and Byways of Academic Musical Research, 1870–1945

Compared to musical research practiced all over the globe, the system of musicology originating from Austro-German discourse—established principally by Guido Adler’s famous article “The Scope, Method, and Aim of Musicology” of 1885—has a unique and broad profile. First, it maintains a distinctly scholarly approach to music, separating its analysis from practical music making. Second, it supplements the branches of historical and ethno-musicology—disciplines that also from part of Anglo-American music studies, for example—by the umbrella-discipline of “systematic” musicology, i.e. (empirical) research focusing on the nature of music, which involves diverse subjects such as acoustics, physiology, psychology, or aesthetics. How did this colorful assembly of fields and its strict separation from composition and performance come about and was this scholarly profile without suitable alternatives in German-language academia?

Derived from this question, I present two ongoing research projects on the history of academic musical research. No. 1 explores the conspicuous methodological orientation of musicology and the key factors leading to its tripartite makeup. Here, I implement a comparative investigation into the formation of musicology and art history as related but ultimately diverging disciplines. The chiefly historical outlook of art history (Kunstgeschichte)—a field whose origins predates the modern profile of music studies by several decades—will form an ideal foil to gauge the “strange case” of musicology (Musikwissenschaft). No. 2, related directly to questions of the origins and evolution of musicological methodology, analyzes the historical alternatives to musicology’s current profile. Which models of musical research were propagated during the formative years of this field and why did they not take hold in Austro-German discourse? Only by exploring both questions can we understand the development and ideological background of musicology as an academic discipline.

About the researcher

Alexander Wilfing studied musicology and philosophy at the University of Vienna and attained his doctorate in 2016. His research interests include aesthetics, musical criticism, the relations between musicology and art history, and the history of science and musicology in particular.

At the ACDH-CH, Wilfing is part of the research unit Musicology. From 2014 to 2021, he has been part of several research projects on the historical contexts of Hanslick’s aesthetics. From 2021 to 2023 he oversaw a project on the institutional establishing of musicology as an academic discipline in 19th-century Vienna, located in Frankfurt, Brno, and Vienna. He is currently leading a FWF-funded project on Hanslick’s criticism and its complex relation to his aesthetics and scholarly writings (2022–2025), conducted in Vienna, Salzburg, and at Stanford University. Since 2018, he is editor of Musicologica Austriaca: Journal for Austrian Music Studies.

16:30 - 17:30 James Kennaway (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen)

Enchanted Technology: Sound and Mind Control in Conspiracy Theory 

This paper considers the role of sound and music technology in discussions of mind control in conspiracy theories over the past two hundred years. In particular, it will look at the deep continuities between the idea of music casting magical spells to control others and supposedly modern secular discourses of the power of music technology to influence or brainwash listeners. Indeed, advances in sound recording and broadcasting technology have regularly led not to a decline but to a boom in magical thinking on the subject, especially in the context of conspiracy theories. The paper will also argue that, far from being a marginal phenomenon, such conspiracy theories, combining pop science with a garbled political critique and occult themes, have often been extremely influential on “mainstream” ideas.

About the researcher

James Kennaway is a Historian of Medicine at the University of Groningen, having previously worked at Stanford, Oxford and Durham. He has written extensively about the relationship between medical thinking and culture, for instance in his book Bad Vibrations: The History of the Idea of Music as a Cause of Disease.