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Serendipitous and Subversive: A Critical Organology of Hugh Davies’s Found Instruments

Palermo, Settimio Fiorenzo (2016) Serendipitous and Subversive: A Critical Organology of Hugh Davies’s Found Instruments. University of Leeds. [Dataset]

This item is part of the Alternative Histories of Electronic Music collection.

Dataset description

The invented instruments of the British composer, performer and musicologist Hugh Davies have played a significant role in articulating not only aesthetic, but also social and political concerns, and thus, deserve closer scrutiny than has been granted them so far. Indeed, Davies’s inventions are an ideal example of what Kevin Dawe has described as instruments existing at an intersection of material, cultural and social worlds. Of particular relevance are his “found” instruments, which consisted in reclaimed objects with little modification except for their amplification, often electronic. Davies discussed this unorthodox lutherie praxis as a result of a serendipitous process; this, however, is not to be understood merely as a naïve activity, but rather as part of a subversive project. Indeed, these instruments questioned the historical identity and status of the musical instrument, jettisoning traditional lutherie craft and skills and posing a challenge to the category of the musical instrument itself, thus representing a possibility for its cultural transformation. The study of such instruments, thus, necessitates a focused and yet multidisciplinary approach, able to discern and disentangle the complex discourses imbricated in their polyvalent and polysemic nature. Such an approach implicates a shift from the positivist paradigm of organology to the perspectives of what can be termed a “critical organology,” which calls for an expanded notion of the ontology of the instrument, not only confined to its material entity and the productive labour involved in shaping it, but also intent at understanding the immaterial aspects of the instrument, those forged by the social environment and the artistic labour invested in its realisation. From such a position, the musical instrument can no longer be considered as a medium through which music flows–a tool–but rather the domain in which music is ordered and re-ordered. Indeed, the two instruments by Davies discussed in particular, the Egg Slicer and My Spring Collection, are interpreted as laboratories for the development of a progressive musical aesthetics, as congeries of different kinds of labour, and as articulations of a queer politics. It will be argued that one of the achievements of Davies’s found instruments is to have understood the term “musical instrument” as the terrain on which a radical emancipatory struggle is enacted, and a persistent site of contest, therefore rendering this category permanently problematic and, thus, crucially significant. A critical organology of Davies’s found musical instruments is thus useful in gaining a better understanding of Davies’s music, but also to more fully comprehend the significance of the musical instrument vis-à-vis its socio-cultural context, as well as being strategically important in uncovering marginalised histories of practices that have not conformed to the canonical narratives of conventional instrumentality.

Subjects: W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music
W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music > W310 - Musicianship/performance studies > W316 - Electronic/electro-acoustic music performance
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures > School of Music
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Date deposited: 27 Jul 2017 19:30



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