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The University of Southampton
MusicPart of Humanities

Steven Rings Hartley Residency Seminar

Steven Rings
15 - 17 May 2018
Building 6, Room 1077 (Lecture Theatre A)

For more information regarding this seminar, please email Dr Amy Williamson at .

Event details

We are delighted to welcome Prof. Steven Rings (University of Chicago) for our third Hartley Residency of the 2017-18 academic year. Prof. Rings will be with us for 15-16 May, and post-visit PGR seminars will take place on 17 May.

Day 1: Tuesday 15th May 2018

11:00–12:30, Room 6/1077: Introductory seminar for postgraduates. Material that students should read in advance will be circulated on or shortly after 1st May.

14:00–15:30, One-to-one meetings between Steve Rings and PhD students (appointments should be arranged through Amy Williamson,

16:00–17:30, Room 6/1077: Formal presentation: Steve Rings (University of Chicago), Music’s Stubborn Enchantments (and Music Theory’s). Chair: Jelma Van Amersfoort.

In 1917, Max Weber (paraphrasing Schiller) famously proclaimed modernity’s “disenchantment of the world.” Weber was speaking specifically about the waning of belief in the cold light of science, secularism, and rationalized, bureaucratic capitalism, but his dictum has proven remarkably resonant beyond the social science quad. Indeed, disenchantment in various forms arguably pervades the postmodern humanities, as both diagnosis and method: the critical theorist disenchants, unmasks, demystifies. Most American music theorists, it need hardly be said, do something quite different. As the Society for Music Theory celebrates its 40th year, music theory—with its wide-eyed enthusiasms and unapologetic close readings, its loving attention to the sonic and the aesthetic, its frequent aloofness from the social and political—remains a discipline apart, a sort of blissed-out, sylvan glade within the Left-melancholic academy.

Depending on one’s intellectual commitments this may be cause for celebration or withering critique. But before we exult or condemn, we should try, once again, to understand why many of us inclined to music analysis are so prone to enchantment (despite frequent admonishments from our academic neighbors), and what this might mean for American music theory’s future, its place in the academic ecology, and its ethical commitments. This paper considers these questions in connection with the song “Poor Places” by the band Wilco, using it as a case study to stage a fictive encounter between (unabashedly enchanted) music analysis and more critically wary perspectives. I end with broader ethical considerations about enchantment’s potential to effect social change, drawing on the work of political theorist Jane Bennett.

17.30, Drinks reception in the Arlott Bar.

Day 2: Wednesday 16th May 2018

10.00-12.00, One-to-one meetings between Steve Rings and PhD students (appointments should be arranged through Amy Williamson,

14.00-15.30, Room 6/1077: Formal Presentation: Laurie Stras, ‘“Brave new ideas begin”: Disability and feminism in twenty-first-century pop’. Chair: Clarissa Brough.

‘Brave new ideas begin’: Disability and gender in twenty-first-century pop

Lady Gaga’s recent revelations about her chronic health conditions, and the way they have affected her ability to fulfil her global touring schedule have highlighted some of the issues faced by disabled women forging a career in the pop music industry. Singers Mandy Harvey (USA), Viktoria Modesta (UK), and the Sisters of Invention (Australia) represent a range of pop styles and attitudes, but each puts the experience of disability and gender at the centre of their performance. In this presentation, I explore the way these contemporary female disabled artists in Anglophone pop use their creative output to articulate views on disability and activism, through life-writing, visual representation, and their engagement with the public as well as in their music. 

16.00-17.30, Room 6/1077: Closing roundtable: “Music Scholarship, Aesthetic Pleasure, and Social Action”.

Panelists: Mark Everist, Steven Rings, Laurie Stras and David Bretheron. Chair: Valeria De Lucca.

Speaker information

Steven Rings, University of Chicago. Steven Rings’s research focuses on transformational theory, phenomenology, popular music, and voice. His book Tonality and Transformation (Oxford, 2011) — recipient of the Society for Music Theory’s 2012 Emerging Scholar Award — develops a transformational model of tonal hearing, employing it in interpretive essays on music from Bach to Mahler. His current book project explores Bob Dylan’s fifty-year performing career. Rings’s article “A Foreign Sound to Your Ear: Bob Dylan Performs ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),’ 1964–2009” (Music Theory Online, 2013) won the 2014 Outstanding Publication Award from the Society for Music Theory’s Popular Music Interest Group. In other recent research Rings has explored the popular singing voice and the music of Gabriel Fauré. He is also co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Critical Concepts in Music Theory with Alexander Rehding, for which he contributed the chapter on “tonic.” Rings is currently embarked on a three-year, Mellon-funded collaboration with composer and percussionist Glenn Kotche—best known as the drummer for the band Wilco—under the auspices of the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry. As part of their collaboration, Kotche and Rings taught a course during Winter Term 2017 that sought to rethink the three musical categories of voice, groove, and song, considering them at once as a fused, holistic group, and as parameters amenable to strategic separation and recombination in contemporary composition. In previous years, Rings’s graduate seminars have explored the concept of melody; the relationship between song, track, and performance in diverse vernacular music traditions; the music of Bob Dylan; Lewinian transformational theory; and musical presence. Rings teaches tonal and post-tonal theory at the undergraduate and graduate levels, a class on musical interpretation and criticism in the College Core (Music 10400), and a graduate proseminar on current trends in music analysis. Rings has served on the faculty of the Mannes Institute for Advanced Study in Music Theory and he is the series editor of Oxford Studies in Music Theory. He has also served as Chair of the University of Chicago Society of Fellows and is Resident Dean at Campus North Residential Commons. Rings also co-founded City Elementary, a therapeutic elementary school in Hyde Park. Before becoming a music theorist, Rings was active as a classical guitarist, performing in the U.S. and in Portugal, where he was Professor of Guitar at the Conservatório Regional de Angra do Heroísmo.

Professor Laurie Stras,I am a musicologist and performer with special interests in early music, popular music, and music and disability studies. For the 2017/18 academic year I am Senior Tutor, which means I am responsible for coordinating personal academic tutoring in Music, and for providing support to both tutors and students at undergraduate and masters level. For 2017/18 I am also president and lead negotiator of the Southampton branch of the University and College Union (UCU).

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