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Professors Julian Johnson and Rachel Beckles Willson win prestigious fellowships

Posted on 24/02/2014

Professors Julian Johnson and Rachel Beckles Willson have each been awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Grant in 2013.

Professor Johnson's project, Music, Voice and Language in French Musical Thought, explores the gaps between music and language – the ways in which music takes on aspects of language but reworks them in its own logic of sound.

He elaborates: "It explores this idea in relation to French music of the twentieth century (from Debussy and Ravel through to electro-acoustic composers like Grisey, Murail and Saariaho), and a tradition in French thought that runs from Rousseau to Derrida. At its heart is a set of questions that are fundamental not only to music, but also to the philosophical understanding of language – in particular, how music has come to be understood as a kind of compensation for the losses incurred by a linguistic apprehension of the world. An obvious focus is vocal music, but I also explore the ways in which instrumental music imitates language in order to depart from it. Why does any of that matter? Because, understood in this way, music sketches out a kind of embodied and material counterpoint to modern philosophy. Whereas the latter moves from concrete particulars to disembodied  concepts, music ‘makes sense’ precisely by finding a logic in the particularity of its materials – in the tone, gesture, rhythm and movement of its sounding bodies."

Professor Beckles Willson's project, Reorientations, and a musical instrument in migration, draws upon the insights and popular success of Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects.

She elaborates: "They remind us how rivetingly the things that we hold in our hands can lead us into the past, while remaining intimately bound up with the present. Musical instruments can be thought about in such ways, as they embody past eras of construction and playing while facilitating new sound cultures. My project explores the oud, an instrument of ancient origins that has migrated increasingly often from the Middle East to Europe and North America since World War II and emerged in fields as diverse as the Early Music movement and Oriental Jazz. The oud offers a launch pad for reflections on themes such as collective memory, global routes, material cultures and technologies of sound. By exploring these themes through the oud I hope to contribute to our understanding of musical change while also illuminating the value of musical instruments for considering human-object relationships and history more broadly." 


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