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Roundtable
Nov 21, 2021 10:00 AM - 11:50 AM(America/Chicago)
20211121T1000 20211121T1150 America/Chicago Music as Property since 1789

Although the fields of ethnomusicology, literature, and law robustly address the implications of music as a kind of property, they tend to emphasize two types: intellectual and patrimonial. Historical musicologists have similarly focused somewhat narrowly on issues of authorship in the early modern era (most recently Rose, 2019) or copyright in the age of mechanical reproduction (beginning especially with Frith & Marshall, 2004). This roundtable reflects forward to the possibilities for property as a wider heuristic through which to study music in modernity. At stake is nothing less than a deeply historicized perspective on music's entwinement with colonialism and racism. 

Our short position papers examine differing conceptions of music as property across eras, nations, and cultures. The 1789 French Revolution set in place a modern property regime, which not only prioritized composers and musical scores but also institutionalized an exclusionary model for professional musical production that eventually colonized much of the globe (Geoffroy-Schwinden). Since the early modern era, indigenous and Black communities have been systematically dispossessed of their music as a result of Western laws codified around cultural production. Broader logics of imperialism and colonization naturalized the extraction and assimilation of West Central African "musical vitality" for the purposes of regenerating a supposedly dying European modernity (Davies). Dispossessed populations, never unaware of these conditions, discovered profound musical exploits in the legal, social, and cult ...

AMS 2021 ams@amsmusicology.org


Although the fields of ethnomusicology, literature, and law robustly address the implications of music as a kind of property, they tend to emphasize two types: intellectual and patrimonial. Historical musicologists have similarly focused somewhat narrowly on issues of authorship in the early modern era (most recently Rose, 2019) or copyright in the age of mechanical reproduction (beginning especially with Frith & Marshall, 2004). This roundtable reflects forward to the possibilities for property as a wider heuristic through which to study music in modernity. At stake is nothing less than a deeply historicized perspective on music's entwinement with colonialism and racism. 

Our short position papers examine differing conceptions of music as property across eras, nations, and cultures. The 1789 French Revolution set in place a modern property regime, which not only prioritized composers and musical scores but also institutionalized an exclusionary model for professional musical production that eventually colonized much of the globe (Geoffroy-Schwinden). Since the early modern era, indigenous and Black communities have been systematically dispossessed of their music as a result of Western laws codified around cultural production. Broader logics of imperialism and colonization naturalized the extraction and assimilation of West Central African "musical vitality" for the purposes of regenerating a supposedly dying European modernity (Davies). Dispossessed populations, never unaware of these conditions, discovered profound musical exploits in the legal, social, and cultural structures of jazz (Doktor and Mueller). This legacy persists as a structural bedrock in twenty-first-century music programs (Kajikawa). Because governmental infrastructures seek to control the material experience of space, property continues to shape when and how we hear sounds (Rustin).


By considering the varied "possessive investments" in music codified into contemporary institutions like the university, the music industry, the law, the government, and even "nature," this panel will open a conversation about the potentialities of historicizing music and property in modernity. We seek to tangibly connect "possessive investments" to property proper and to challenge the conception of property as a "natural" right. We must ask: to what nature and to whose rights does this music belong? 



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