Epistemologies of music analysis: What Theories, what Methods, for what Types of Music and in what Disciplinary and Cultural Contexts? (ema-2023)

Date limite d'inscription: 
Sat 31 Dec 2022

Conference website: https://ema-2023.sciencesconf.org/

Call for papers

The globalisation of culture has led to an unparalleled interaction between people, ideas and cultural production, including, of course, music. Such interconnectedness, enabled by digital technologies, has made us more aware of the broad range of music past and present around the world. In particular, it has forced music analysis  — and musicology more generally — to open up to this diversity in order to understand it both from the inside and in relation to its socio-cultural, intellectual and historical environment.

However, such an endeavour creates a dilemma for  analysis: either we design and develop universal methods, tools and concepts that risk glossing over the particularised contexts and issues relating to specific types of music, or we develop local approaches to address specific and contextual concerns that could hinder a broader understanding of the inter-relationship of repertoires and themes precisely at a time when musicology is becoming increasingly interconnected.

The aim of this conference is to identify possible ways out of this dilemma. By looking at music in terms of both its diversity and unity, and by drawing on a wide range of analytical theories, methods, discourses and practices according to disciplinary and cultural contexts, our hope is to find analytical approaches that combine the global and the local within a shared and unified intellectual framework.

Analysis vis-à-vis Traces, Data and Musical Repertoires

Although the way we conceive of music and its transmission often focuses on the dichotomy between written and oral traditions, it is important to put this distinction into perspective. Rather than being polar opposites, orality and notation should be considered as a continuum that includes music composed on paper and then performed (two-stage art), music that is pre-composed and recorded, unwritten music that is then transcribed, and music that is created at the moment of performance (one-stage art) (Goodman 1976, 113–114; Genette 1994, 23–24, 86–88). To this question, we can add the problem of choosing the appropriate analytical method to apply to a given corpus and deciding how this method ought to be conveyed, especially in the computer age. Digital musicology has transformed our access to musical sources by making available vast collections of sound-related content (CNRS-Musée de l'Homme Sound Archives, Europeana Sounds, etc.) and scores (the Josquin Research Project, Neuma, etc.). Yet both approaches to the representation of music are organised according to fundamentally different semiotic regimes and thus pose contrary dilemmas for analysis. Written data contains categories (those of notation) that allow music to be examined independently of time, whilst placing limits on the analysis (Meeùs 2019); although the study of sound data is free of these constraints, it faces the challenge of segmenting the sound continuum into analytically discrete relationships. In both cases, appropriate choices need to be made concerning the features to be annotated and the concepts to be deployed.

  • Is it possible to analyse performed and recorded music without reference to its sonic dimension? Conversely, can we analyse such output without referring to a graphic representation that doubles as a transcription?
  • Can we define "low-level" musicological descriptors, applicable to disparate musical data and, if so, what is the relevance of these descriptors for studying individual repertoires or pieces?
  • What are the possible strategies for reconciling “situated” categories, associated with particular repertoires, issues, and practices; and general categories, which lend themselves to the comparison of repertoires and to collaborative study?

Analysis and Theories

Analysis is always based on a theory, whether it be explicit or implicit, conscious or unconscious. Thus theory must always precede analysis, given that theory is the bedrock upon which analysis is grounded. That said, analysis can be no more inductive than theory can be: neither is purely deducible from the mere observation of facts. Every theory necessarily starts from some hypothesis or axiom: it begins as a hypothetical proposition based on abductive reasoning, just as an analysis is based indirectly on a similar abductive process grounded in hypothesis.

Unlike “normal” science, which largely consists of “puzzle solving”, the humanities and social sciences are supposed to be part of a “tradition of claims, counter-claims, and debates over fundamentals” (Kuhn 1970, p. 6). But analytical activity is not inherently divorced from the solving of puzzles based on models, restrictions or rules. The symbolic aspect of music — like any object of study in the humanities and social sciences — nevertheless involves a greater variety of interpretative perspectives, which impacts the theories and calls for a critical discussion of tools in order to achieve the required transparency and intelligibility of scientific demonstration (Weber 1904, p. 31).

Music theory is not just a propaedeutic subject in the training of performers, teachers and musicologists; it also refers to a set of statements — ancient or modern, Western or Eastern — that aim to describe music in terms of its perceived essence and forms. Given that any musical conceptualisation depends on assumptions that reflect particular cultural, intellectual, geographical, historical and linguistic ecologies, the challenge is not to make these statements converge, at the risk of levelling them and hollowing them out, but to formulate them.

  • Does music theory constitute a pedagogical field, a systematic and technical approach to music, or is it a set of abstractions that fall within a particular intellectual and historical framework?
  • What are the specific features of individual theoretical discourses (i.e. intentions, audiences, the size and scope of production and status within a more general body of knowledge, etc.) and what are the links between them in terms of their relationship to music, their history and their concepts?
  • What potential challenges, issues and strategies would be involved in the development of a truly global and cosmopolitan music theory?

Analysis, its Methods and Discourses

Analysis involves the application of models and abstractions that are the result of theoretical assumptions about the organisation of music and its relationship with the world. Questioning the ideological functioning of music analysis is not limited to identifying philosophical preconceptions, but also leads to a reflection on the objects, types of statements, concepts, language, and theoretical foundations that underpin this activity. Thus, it is possible to question the conditions that structure the theoretical models and the analytical results that are produced. Music analysis has also focused on the type of discourse to be carried out on the work. Such an enquiry often takes the form of structural semiotics, leading to a discretisation (and segmentation) of the work. However, there is another approach that emphasises the transformational process and seeks to understand the work not as a collection of interconnected objects, but as the (hierarchical) result of a series of transformative operations. This section examines the idea of analysis itself as a particular approach to the universal phenomenon we call music.

  • Where do analytical activities and the models that underpin them stand in relation to discursive practice, knowledge, and science?
  • What are the (scientific) assumptions of differing analytical approaches?
  • What are the truth conditions of the theoretical models and the analytical results that they produce? To what extent are these truth conditions overtly identified and addressed by the analyst employing a given method?
  • When and under what conditions can collaborative, open, and evolving analysis take place?

Analysis and Musicology

Although the notable ascent in the status of music analysis over the course of the twentieth century had little impact on the edifice of German systematische and historische Musikwissenschaft (Adler 1885), it was an important factor in the transformation of musicology in the French-speaking world. Drawing on semiology and linguistics, analysis has had a lasting impact on the discipline in French-speaking countries and has spurred the development of digital musicology since the early 1990s (Guillotel-Nothmann 2020, 48). In the United States, music theory has led to highly formalised approaches which are largely dissociated from (historical) musicology. This separation has been criticised by New Musicology, which focuses on areas such as deconstruction, gender studies, and cultural studies, but does not provide the basis for building an intellectual framework that would link analysis with these fields (Agawu 2004, 268–270 and 279–280). The aim of a more generalised musicological programme, as formulated by Molino (1975) and Nattiez (1987, 2007, 2010), would be to remedy this situation by applying a tripartite analytic semiology as a framework for the establishment of a “discipline that is at once systematic, historical and anthropological, capable of integrating music and its context, the variables and constants of its evolution” (Molino 1990). However, this programme leaves open many questions concerning the construction of the object of study (Delalande 2019); the application of principles, models, and methods that are identical to all music; and, finally, the usefulness of an approach that focuses on general, or even universal features in order to uncover the specific workings of individual repertoires.

  • Do semiotic, aesthetic, historical, sociocultural, pedagogical or historiographic implications make analysis and theory dependent on these related disciplines?
  • How can experiences from various repertoires, issues, and needs contribute to the development of a general musicology?

Analysis according to Cultures

The coexistence of multiple discourses on a variety of musical systems from a wide range of cultural and historical contexts implies that analysts and theorists alike are faced with the challenge of engaging with different systems of representation without being able to fully free themselves from the shackles of their own analytical and cultural biases.

The end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century have seen the emergence of inclusive and cross-disciplinary theoretical and analytical approaches that have forged tools and produced analytical discourses based on both local and global knowledge: for example, the convergence of modal grammars between mediaeval and oriental musicology and the development of a resolutely analytical ethnomusicology (Picard 2007, Labussière 2007, Abou Mrad 2016, Wright 2016). This has enabled links to be established with analytical musicological approaches developed in Tunisia, Lebanon, Iran, India, China, and elsewhere that draw on regional theoretical traditions dating back more than a thousand years.

This section aims to identify the status of analysis and theory in different cultural and historical contexts so as to identify disciplinary paradigms that lend themselves to intersectional approaches.

  • How can the consideration of local theories evolve towards an approach that transcends the ideology of difference and the opposition between local and global knowledge?
  • Who is to be the judge in validating interpretations of theoretical systems from different cultures?
  • Can the analytical traditions of different cultures be formulated within a coherent disciplinary whole?


  • Abou Mrad, Nidaa, Éléments de sémiotique modale: Essai d’une grammaire musicale pour les traditions monodiques, Hadath-Baabda/Paris, Les Éditions de l’Université Antonine/Geuthner, 2016. 
  • Adler, Guido, 1885, « Umfang, Methode und Ziel der Musikwissenschaft », Vierteljahrsschrift für Musikwissenschaft 1, p. 5-20.
  • Agawu, Kofi, « How We Got out of Analysis, and How to Get Back in Again », Music Analysis, 23/2-3 (2004), p. 267-286.
  • Delalande, François, La musique au-delà des notes, Rennes, PUR, 2019.
  • Genette, Gérard, L’Œuvre de l’art. 1, Immanence et transcendance, Paris, Seuil, 1994.
  • Goodman, Nelson, Languages of Art, Indianapolis/Cambridge, Hackett, 1976.
  • Guillotel-Nothmann, Christophe, « Les signes musicaux et leur étude par l’informatique. Le statut épistémologique du numérique dans l’appréhension du sens et de la signification en musique », Revue musicale OICRM, 6/2 (2020), p. 45-72.
  • Kuhn, Thomas, « Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research », Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave (ed.), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1970, p. 1-24.
  • Labussière, Annie, « Geste et structure modale dans le chant traditionnel à voix nue », Musiques : une Encyclopédie pour le XXIe siècle, Jean-Jacques Nattiez (ed.), vol. 5, L’unité de la musique, Arles/[Paris], Actes Sud/Cité de la musique, 2007, p. 980-1024.
  • Meeùs, Nicolas,  Music Notation as Analysis, Communication au Symposium international Analysis and Theory of Music, Porto, 22/03/2019.
  • Molino, Jean, « Fait musical et sémiologie de la musique », Musique en jeu, 17 (1975), p. 32-62.
  • Molino, Jean, « Afterthought 1990 », Music Analysis, 9/2 (1990), p. 151-153. Translation into French: Jean Molino, Le singe musicien, Jean-Jacques Nattiez and Jonathan Goldman (ed.), Paris, Actes Sud, 2009, p. 115-118.
  • Nattiez, Jean-Jacques, Musicologie générale et sémiologie, Paris, Bourgois, 1987.
  • Nattiez, Jean-Jacques, « Unité de la musique… unité de la musicologie ? En guise de conclusion », Musiques : une Encyclopédie pour le XXIe siècle, Jean-Jacques Nattiez (ed.), vol. 5, L’unité de la musique, Arles/[Paris], Actes Sud/Cité de la musique, 2007, p. 1197-1211.
  • Nattiez, Jean-Jacques, « Musicologie historique, ethnomusicologie, analyse : Une musicologie générale est-elle possible ? », Itamar. Revista de investigación musical, Universitat de València, 1 (2008), p. 111-132. Revised version in  Musicae scientiae 14 (2010), p. 333-355.
  • Picard, François, « Pour une musicologie générale des traditions », Revue des traditions musicales des mondes arabe et méditerranéen, n° 1 « Musicologie générale des traditions », Baabda (Liban), Éditions de l’Université Antonine, 2007, p. 27-56.
  • Weber, Max, « Die “Objektivität” sozialwissenschaftlicher und sozialpolitischer Erkenntnis », Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik 19 (1904) 1, p. 22-87.
  • Wright, Owen, Touraj Kiaras and Persian Classical Music : An Analytical Perspective, Londres/New York, Routledge (SOAS Studies in Music), 2016.

Format and deadline

We invite proposals for twenty-minute paper presentations on any topics related to the conference themes. Papers may be presented in either English or French. The conference will take place on site at different venues in Paris. Only in exceptional cases will talks be streamed into the lecture halls (without an online audience). Participation is free of charge.
Submissions are to be made via SciencesConf (https://ema-2023.sciencesconf.org/submission/submit) and must include the following information:

  • Name and, in case, institutional affiliation
  • Contact Information
  • Abstract (max. 300 words)
  • 5 keywords

The deadline for submissions is December 31st 2022. Abstracts will be selected by January 15th 2023.


Scientific committee

  • Kofi Agawu, Graduate Center, CUNY
  • Nidaa Abou Mrad, Université Antonine
  • Jean-Pierre Bartoli, Sorbonne Université (IReMus), SFAM
  • Cristina Capparelli Gerling, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, TeMA
  • Philippe Cathé, Sorbonne Université (IReMus)
  • Thomas Christensen, The University of Chicago
  • Daniel K. L. Chua, The University of Hong Kong, IMS
  • Christophe Guillotel-Nothmann, CNRS (IReMus)
  • Achille Davy-Rigaux, CNRS (IReMus), Épistémuse
  • Anas Ghrab, Université de Sousse
  • Jonathan Goldman, Université de Montréal
  • Ariane Jeßulat, Universität der Künste Berlin
  • Nicolas Meeùs, Sorbonne Université (IReMus), EuroT&AM
  • François Picard, Sorbonne Université (IReMus), SFE

Organizing committee*

  • Thomas Christensen, The University of Chicago
  • Adam F. Filaber, McGill University / Sorbonne Université (IReMus)
  • Christophe Guillotel-Nothmann, CNRS (IReMus)
  • Nathalie Hérold, Sorbonne Université (IReMus), SFAM
  • Ariane Jeßulat, Universität der Künste Berlin

* The organising committee may be expanded in the coming weeks.

Preparatory committee

  • Nidaa Abou Mrad, Université Antonine
  • Kofi Agawu, Graduate Center, CUNY
  • Jean-Pierre Bartoli, Sorbonne Université (IReMus)
  • Thomas Bottini, CNRS (IReMus)
  • Muriel Boulan, Sorbonne Université (IReMus)
  • Philippe Cathé, Sorbonne Université (IReMus)
  • Jean-Marc Chouvel, Sorbonne Université (IReMus)
  • Thomas Christensen, The University of Chicago
  • Zélia Chueke, Universidade Federal do Paraná, chercheuse associée (IReMus)
  • Achille Davy-Rigaux, CNRS (IReMus)
  • Corinne Frayssinet-Savy, chercheuse associée (IReMus)  
  • Anas Ghrab, Université de Sousse
  • Jonathan Goldman, Université de Montréal
  • Christophe Guillotel-Nothmann, CNRS (IReMus)
  • Nathalie Hérold, Sorbonne Université (IReMus)
  • Ariane Jessulat, Universität der Künste Berlin
  • Nicolas Meeùs, Sorbonne Université (IReMus)
  • Francesca Mignogna, Sorbonne Université (IReMus)
  • François Picard, Sorbonne Université (IReMus)
  • Théodora Psychoyou, Sorbonne Université (IReMus)
  • Alice Tacaille, Sorbonne Université (IReMus)
  • Kate van Orden, Harvard University

Institutions, societies and networks

Partner institutions

  • Institut de Recherche en Musicologie (UMR 8223), organisateur principal (*, ***)
  • The University of Chicago (*, ***)
  • Universität der Künste Berlin (*, ***)
  • Université Antonine (***)
  • Université de Montréal, Faculté de musique (*, ***) et Observatoire interdisciplinaire de création et de recherche en musique (*, ***)
  • Université de Sousse (***)

Partner societies and networks

  • Associação Brasileira de Teoria e Análise Musical (TeMA) (***)
  • Épistémuse (*, **)
  • European Network for Theory & Analysis of Music (EuroT&Am) (**)
  • International Musicological Society (IMS) (**, ***)
  • Société Française d’Analyse Musicale (SFAM) (*, **, ***)
  • Société Française d’Ethnomusicologie (SFE) (***)

* Institutes, societies and networks funding the conference
** Institutes, societies and networks providing resources (venues, technical means, dissemination, visibility)
*** Institutes, societies and networks that contribute to the scientific programme of the conference (either as part of the main event or as a satellite event)



Nous contacter

Institut de recherche en Musicologie (UMR 8223)
Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Quai François Mauriac
75706 PARIS
Secrétariat : +33(0) 1 53 79 37 10
par courriel

Sorbonne Université
Centre Univ. Clignancourt
salle 524 (informatique), bureau 531 (direction)

2, rue Francis de Croisset 75018 PARIS
Tél : +33 1 53 09 56 00

Centre Sorbonne
Salle Pirro
1, rue Victor Cousin 75005 PARIS
Tél : +33 1 40 46 22 11

Maison de la recherche
Salle 312 et 313
28, rue Serpente 75006 PARIS
Tél : +33 1 53 10 57 00

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