RMC 2018 Schedule

Keynote: “Comparing Musical Cycles Across the World”


Growing interest in world-music analysis has highlighted the challenges, long recognized by ethnomusicologists, of comparing music from different cultures on the basis of their divergent indigenous conceptions.  Yet, in today’s free-for-all sonic economy, listeners enjoy musics of unfamiliar cultures and histories. What are they hearing? My talk reframes this question in music-theoretical terms: what kinds of insight can a few basic and presumably universal principles of musical listening provide into a ubiquitous musical procedure, “cycling” (persistent repetition)? Most scholars who study musical cycles classify them, or associate them with the general affects they afford, without considering individual examples in much detail.  Recently, though, Agawu and Locke have carried out detailed analyses of cyclic West African traditional music in terms of basic percepts. Their approach seems worthwhile to refine and apply to other repertoires.

Of the many different manifestations of cyclicity, I restrict my inquiry to simple textures featuring constantly repeated rhythms, from isolated traditional cultures relatively untouched by colonizing/globalizing influences. My approach concentrates not on rhythmic “objects,” such as fixed metric states or events, but on the dynamic processes through which listeners acquire and continuously revise their sensations of music continuity, articulation, and event categories. Attention to these processes helps move beyond generalities to describe exactly how cyclic pieces differ, and also to recognize common strategies for making the repetition lively or for weaving large-scale processes out of precisely calibrated variations.  To expose the basic concepts I first examine some proto-musical chanting of Tibetan Buddhist nuns, then I present analyses and comparison of cyclic music from Haida Gwaii (Canada), Gabon, Bolivia, and Vanuatu.  The presentation is intended not only to appreciate the art of these examples, but to advocate for more analytical investigation into traditional sources as a valuable resource for music theory.

Dr. John Roeder

Dr. John Roeder

Professor, University of British Columbia

As a music theorist and analyst, I describe ways that people conceive of music, and how music is heard to organize time coherently, expressively, and meaningfully. I concentrate on music of special relevance today: recent works by contemporary composers in the Western art-music tradition, and the “world music” that globalization is now bringing to everyone’s ears. I have also directed graduate-student research in popular music, jazz, Renaissance polyphony, phenomenology, and spectral music.

I am especially interested in rhythm, meter, musical transformations, mathematical and computational approaches to music, issues of semiosis and representation, and processive approaches to music. From 2000-2007 I directed research into strategies for preserving digitally created information, including music, as a member of the InterPARES project. I have held grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to study Transformation in Contemporary Art Music, Periodicity in Music, and Approaches to the Analysis of Musical Time (the latter two in collaboration with my ethnomusicologist colleague, Michael Tenzer).

I’ve served on the editorial boards of Perspectives of New Music , Music Theory Spectrum, and Journal of Music Theory. I’ve been active in the Society for Music Theory, chairing, for instance, the Publications Committee. In June 2003 I conducted a Workshop at the Mannes Institute for Advanced Studies in Music Theory on “Transformational Approaches to Contemporary Music,” and in November 2008 I led a seminar on “Analyzing Contemporary Music” for the Graduate Student Workshop Program of the Society for Music Theory.