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Musicology Distinguished Lecture Series: Prof. Sonia Seeman, University of Texas-Austin

“Reconsidering ‘Labor’ - Theorizing Music as Affective Work: Case Studies from the German Bach and the Turkish Roman Sesler families”

  1. Friday January 11 5:00pm
Earl V. Moore Building, Glenn E. Watkins Lecture Hall

Abstract:

Recent theoretical explorations of music as affective labor in post-Fordist economic systems from Hardt and Negri provide a deeper understanding of the relationship between musicking and social, political and economic systems. However, these approaches are hampered by subsuming various forms of effort into a totalizing view of labor. I propose re-theorizing aesthetic affective work as distinct from generalized and flat considerations of labor, thus bringing to light changes in economic and political systems of exchanges, governance and control. Understanding musical effort as craftsmanship in relation to aesthetic affective work enable us to document the ways that changes from early to late capitalism in mediatized and mechanized forms of effort and compensation that are increasingly replacing aesthetic work with exploited forms of labor.
To illustrate the power of a theory of affective musical work, I offer two seemingly quite different case studies. An effort-centered analysis of the Bach family’s musical activities in 17th - 18th century Western Europe illuminates significant economic and social changes that in turn shaped individual musical subjectivities, as their musical output shaped society and economic treatment of musicians. The second case study examines various strategies over time of the Sesler family, a Roman professional musician kin group from 1920s – 2010s in Serres, Greece and Turkey. The purpose of these case studies is not to provide definitive insights into each of these areas, but rather to suggest a theorization of affective work based on nuancing the categories of musical effort according to local concepts and evaluations. Such theoretical considerations would be applicable to and productive for divergent musical genres, time periods and places.

Free - no tickets required