Music and Sound Studies

Music and Sound Studies Reading Group

On Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 The Music and Sound Studies Reading Group will convene to discuss Anahid Kassabian's Ubiquitous Listening: Affect, Attention, and Distributed Subjectivity, 2013. Kassabian's study explores how our music- and sound-saturated world changes the ways we listen. Join us as well as scholars from other area schools for a great conversation. The event will take place from 4-5:30PM in room 341, Quinn Library, Lincoln Center Campus, 113 W. 60th St.


Quartet Metadata Concert at Fordham LC, Nov. 14


Professor Lawrence Kramer is organizing a concert on Tuesday, November 14th at 7:30PM featuring new works performed by Quartet Metadata at the 12th Floor Lounge of Fordham's Lowenstein Building, 113 W 60th St. (at Columbus Avenue). This event will be free admission. The Quartet Metadata, will play recent compositions for string quartet by Carter Burwell, Shelley Washington, and with guest artists. This event will also be the premiere of Wingspan for String Sextet by Lawrence Kramer as well as Brahms's popular String Sextet no. 1.

For more information about this event check out

Simon Reynolds Speaks at Fordham on History of Glam Rock

Simon Reynolds speaks with Fordham History Professor Asif Siddiqi.  This story was originally published by  Fordham News , and was written by Tom Stoelker.  

Simon Reynolds speaks with Fordham History Professor Asif Siddiqi.

This story was originally published by Fordham News, and was written by Tom Stoelker.  

Somewhere between Oscar Wilde and Lady Gaga came glam rock—fostered by the former and inspiring the latter, according to journalist and cultural critic Simon Reynolds.

“Oscar Wilde was the first philosopher of glam,” said Reynolds. “And there’s a legacy that’s a lot richer than most people think. About 50 percent of the punks were glam diehards.”

Reynolds, author of Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-First Century(Harper Collins, 2016) came to Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus on Oct. 17 to discuss the book with an audience of historians and musicologists.

Reynolds said he extensively “read around the subject,” including Thomas Carlyle’s 1840 tome, On Heros, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History. He researched academic articles on decadence and the history of camp, and thumbed through the yellowing pages of Melody Maker, the British music weekly that ceased publication in 1999.

Glam Rock performers were mostly heterosexual men, he said. From David Bowie to Roxy Music to Marc Bolan to Alice Cooper, the subversive use of androgyny was counterbalanced by a hard-charging sound that beckoned the rock idol “back to the 1970s,” after the staid performances of the late 1960s.

“Theatricality is a big part of glam, and that hadn’t been part of rock, especially in the late sixties when there wasn’t much to look at because it was just about the music,” he said. “In reaction to that, people like David Bowie and Alice Cooper brought in all the accoutrements of show biz: the props, the costumes, and choreographed routines with dancers on stage—all the things of Broadway became part of rock.”

Reynolds said that despite its avant-garde reputation, glam rock music actually has its roots in the pop music of the 1950s (albeit incorporating innovations of the late 1960s, like Jimi Hendrix’s layering and stacking of guitar parts).

“What defines glam musically is a reaction against acid rock; it’s back to more simple structures of the 1950s . . . that kind of punchiness and focus,” he said. “But glam also sleuths through all the recording advances of the late 1960s, when rock ‘n’ roll records sound much bigger, tougher, louder, and fatter than in the fifties.”

But glam was much more than the music, he said. Record executives were hungry to recreate the money-generating rock icon that had been lost in the sixties. For someone like Bowie, that meant nearly eight years of trying on different personas—something that started out as an effort to ride the latest popular wave but ended up becoming a key part of his image.

“It becomes his way of differentiating himself at a time when the career trajectory of artists like Neil Young evolved very slowly,” he said. “Bowie invented jumping from style to style, and now that’s a common strategy that loads of artists use.”

Asked whether a glam movement would happen today, Reynolds said that it already has—with women like Lady Gaga and Kesha. In fact, it never really left: British gay men kept alive the movement in the 1980s, with Boy George and Pete Burns of Dead or Alive, to name a few. He said that many women from the 1980s, such as Annie Lennox and Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, could also lay claim to the glam mantle.

An audience member asked Reynolds why he chose “Shock and Awe” for his title, a phrase that gained fame during the second Gulf War (though Reynolds noted that the concept originated with 19th-century German military theorist Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz).

“To shock people and have them in awe of you is a dominating thing,” he said. “It’s where you destroy and paralyze the enemy and they’re so stunned by the sheer force of your bombardment that they’re just incapable.”

“They’re two words that capture a chunk of what glam is about.”

The Department of History collaborated with the Englishart historymusic, and communication and media studies departments in sponsoring the talk.

Profile: Music and Sound Studies Reading Group

Literature, a seemingly silent form of art, lends itself to explorations of sound.

English graduate students have seen Fordham’s Music and Sound Studies Reading Group into its third year. According to Kevin Stevens, the group’s president, the group aims “to foster interest in the burgeoning field of sound studies.”

Group members learn about sound studies and theories of music that they often incorporate into their own literary research. Group members also become familiar with the scholarly trends in the field, and, in so doing, they learn to address the challenges of interdisciplinary research.

Professors Andrew Albin, an expert on sound studies, and Larry Kramer, an expert on musicology, attend the group’s meetings and add their expertise to the group’s conversations.

The group meets once a month, usually on a Friday, to discuss various monographs, articles, and sometimes the members’ own sound-related research. At their last meeting, the group discussed Brian Kane’s monograph Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice and engaged with his concept of “acousmatic sound,” or a sound one hears without seeing its source.

In the past, the group has also studied political theories on noise, phenomenological accounts of hearing, and musicologist accounts of hermeneutics, as well as attended Voices Up! concerts.

The group expressed gratitude to the English department for its ongoing support. “The department generously funds some of our books,” said Stevens.

For more information, or to get involved, visit the group’s blog or contact Kevin Stevens at

Sound Studies Scholar Andrew Albin

The sound of a New York City subway roaring beneath an apartment building at night will usually startle a newcomer. Over time, though, the sound becomes familiar and gradually fades, until one day that same New Yorker might stop hearing it altogether.

“In a way, you become a New Yorker when you become accustomed to the sound of the subway running by,” said sound scholar Andrew Albin, Ph.D. “Those two very different relationships to that sound, [being startled versus not hearing the train at all], are tied to two different identities.”

Albin, an assistant professor of English, works in an emerging field in the humanities known as sound studies. The field explores how we experience sound and what meanings sound holds for us as individuals, within our communities, and in our social and historical contexts.

“Sound scholars are interested in the full range of sound experiences—speech, soundscapes, music, environmental sounds, animal sounds, imagined sounds, and so on,” said Albin, who also specializes in medieval literature. “[How do] social, cultural, material, environmental, and historical [factors] influence the way listeners actually hear those sounds?”

Some questions that a sound scholar might tackle include: Did medieval audiences listen to music with “different ears” than modern audiences, who listen to reconstructions of medieval music on iPods? Does our experience of sanctity change based on whether we worship in a hushed and hallowed Catholic cathedral versus among the jubilations of an evangelical church? How does growing accustomed to the screech of the subway become a sign that you’ve become a New Yorker?

“The silence of the countryside or the hubbub of the city… can inform the ways you conceive of yourself, the way you understand your community, the values you hold, and even the texts you read and music you listen to and how you listen to it,” Albin said.

“Sound scholars are finding ways to talk about that. They ask, ‘What are the meanings that are attached to these sound experiences? Why do they take the shapes that they do? What patterns are emerging and what does that tell us about the culture in which we live?’”

Albin’s current research focuses on the works of 14th-century English mystic Richard Rolle, who was famed for his alleged ability to hear the sound of angels singing. His auditory experience of the divine sets him apart from other medieval mystics, whose mystical experiences of God were primarily visual, or even avoided the five senses entirely. This peculiarity, however, made Rolle a controversial figure.

“His critics were very skeptical of him,” Albin said. “Their response was to complain there’s no way to say for sure whether or not he is hearing angels singing. More likely than not, they said, he’s probably just enjoying a rich diet, drinking lots of wine, and hallucinating.”

Nevertheless, Rolle became one of the most widely read authors in medieval England. He went on to pen a mystical treatise, the Melos amoris, of which Albin is doing the first English translation. In it, Rolle writes a sort of “musical” text, full of alliterative and rhythmic prose, to gesture toward the beauty of angelic song and illustrate how the devout soul can become like a “musical harmony, a perfect fourth,” Albin said.

Rolle’s mysticism spread throughout northern England, launching angel song to what might have been No. 1, had there been medieval music charts. However, this ability to hear angelic song was not bestowed upon just any believer, Rolle stipulated. The ability meant you were one of God’s “predestined elect” and thus guaranteed a place in heaven. With their promise of spiritual supremacy on earth and a reserved seat in paradise, Rolle’s claims began making waves in the socio-religious hierarchy.

“You can claim to hear it and nobody can prove it one way or another. And to claim you hear angels’ song potentially means that you acquire a kind of social cache, a spiritual authority that allows you to move around in social categories that you didn’t have access to and to speak in arenas you otherwise couldn’t speak in—especially if you’re a lay person,” Albin said.

“It becomes this widespread phenomenon where people are hearing angels left and right. So the mystics of the following generation write documents explaining to people that they may think they are hearing angelic song, but they’re actually not—they’re thinking too hard or wanting it too much and hence deluding themselves into thinking it’s happening.”

In addition to translating the Melos amoris, Albin is collaborating with Sine Nomine, a musical group in residence at the Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies in Toronto, to bring Rolle’s mysticism to life.

“One manuscript of the Melos amoris has two items in it—one is the treatise in Latin and the other is a gathering of music notation. And no one has noticed that these two are next to one another,” Albin said.

The group will perform a concert in December of 2015 featuring Rolle’s music and a recording of the performance will be packaged with Albin’s translation, which is due out in 2017.

“When a medieval text that’s all about angels singing is put next to a collection of medieval music, you have to think there’s something interesting going on there,” he said.

Written by Joanna Mercuri and published in Inside Fordham on November 17, 2014



Transcription/Translation: Toward a New Work of Performance

On Thursday, February 20, 2014, at Fordham University's Lincoln Center Campus, Violinist, Keir GoGwilt, and pianist, composer and conductor, and Matthew Aucoin, performed works that foreground the practical and theoretical questions of transcription and translation in lyric and musical texts. Musical transcriptions included compositions by Matthew Aucoin, Alban Berg, György Kurtág with a focus on the poetry of Paul Celan. 

The recital opened up for discussion the work of performance as criticism and criticism as performance. 

What is the role of voice in song? What remains when the voice is left out in a transcription for violin and piano? How does the disappearance of words in musical transcription complicate the role of interpretation in performance?