17 Mar 2017 - 18 Mar 2017 All day Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT


Registration for the conference is now closed. 



David Trippett (University of Cambridge)



The legacy of idealism has been a guiding doctrine for the study of 19th-century music, from an emphasis on neo-Platonic musical works, acousmatic voices and intangible structures, to listening experiences disembodied, creatively imaginative, and ineffable. But idealism has arguably obscured the emergent perspective of natural science during the period, and with it, those of philosophical and scientific materialism that engaged composers, listeners, and their art.

This conference aims to enlarge substantially our understanding of the dialogue between 19th-century music and natural science, examining in particular how a scientific-materialist conception of sound was formed alongside a dominant culture of romantic idealism. It takes as its subject sound as matter and medium, focusing on the domains of natural science, emergent technologies, sentient communication and acoustics. It investigates the view that sound, for a time the cherished mantle of idealist metaphysics, was also regarded by writers, composers, scientists and engineers as tangible, material and subject to physical laws; that scientific thinking was not anathema but—at key moments—intrinsic to music aesthetics and criticism; that philosophies of mind and theories of the creative process also drew on mechanical rules of causality and associative ‘laws’; and that the technological innovations brought about by scientific research were accompanied by new concepts and new ways of listening that impacted the sound world of composers, critics, and performers.

This event brings together approaches from the philosophy of science, musicology, phenomenology, sound studies, and media theory / communication studies.

A series of addresses come from leading figures across these disciplines. By placing the respective disciplinary perspectives in dialogue the conference aims to foster discussion on such topics as:

  • Historical soundscapes
  • Histories of sensation / materialities of communication
  • Acoustics & theories of sounding matter
  • Phenomenologies of listening
  • Embodied / materialist theories of the creative process
  • Philosophical & scientific materialism

Within this array of approaches to the subject of sound as matter and medium, the conference will promote a dialogue between materialist philosophies of mind and historical understanding of acoustics, between sound as cognitive phenomenon and vibrational event, between constructed identities of the composer as natural genius and a sentient body engaging with the tangible, noisy, physical environment. 




Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), and the European Research Council (ERC). 


Administrative assistance: events@crassh.cam.ac.uk


We are unable to arrange or book accommodation for registrants; however, the following websites may be of help:

Visit Cambridge
Cambridge Rooms
University of Cambridge accommodation webpage


Day 1 - Friday 17 March 2017
9.00 - 9.20


9.20 - 9.30


David Trippett (Musicology / University of Cambridge)

9.30 - 11.00

Session 1: Histories of 19th-century Sound

Alexander Rehding (Musicology / Harvard University)

Beethoven’s Ninth for a New Millennium


Roger Moseley (Musicology / Cornell University)

Return to Sender: The Recursive Transmissions of Die schöne Müllerin

11.00 - 11.30


11.30 - 13.00

Session 1 (continued)

Viktoria Tkaczyk (History and Philosophy of Science / Max Planck Institute, Berlin)

Matter and Auditory Memory: Paris, 1880–1900


David Trippett (Musicology / University of Cambridge)

Permutations of the Material in Sound: Debates ca. 1870

13.00 - 14.00


14.00 - 15.30

Session 2: Technics of 19th-century Sound

Rebecca Wolf (Musicology / German Museum, Munich)

'Materia Musica': The Tools and Techniques of Music Making


Melissa van Drie (Theatre Studies / University of Cambridge)

Experiencing Extreme Listening in an Age of Deafness

15.30 - 16.00


16.00 - 17.30

Session 2 (continued)

Nikita Braguinski (Media Theory / Humboldt Universität, Berlin)

From Ideal Proportion to the Materiality of Musical Practice. Eduard Grell’s System of 'Just Intonation'


John Durham Peters (Communication Studies / Yale University)

The Nineteenth-Century Quest for Vowels

17.30 - 18.30

Roundtable discussion 1

Day 2 - Saturday 18 March 2017
9.00 - 9.30


9.30 - 11.00

Session 3: Mind, Method and Matter

Sybille Krämer (Media Philosophy / Freie Universität, Berlin)

Nietzsche or: Sound that Matters!


Abigail Fine (Musicology, University of Chicago)

Sounding the Composer's Body: Objects, Traces, Spaces

11.00 - 11.30


11.30 - 13.00

Session 3 (continued)

Alexandra Hui (History of Science / Mississippi State University)

'The Ripening Harvest of Comparative Musical Science': Representative Tonometrics and Mental Measurement in the First Decades of the Twentieth Century


Peter Pesic (History and Philosophy of Science / St John’s College, Santa Fe)

Idée Fixe: Music and the Prehistory of Monomania

13.00 - 14.00


14.00 - 15.30

Session 4: Acoustics & Sensation

Julia Kursell (Musicology & History of Science / University of Amsterdam)

Exploring the Limits of Music – Helmholtz, Stumpf and Psycho-physiological Experimentation


Edward Gillin (History of Architecture / University of Cambridge)

Vision and Vibration: Faraday, Wheatstone, and the Centrality of Sound in London's Experimental Culture, 1818-1833

15.30 - 16.00


16.00 - 17.30

Session 4 (continued)

Melle Kromhout (Musicology / University of Cambridge)

Tones That Have Lasted for Eternities: The Ideal Sine Wave between Symbol and Signal


Peter McMurray (Musicology / Harvard University)

Discourse Networks 1214/1318 A.H.

17.30 - 18.15

Roundtable discussion 2

18.15 - 18.30

Closing Remarks

Upcoming Events


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk