Project idea

The objective of the research project outlined in the following is to formulate a theory of music writing. In a productive interplay between a critical evaluation of current debates on a general theory of writing on the one hand and a source-based reference to concrete musical issues on the other, the project follows a dual strategy combining disciplinary and interdisciplinary elements. Taking as its starting point the historically and culturally informed analysis of musical notations, the project takes advantage of epistemological shifts in theoretical approaches and research interests in the interdisciplinary discourse of writing and literacy: Musical notations represent differentiated sign systems in the course of history, of that there is no doubt, but by no means is music writing limited to the mere “referentiality” of a pure system of communication. Aspects pertaining to the materiality of that which is notated, factors of the explorative and cognitive meaning of notating, and phenomena concerning the performativity written into the writing as well as the aisthetic dimension of musical notations in their visual presence are irreducible constitutive elements of an adequate concept of music writing. Accordingly, the proposed research project encompasses four research areas that focus on (previously neglected) key categories of a theory of music writing: materiality, operativity, iconicity, and performativity.

The project thus tackles two highly topical desiderata of fundamental research in the humanities, art history, and cultural studies: On the one hand, it aims within the context of musicological theorization at a notational reflection that is essential for philological, analytical, theoretical, and historical research. On the other hand, it engages in the current discourse of writing as a transdisciplinary topic of research, making a previously lacking contribution to the development of a speech-independent (non-phonographic) concept of writing (cf. Krämer 2006: 80f.).
While the theory of music writing to be developed in the project makes no claim to comprehensive validity for all conceivable writings of every single musical culture, we maintain that it is a promising theoretical construct with regard to its plausibility, its systematic consistency, its suitability for facilitating epistemological discourse, and its phenomenological goodness-of-fit. The central premise of the proposed research project is that it is not only necessary to formulate a theory of music writing at the present time (for instance in order to provide a theoretical foundation for countering the belief circulating in the course of recent technological media developments that musical notation can be represented without loss as digital code) but that the formulation of such a theory has only been made feasible in the first place by theoretical and philosophical shifts.

It goes without saying that an endeavor of this kind is conceivable today only as a collaborative effort. The cross-border cooperation between the four partners from Austria (Innsbruck and Vienna), Germany (Giessen), and Switzerland (Basel) enriches the project with various perspectives, research interests, and areas of expertise, thus providing the necessary broad theoretical perspective for formulating the basic theoretical framework.