Network for the Inclusion of Music in Music Studies (NIMiMS)


What is NIMiMS and why does it exist?

A network dedicated to the cause of including music in music studies? That’s like campaigning for the inclusion of the environment in environmental studies! If that reasonable analogy were operational we wouldn’t need to take action against the absurdity of music’s effective exclusion from many types of music studies.

Music’s exclusion

Music isn’t always excluded from music studies but it often is, and in two main ways: 1. nothing but the music and 2. everything but the music.
§1 nothing but the music (‘thesis’). The actual sounds of music − how they’re created, what they consist of, the patterns they build and their sonic materiality are studied, as theory or practice, in isolation from the culture and society in which they’re produced and used, and without which they cannot logically exist. This type of exclusion from a broader understanding of music studies is typical for conservative music theory teaching and is common in a range of educational contexts.
This position can be called the nothing but the music pole of exclusion. By setting up ‘the music’ as the sole object of study, nothing but the music excludes itself from the larger set of learning of which it is an integral part (music studies). ‘The music itself’ cannot be part of music studies if it is so exclusive about itself!
§2 everything but the music (‘antithesis’). The actual sounds of music (its sonic materiality, see §1) are either ignored or treated as peripheral to the context in which they exist. This pole of exclusion − everything but the music − dominates music studies where the cultural, social and economic are foregrounded at the expense of the music itself. It has also been recently imported as a supposed ‘alternative’ into institutions traditionally associated with the nothing but the music position.
§3 music (‘synthesis’). Both poles of exclusion (§1 and §2) share one important common trait: the dynamic between the sounds of music (§1) and the sociocultural context without which they cannot exist (§2) is missing. Put another way, the contexts investigated in [popular] music studies (§2) cannot exist without the sounds of music (§1) to which they are manifestly linked and which often, as in the case of genre, are central to the definition of context. It is in these ways that music is reduced to either a contextless text (§1) or to a textless context (§2). That’s the basic reason why the creation of a Network for the Inclusion of Music in Music Studies (NIMiMS) was a necessary and urgent task.

Main rationale

NIMiMS is the result of conversations between scholars of music who are, or have been, active as musicians and who have had to work in institutions of musical learning (§1) or in cultural/studies, media studies departments, etc. (§2), or in both. We have often been struck by an overriding sense of institutional inertia, conservative conventionalism and epistemic sloth in our working environments. We have mostly had to work in isolation and have often been frustrated in our efforts to relate music as sound (§1) to its meanings and uses (§2), and to relate those meanings and uses (§2) back to the musical sounds with which they are demonstrably linked (§1).
NIMiMS aims to break our isolation and to give us a concerted voice with a view to integrating the sounds of music into the study of culture and society. That ultimate goal demands that we first make our presence felt as a distinct group (a bit like those who had to identify ‘women's history’ or ‘popular music’ as valid objects of study) rather than as marginalised ‘voices in the wilderness’. Together we have a much better chance of turning ‘music studies’ into music studies.

Three main obstacles

1. Conventional institutions of musical learning in the West tend to be fixated on the euroclassical repertoire, or on the jazz canon, with avant-garde or electronic composition and ethnomusicology as the most commonly sanctioned add-ons. These institutions have developed an arsenal of terms adapted to the structural specifics of the repertoires under specific social, cultural and technological circumstances. Many of those terms, as well as the ideology they carry, are inapplicable to many types of music outside the accepted canon[s] and are in dire need of reform (see Tagg:  Music Theory Terminology as Ideology ).
2. Popular Music Studies.  IASPM  (International Association for the Study of Popular Music) was founded in 1981 as an international, interdisciplinary and interprofessional organisation. The interprofessional aim (not just academics but also musicians, journalists, recording engineers, etc.) effectively exists only on paper, while the interdisciplinary aim is compromised by a dearth of music-immanent studies. The association is in other words dominated by scholars (mainly anglophone) from the social sciences and the ‘non-muso’ humanities. This disciplinary hegemony means that the MUSIC at the centre of popular music ends up in the margins of ‘popular music studies’ as ‘a troublesome appendage to cultural studies’, as Franco Fabbri put it back in the heyday of ‘postmodernist’ theorising (1995).
3. Epistemic confusion. Obstacles 1 and 2 can also be understood in combination as symptoms of an underlying epistemic confusion. Profitable popular music studies courses are often run either as if the music did not count (obstacle 2), or as if conservatoire-style practical performance (including a range of other practice such as music production and composition) were the only activity of any importance, i.e. as if notation, attention to structural detail, and a music theory of the popular were unnecessary. Theories of popular music (as music) are also held back by the ethnocentrism and conceptual inadequacy of conservative music theory (obstacle 1). Together these obstacles create a vicious circle which aggravates the rift between music-related disciplines, as well as that between music theory and music making.

Basic aims

  • to integrate the sounds of music into the study of culture and society;
  • to bridge gaps between studies of music as sound and of music as part of culture and society;
  • to bridge gaps between the practical and theoretical study of music;
  • to reform music theory and musicology so they are able to adequately designate as wide a variety as possible of musical sounds;
  • to develop ways in which those without formal musical training can integrate discussion of music's sonic materiality into their discourse about music, culture and society.

About the name and provisional logo

The slur symbolises that we are joined (legato) in a network. Since we hope our existence is only a temporary necessity, we don‘t see ourselves as constituting an established ‘Society’ or ‘Association’ − just a network.

The slur also symbolises the inclusion of this Network and of Music as parts of a larger whole − Music Studies in general. We reject any regressive move towards the socially decontextualised study of music (‘just the music’) as strongly as we do the exclusion of music from the study of music (‘everything except the music’). We are simply advocating the inclusion of music as a self-evident and essential part of music studies.

The equalizer display symbolises music as sound − it’s what popular audio equipment shows when music is played − while the slur alludes to the possibility of music as notation. Above all, the sonic materiality of music represented by this symbol asks us to re-evaluate the exclusion of other musics that appear in popular music studies, euroclassical music studies (rarely stated in print), jazz studies, folk studies or any other reductive approach.