Music Colloquium Series: Anna Gawboy (The Ohio State University)

Anna Gawboy
Friday, February 16, 2024

4:00 PM 
Harkness Chapel, Classroom

Music colloquia provide a weekly forum for presentation and discussion of recent research by distinguished visitors and CWRU faculty and graduate students in musicology, historical performance practice, and music education. 

All talks happen on Fridays at 4:00 PM (Eastern) and are open to the public unless noted otherwise. 

About the Talk

"Suprasensory Sounds in Esoteric Discourse and Modernist Practice”

Compositional rhetoric surrounding the “sonic plenitude” associated with twentieth-century avant-gardism often reveals a new conception of sound as a manifestation of an infinite realm of vibrational energy, consisting of both audible and inaudible frequencies beyond human perception (Khan 2003, Mansell 2016). My paper examines the role of Theosophy and other esoteric philosophies in motivating compositional theory and modernist practice. I argue that Theosophy’s appeal lay in its innovative argument that modern scientific discoveries confirmed the metaphysics of vibration revealed by ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Indian religious traditions, and that suprasensory vibrational realms could be accessed through techniques of occult listening derived from American spiritualism. Close reading of both compositional and esoteric rhetoric encourages us to hear some modernist sonic experimentation as a means to cultivate this suprasensory sonic perception, while also revealing a gap between Theosophical writers and their avant-garde readers. As Chris Scheer (2018) has observed, leaders of the Theosophical movement lacked the musical expertise to develop their theories fully, despite their emphasis on the metaphysical significance of sound. Avant-garde composers filled this lacuna in both their theory and practice in ways that far exceeded the esoteric musical imagination.

About the Speaker

Dr. Anna Gawboy, Associate Professor and Area Head of Musicology and Theory explores cultural history and multimedia, with a special focus on visualized music. She is internationally known for her collaboration with lighting designer Justin Townsend on their reconstruction of Alexander Scriabin's color symphony Prometheus, Poem of Fire, most recently performed with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. Gawboy has also worked with Alex Oliszewski of Theatre and the Advanced Center for Computing and Design to create a live multimedia accompaniment to a performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at The Ohio State University, and she consulted on Scriabin in the Himalayas, a multimedia tribute to the composer in Ladakh, India.

Gawboy has written about the English concertina as an instrument of acoustic science, synaesthesia and audiovisual media, esotericism and musical modernism, public music theory, and music theory pedagogy. She is the author of nearly 200 video tutorials in music theory, including those accompanying A Concise Introduction to Tonal Harmony by Joe Straus and Poundie Burstein. She was a co-founding associate editor of SMT-V, the first videocast journal in music, as well as co-founding editor of Engaging Students: Essays in Music Pedagogy. She has served as president of Music Theory Midwest and on the Executive Board of the Society for Music Theory.

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