The Body as Music’s Terroir

If music and sound are “thick events” that necessarily exceed our ability to grasp them fully, what resources do we have to make (at least) partial sense of them? Metaphorical language works as one of these resources, not only shaping the ways in which we perceive and understand music, but also one another and the world. Western musical thought has been shaped by several dominant metaphors. These metaphors not only influence the vocabulary we use to describe and analyze music, they also impact our musical imaginaries, performance practices, and sensory access to music. In this talk, I play with a metaphor that has not been much used related to music. I discuss terroir as the metaphorical underpinning that helped me to conceptualize singing and listening as intermaterial vibrational practices (2015), and to articulate how the cultural-political concept of the race of sound has material (and sonorous) consequences (2019). More broadly, I encourage those of us invested in decolonializing data, methodology and analysis to consider “locally sourced” metaphors, language, and conceptual underpinnings when writing, listening to, and analyzing music.

Nina Eidsheim is the author of Sensing Sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational Practice and The Race of Sound: Listening, Timbre, and Vocality in African American Music; co-editing Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies; Co-editor of the Refiguring American Music book series for Duke University Pressrecipient of the Mellon Foundation Fellowship, Cornell University Society of the Humanities Fellowship, the UC President’s Faculty Research Fellowship and the ACLS Charles A. Ryskamp Fellowship. She received her bachelor of music from the voice program at the Agder Conservatory (Norway); MFA in vocal performance from the California Institute of the Arts; and Ph.D. in Musicology from the University of California, San Diego. Eidsheim is Professor of Musicology, UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and founder and director of the UCLA Practice-based Experimental Epistemology (PEER) Lab, an experimental research Lab dedicated to decolonializing data, methodology, and analysis, in and through multisensory creative practices.