Numerous faculty in the University of Chicago Department of Music, working in Ethnomusicology and Music History and Theory, research 20th- and 21st century music. Their work engages performers, composers, scholars, and audiences in stimulating dialogue concerning a diversity of recent music.
Ethnomusicologist Philip Bohlman’s scholarship is rooted in a sustained study of Jewish music and identity, particularly in the early 20th century. As a performer, he has released several CDs of Jewish cabaret and film music. Beyond Jewish music, his large body of scholarship considers genres such as jazz, popular, classical, and folk within their cultural systems. He has written on topics as diverse as the Eurovision song contest, the Balkan epic, music in India, and sacred music in the making of European modernity. Bohlman is an expert on topics such as music and nationalism, race, and the colonial encounter.
Musicologist Seth Brodsky is an expert on later 20th and 21st century music. His scholarship analyzes the aesthetics and social politics that characterize much modernist (and post-modernist) music. His recent book, From 1989, or European Music and the Modernist Unconscious, uses tools from psychoanalysis to reveal the ways in which modernism is incompletely suppressed, even in music that claims to be post-modernist. Brodsky is interested in broad questions that are productive for critiquing much recent music, such as “how is the composer constructed discursively?” and “what is the relationship between innovation and repetition in music?”
Musicologist Berthold Hoeckner’s scholarship is centered on early 20th century and Hollywood-era film music. An expert in the critical theories of Adorno and others, Hoeckner is currently writing about film, music, audio-visual aesthetics, and memory on both individual and cultural levels.
Music theorist and musicologist Jennifer Iverson primarily studies mid-century electronic and acoustic music. Her work brings to light the reclamation of wartime technology in electronic music studios, revealing the work of invisible collaborators such as technicians and scientists, and arguing that developments in electronic music drove the progress of acoustic music in the latter half of the 20th century. Iverson also writes about electronica and electronic music in the popular sphere, with particular attention to the interaction between bodies, disability, and sound.
Ethnomusicologist Travis Jackson’s scholarship often concerns American jazz and blues. His 2012 book Blowin’ the Blues Away analyzes the complex relationship between performers, sound, improvisational practices, race, history, and geography. Jackson’s recent research investigates niche sub-cultures such as punk and avant-garde rock, with special attention to the ways in which such music is culturally embedded during production and distribution.
Musicologist Martha Feldman’s recent research is informed by her leadership of the Neubauer Collegium-funded Voice Project. A product of this interdisciplinary work is Feldman’s co-edited voice studies volume titled A Voice as Something More. Feldman’s work has long been deeply concerned with opera, voice, and music’s social function. Her current book project adds issues of cinema and media, by investigating the afterlife of the castrato phenomenon in twentieth-century Rome.
Music theorist and musicologist Steven Rings writes about popular music, specifically Bob Dylan’s 50-year performance career. Rings analyzes the timbral qualities of Dylan’s particular voice, as well as tracing the widely varying versions of Dylan’s songs. In a Mellon-funded collaboration with members from the band Wilco, Rings is teaching a course that analyzes the roles of voice, groove, and song in both popular and contemporary classical composition.
Ethnomusicologist Jessica Swanston Baker is an expert in the music of the Caribbean. She studies a contemporary popular music genre called “wylers” or “wilders”—a technologically-mediated, fast-tempo, dance music produced and distributed primarily in St. Kitts and Nevis. Baker’s scholarship reveals the ways in which gendered norms and raced legacies of colonization are enacted and performed in this music.
Music theorist and musicologist Lawrence Zbikowski’s research concerns embodied cognition and music listening. Though Zbikowski is an expert on eighteenth-century music, his cognitive research illuminates an enormous variety of musical genres. Zbikowski’s most recent work is concerned with gesture, embodied experiences of musical time, and relationships between musical sounds, words, and memory.