Transposition (theme: Music: Intangible Heritage?)

Call for Papers
Transposition. Musique et sciences sociales

Issue 8 (2019): Music: Intangible Heritage?

Coordination: Elsa Broclain, Benoît Haug & Pénélope Patrix

In 2017, almost a third of the files submitted to UNESCO for inscription on the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) lists include a significant musical component. Greek Rebetiko could) thereby join more than seventy listed forms of “music” – often associated with celebrations, dances, poetry and know-how – such as the Tango of Rio de la Plata, Shashmaqam of Central Asia, Brazilian Samba de Roda, and Tar craftsmanship and performance in Azerbaidjan. Applications have poured in since the 2006 entry into force of the International Convention for the Safeguarding of ICH, which established a new heritage paradigm based on practices and communities rather than monuments and artefacts[1], according to the perspective of “new heritages” and their aim to cultivate more open and participatory practices[2]. Outside the realm of the United Nations, this new category of “intangible heritage” has infused into the vocabulary and approaches taken by national registers, and into local cultural policy, heritage-related and museum activities, and the general discourse, generating a variety of modes of appropriation and contention. Considering the far-reaching implications, this issue of Transposition aims to explore the specific case of music in the domain of “intangible cultural heritage”, both within and beyond the framework used by UNESCO.
What does “intangible heritage” do to music? And inversely, what does music do to “intangible heritage”? Despite an “editorial swell” in studies on heritagisation since the 1980s, researchers are only now beginning to examine the effects of this new heritage paradigm on music. Recent studies have begun to consider inflexions in meaning and value attributed to “heritagised” music, particularly in the English-speaking arena, where music heritage is a field of its own[3]. In the French-speaking world, research has focused on the transformations resulting from the ICH label on practices, such as their making into shows and tourist attractions[4], memorialisation, exhibition[5], and the power dynamics between the different actors involved[6]. Music itself, however, seems to dissolve into more general reflections on ICH, or to get lost in the gulf around heritagisation processes, which do require to be reconsidered in light of these recent shifts. In the wake of these studies, Transposition calls for the specific interactions between music and “intangible heritage” to be examined, with particular attention to how the notion of ICH is practised (and contested) in the field.

Fiercely debated during the drafting of the Convention, the notion of ICH filled, in part, a functional need to separate world heritage into three categories (tangible, natural and intangible), in accordance with the institutional divisions used by UNESCO[7]. However, there are consequences to breaking heritage down in this way: a number of researchers have raised the epistemological and practical problems posed by this new “paradoxical” category in the field[8], especially with regard to the artificial separation it introduces between the tangible and intangible dimensions of culture[9]. Indeed, music affords a certain acuteness in the examination of this division, starting with the fact that the category of “intangibility” sends us back to a tradition that places music in the realm of the spirit—something absolute[10] and ineffable[11]—thus tying into a Western conception of the musical experience, whereas UNESCO’s mission concerns a so-called “world heritage”, i.e., perceivable to all. This universalist perspective comes into tension with the local particularities of the practices and symbolic forms being safeguarded, tension that is further intensified by the aim of the Convention for the Safeguarding of ICH to preserve cultural diversity from the effects of globalisation[12]. What, then, are the implications of enclosing within a single “intangible” system forms of music rooted in vastly diverse bodies, instruments, objects, and places? How do the performance, ritual, and social contexts end up being reconfigured? In short, to what extent might the “intangible heritage” category not only alter local imagination, conceptions and experiences of music, but also have effects spreading into the vernacular theories and into music creation, transmission, mediatisation and conservation?

Asking what a form of music is to those who live it every day—by performing it, playing it, listening to it, transmitting it, appreciating it, exhibiting it, archiving it and mediatising it—moves us forward in the ontological terrain. The dialectic between tangibility and intangibility can then be articulated to the question of physical means and media used in musical heritagisation: UNESCO’s measures follow from a process of collection and conservation dating back at least to the nineteenth century, leveraging technological innovations, especially in terms of recording[13]. Far from making the musical experience “intangible”, digital tools give it new “tangibilities”, placing it within new systems of production and reception. At the same time, digital technologies allow asound archive to be inscribed onto new media, renewing modes of conservation, collection and repertorialisation, and sometimes—invertedly—creating new attachments for objects, relics, and traces. The dialectic between tangibility and intangibility in music exhibition, conservation, and transmission—and more generally in the diversity of music practices—thus merit fresh examination.
Transposition invites the broad spectrum of social and human sciences to take up this critical reflection on the heritagisation of music, taking the growing dissemination of the “intangible cultural heritage” paradigm as the starting point for a more general analysis of the interplay between music, heritage, and intangibility. From case studies to theoretical proposals, papers can focus on the following themes:

1. Music and “intangible cultural heritage”: political and aesthetic issues. With attention to the specific ways in which music interacts with the ICH paradigm, authors will examine the social, political, memorial, and aesthetic effects of the ICH label and associated measures. Possible subjects for consideration include musicians’ careers, strategies for appropriating, misappropriating, or contesting heritage measures, the effects of mediatisation and “scripting” on musical practices, and their stylistic consequences. Other topics of interest include the power dynamics between the various actors in these processes, the effects of legitimation, recognition, and exclusion within “communities”, and how local, national, and global scales are redefined.
2. Musical heritage in question: history and renewals of heritage conservation practices. We intend to examine the idea of “musical heritage” itself, what it presupposes and the values it conveys, by framing its most recent avatar (ICH) within a historic process of conservation, regulation, and recognition/enhancement. Proposals may address the multiple (sometimes competing) ways of heritagising music, and consider how the mediation, archiving, and exhibition of music have been changed by heritage policy, regulations, ideologies, and technologies, whose protective, even emancipatory, virtues, and the legitimacy they bring to musical practices, will possibly be weighed against new frameworks, formats, markets, and paradoxical injunctions to more “tangibility”.
3. The tangibility and intangibility of music. Relying on a distinction between tangible and intangible culture, the turning point of ICH invites studies to invest the epistemological field. Indeed, heritagisation processes are likely to both reveal and alter the vernacular theories and categories by which music is qualified, practised, appreciated, and transmitted. Questioning these categories and what they invoke, particularly in relation to other strata of the experience (corporal, instrumental, poetic, ritual, social, etc.), will allow us to consider different music ontologies, which are not all structured around a binary dialectic between tangible and intangible.

In addition to the scientific papers for the thematic section, which will be reviewed and subject to the approval of the Scientific Committee, Transposition is open to other formats, either original or already having a precedent in the review, such as interviews (see In this case, author(s) are asked to specify that their submission is for the category Varia.

Transposition welcomes publications in French and English. Article proposals (~1500-2500 characters including spaces, not counting the bibliography) must be sent by 1 February 2018 to The full articles will be required by late spring.
Selected authors may be invited to take part in a workshop organised during the article drafting period.

[1] KURIN, R., « Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage : key factors in implementing the 2003 convention », International journal of intangible heritage 2 (2007) ; BORTOLOTTO, C. (dir.), Le Patrimoine culturel immatériel : enjeux d’une nouvelle catégorie, Paris, MSH, 2011.
[2] AUCLAIR, E., FAIRCLOUGH, G., Theory and practice in heritage and sustainability : between past and future, Londres, Routledgen, 2015 (2e éd.).
[3] BRANDELLERO, A., JANSSEN, S., COHEN, S. & ROBERTS, L. (dir.), « Popular music heritage, cultural memory and cultural identity », International journal of heritage studies 20/3 (2014), p. 219-223 ; COHEN, S., KNIFTON, R., LEONARD, M. & ROBERTS, M. (dir.), Sites of popular music heritage, Londres, Routledge, 2015 ; BAKER, S., ISTVANDITY, L. & NOWAK, R., « The sound of music heritage : curating popular music in music museums and exhibitions », International journal of heritage studies 22/1 (2016).
[4] CAMPOS, L., « Sauvegarder une pratique musicale ? Une ethnographie du samba de roda à la World Music Expo », Cahiers d’ethnomusicologie 24 (2011) ; DESROCHES, M., DAUPHIN, C., PICHETTE, M.-H., SMITH, G. (dir.), Territoires musicaux mis en scène, Montréal, PUM, 2011.
[5] LE GUERN, P. (dir.), « Patrimonialiser les musiques populaires et actuelles », Questions de communication 22 (2012).
[6] SANDRONI, C., « Samba de roda : patrimonio cultural de humanidade », Estudos avançados 69 (2010), p. 373-388.
[7] KHAZNADAR, C., « Le patrimoine culturel immatériel : les enjeux, les problématiques, les pratiques », Internationale de l’imaginaire 17 (2004).
[8] BORTOLOTTO, op. cit.
[9] CIARCIA, G., La perte durable : étude sur la notion de « patrimoine immatériel », Paris, LAHIC / Mission à l’ethnologie, 2006.
[10] DAHLHAUS, C., Die Idee der absoluten Musik, Kassel, Bärenreiter, 1978 ; trad. fr., L’idée de la musique absolue, Genève, Contrechamps, 1997.
[11] JANKÉLÉVITCH, V., La musique et l’ineffable, Paris, Colin, 1961.
[12] UNESCO, 2003, Convention pour la sauvegarde du Patrimoine Culturel Immatériel, Paris, 17 octobre 2003 .
[13] STERNE, J., The audible Past : cultural origins of sound reproduction, Durham, Duke University Press, 2003 ; trad. fr., Une histoire de la modernité sonore, Paris, La Découverte/Philharmonie de Paris, 2015.