What does contemporary music mean now?

Music is a planetary phenomenon in the sense that it is truly a transnational, transcultural artform; as such, it is an important factor in the production of contemporaneity (a term that best describes the temporal complexities of the historical present).

This project intends to examine the concept of "contemporary music" -  a phrase that, in its simplest form, could be taken to mean the "most-recent thing". However, it is the concern of this project to investigate just what the contemporary in "contemporary music" could mean, in-line with recent theoretical exploration of the concept (Agamben, Osborne, Smith etc.). In this, Peter Osborne offers a rather succinct definition of contemporaneity, which will be used here, at least initially, as an entry point: the contemporary is not simply a coming together in time, but the coming together of times in the historical present: "a disjunctive unity of coeval times" (Osborne 2009). By emphasizing that historical time is not comprised of a series of clean breaks, and that the present is a mass of coexisting, heterogeneous temporal clusters, this discourse problematizes "the totalizing logic of periodization" (Cox & Lund 2016), as well as the idea that time is experienced as a linear sequence of events.

As a medium that is necessarily time-based, and an artform with a long tradition of institutional scholarship that is locked into this "totalizing logic of periodization", it is apparent that music operates in, through, and with time on a multiplicity of levels. By merging the fields of music and contemporaneity this project aims to develop an understanding of: the complex temporal relationships within music from the vantage point of the historical present; and, the ways in which contemporaneity is produced on a planetary scale through music’s various modes of socio-cultural interconnectivity, particularly in terms of institution, composition, representation, transnational production and distribution. It will begin to do so in a number of ways: 1) by analysing musics associated with the Derridean notion of hauntology (present in music via microgenres of electronic music such as hypnagogic pop and vaporwave) with a focus on time experience/manipulation; 2) by addressing the presence of multiple aesthetic temporalities in the present at the International Festival of Contemporary Music at the Venice Biennale.  

Ryan Nolan (University of Plymouth, UK)