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Music and Consciousness

This project considers how questions about consciousness might be illuminative for music studies.

What is consciousness? Why and when do we have it? Where does it come from, and how does it relate to the lump of squishy grey matter in our heads, or to our material and social worlds? While neuroscientists, philosophers, psychologists, historians and cultural theorists offer widely different perspectives on these fundamental questions concerning what it is like to be human, most agree that consciousness represents a 'hard problem'.

The Music and Consciousness project asks what our knowledge and experiences of music might bring to this set of problems – and, conversely, considers how questions about consciousness might be illuminative for music studies. The project was jointly instigated by David Clarke (Professor of Music, ICMuS) and Eric Clarke (Heather Professor of Music, Oxford University), who co-convened the first International Conference on Music and Consciousness at Sheffield University in 2006. Selected papers from the conference were further developed, along with additional invited contributions, in a book edited by Clarke and Clarke entitled Music and Consciousness: Philosophical, Psychological and Cultural Perspectives (OUP, 2011).

As the subtitle suggest, the book has a strongly multidisciplinary complexion, with contributions drawing on numerous disciplines and subdisciplines, including phenomenologymusic psychologycritical theorycultural and historical musicologypsychoanalysiscomputer science and Buddhist and Indian thought. Current and former ICMuS researchers have also played a significant role in the project, with contributions to the book and/or the conference from Paul AttinelloIan BiddleDavid ClarkeRichard Elliott and Bennett Hogg.

The project continues to unfold, not least in subsequent work by ICMuS researchers – for example in the phenomenological dimensions of Hogg’s Landscape Quartet project; in a keynote paper given by David Clarke at the 4th International Conference on Consciousness, Theatre, Literature and the Arts, Lincoln University, May 2011; and in Attinello’s emerging interest in Jungian psychoanalysis. David Clarke and Eric Clarke were invited to contribute a revised version of their joint Preface to Music and Consciousness to a special issue of the journal Arts and Humanities in Higher Education devoted to a defence of the Humanities in HE. And a Second International Conference on Music and Consciousness is planned for April 2015, co-directed by Clarke, Clarke and Ruth Herbert (also a contributor to Music and Consciousness), and taking place at Oxford University.