Dr. Laudan Nooshin

Keynote speaker: Dr. Laudan Nooshin
Time: Wednesday 10th June, 10:45 – 12:15
Title: Re-Imagining Musical Difference: Creative Process, Alterity and ‘Improvisation’ in Iranian Music from Classical to Jazz

Since the late 1980s, an important strand of my research has sought to understand the underlying creative processes of Iranian classical music (musiqi-ye asil), a tradition in which the performer plays a central creative role and which is therefore often described as ‘improvised’, both in the literature and – since the mid-20th century and drawing on concepts initially adopted from European music – by musicians. Methodologically, one of the greatest challenges has been tracing the relationship between musicians’ verbal discourses – usually taken by ethnomusicologists as evidence of cognitive processes – and what happens in practice. Of course, the relationship is a complex one and the dual ethnomusicological methods of (a) ethnography and (b) transcription and analysis don’t always tell the same story. In the case of my work, I found a disjuncture between musicians’ discourses of creative freedom, albeit underpinned by the central memorised repertoire known as radif, and the analytical evidence which showed the music to be highly structured around a series of what could be termed ‘compositional procedures’, but which are not explicitly discussed by musicians. The results of analytical enquiry thus led me to problematise the dominant discourses which reify improvisation (bedāheh-navāzi) and emphasise the oral, ephemeral and improvised nature of Iranian classical music against something more planned and structured as represented by the concept of (usually implying notation) composition (āhang-sāzi); and ultimately to an interest in the implications of such binary thinking, both for the study of Iranian music and more broadly for (western) musicology.

More recently, I have been working with younger musicians – university-educated and cosmopolitan – who are developing new discursive frameworks for their creative practice, including an explicit articulation of compositional intent and an intellectual-analytical approach to performance which are quite new to Iranian music. From the researcher’s point of view, this closer alignment of practice and discourse makes it easier to discuss finer details of creative process with musicians. Of particular interest are the ways in which some of these musicians are moving beyond the accepted oppositional discourses of creativity and are re-imagining notions of musical difference, including a more porous understanding of creative practice and a more integral relationship between the ‘improvisational’ and the ‘compositional’.

This keynote address will explore various themes and issues arising from my work on creative processes in Iranian classical music, particularly in relation to questions of alterity. As well as discussing specific examples from Iranian music, I will engage broader questions concerning musicological paradigms, particularly where these have been mobilised as a marker of ‘otherness’, as in the case of (western) musicological discourses of creativity or in Iran where some scholars have drawn on notions of difference to distinguish a local ‘indigenous’ musicology from an externally-imposed (Euro-American) ‘imperialist’ musicology. I examine the implications of such paradigms for the analysis and understanding of musical creativity.

Laudan Nooshin

Dr. Laudan Nooshin

Laudan Nooshin is Senior Lecturer in Ethnomusicology in the Music Department at City University London, UK. Her research interests include creative processes in Iranian music; music and youth culture in Iran; music and gender; neo/post-colonialism and Orientalism; and music in Iranian cinema. Recent publications include the edited volumes Music and the Play of Power in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia (2009, Ashgate Press) and The Ethnomusicology of Western Art Music (2013, Routledge), as well as book chapters and journal articles in Iranian Studies, Ethnomusicology Forum and the Journal of the Royal Musical Association. Laudan is currently on the Editorial Boards of the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication (Brill) and Ethnomusicology Forum (Routledge). From 2006-9 she was a member of the International Advisory Panel of the Journal of the Royal Musical Association and between 2007-2011 was co-Editor of Ethnomusicology Forum. Her forthcoming monograph is entitled Iranian Classical Music: The Discourses and Practice of Creativity (Ashgate Press).

Key questions addressed by the lecture

What is the relationship between the creative processes we usually refer to as ‘composition’ and ‘improvisation’?
How have musicological paradigms and discourses around musical creativity been mobilised as markers of ‘otherness’?
Is it possible to transcend existing binary thinking in understanding creative processes in music?

Recommended reading

Nettl, Bruno (1974). Thoughts on Improvisation: A Comparative Approach, The Musical Quarterly 60(1):1–19.
Nooshin, Laudan (2003). Improvisation as “Other”: Creativity, Knowledge and Power – The Case of Iranian Classical Music, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 128:242–96.
Solis, Gabriel & Bruno Nettl (eds) (2009). Musical Improvisation: Art, Education, and Society. Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Preparation for the session
Read the above texts and research key terms.