Logo Projekt EPM, Logo: Pavlína Kašparová
FWF Logo

The Epistemic Power of Music

On the Idea and History of Artistic Research through Music (P 34449-G)


A Stand-Alone Research Project funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF)
The University of Music and Performing Arts Graz

This project started on 1 January 2022 and will run until 31 December 2024.
The team comprises project leader, Professor Andreas Dorschel, co-leader, Professor Deniz Peters, senior scientist, Dr Férdia J. Stone-Davis, and doctoral candidate Anna Rezaei.                                             

Contact: andreas.dorschel@kug.ac.at
For administrative questions: maria.klinger@kug.ac.at

Project abstract

Can art advance our understanding of the world? Specifically, is music capable of generating knowledge? Artistic research is a burgeoning field in academia and beyond. There is consensus that artistic research is neither research about art (as in some of the humanities), nor research for art (applied research in the service of art). Rather, it is meant to be research in and through art. Beyond this general outline, though, there is disagreement; there is a need for clarification. This holds for music in particular, since its material – tone and sound – appear so remote from the conceptual sphere, closely associated with the notion of research. Scientific research is typically seen as the methodical process, with systematic intent, of gaining new knowledge that others can put to the test. Artistic research may well be different from scientific research in certain respects. Without significant overlap, however, we should not talk of artistic research at all. Specifically, research, any research, must aim at producing knowledge of some kind; otherwise the very idea loses meaning.

The current project on music as a field of artistic research is thus referred to epistemology, philosophy’s sub-discipline that, i.a., explores the nature of knowledge and then goes on to distinguish between different types of knowledge. This renders the project an interdisciplinary pursuit, mediating between musicology and philosophy. Both forms of inquiry must interlock. Philosophically, the project aims at an adequate notion of knowledge (and types of knowledge) to capture artistic research (in music). Musicologically, the issue is when, how and in what sense music in its various practices (in particular composition, performance, improvisation, listening) has produced knowledge (rather than just presupposing knowledge, as is obvious in many instances). This should lead to a direct answer to a question that has been controversial for some time: Has research been a feature of music throughout history and across cultures or has music as an art form changed only over past decades in such a way that it could (sometimes) figure as research? In all this, however, we must resist simply applying philosophical concepts to music; if and when musical phenomena suggest a fine-tuning or even correction of epistemological notions, we should be prepared to follow that line. – The Epistemic Power of Music: On the Idea and History of Artistic Research through Music thus assumes, within an international network of researchers, the character of a pioneering project at the interface between epistemology and music research.

The project ‘The Epistemic Power of Music’ aims to examine the idea, and history, of research through music as a specific form of inquiry. Consequently, discussion will, i.a., address questions

  • whether knowledge is contained within music;
  • whether it arises in and through processes of music-making;
  • how in each case this knowledge is generated and communicated by the music;
  • whether music operates via representation or expression.

To answer such questions, the project will combine philosophical and musicological approaches and methodologies. In doing so, it will

  • use philosophical paradigms of knowledge and investigate if and how music intersects with these;
  • ask in what senses music correlates with these epistemic paradigms as well as whether and how it challenges them;
  • elucidate music’s relation to knowledge;
  • work constructively towards an advanced understanding of music as artistic research.

Specifically, the research team will

  • enquire into existing ideas about what constitutes research, and the relationship between research and knowledge;
  • consider pertinent philosophical accounts of knowledge and understanding;
  • reflect upon the enduring historical connection between music and knowledge;
  • examine music case-studies taken from the period from 1600 to the twenty-first century within classical music traditions, exploring if and how music connects with epistemology. Here, classical is understood in the sense expounded by Church (2015),* where one of the elements rendering a music ‘classical’ is its involvement with some sort of music theory, thereby extending the definition of classical beyond the western tradition (the PhD project will be devoted to Persian music);
  • evaluate which of these case-studies might be understood as research, and in what sense;
  • ask what implications exist for current artistic research through music;
  • contribute to the growing areas of philosophy and music, and the theory of artistic research, by examining epistemology in and through music.

* Michael Church (ed.) (2015), The Other Classical Musics: Fifteen Great Traditions (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press)