Tyrone Burke, November 30, 2021

Music, Sound and Society in Canada Research Centre Will Take Community-Centred Approach to Research and Creation

How do music and sound relate to society?  For starters, listening is an important part of how we communicate and make sense of our environment. The music and sound that we experience in our everyday lives are powerful catalysts for emotions, ideas, and actions.

“Music and sound are thoroughly social phenomena, but they often play in the background” says Dr. Ellen Waterman, a Professor of Music in Carleton’s School for Studies in Arts and Culture and the Helmut Kallmann Chair for Music in Canada.

“I think that paying close attention to these ubiquitous phenomena is key to understanding who we are and imagining how we want to be together.”

Music, Sound and Society in Canada (MSSC) is a new Research Centre in Carleton’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences that will take a critical lens to music and sound in this country. It formally launched on November 30, 2021, and will explore how music is both shaped by, and helps to shape, Canadian society.

“I want to take seriously the roles of music and sound in all their artistic, institutional, and environmental manifestations. In how they participate in forming ideas about Canada – past and present – and how they work to maintain or transform social structures,” says Waterman.

“The MSSC will explore how artists, institutions, and community movements use music and sound to promote certain conceptions of society. We have many musical institutions in Canada, including public funders, educators, broadcasters, and the many arms of the music industry. These were formed according to certain values and priorities, but they are constantly evolving. In this current moment, when we’re understanding the urgency of decolonization and anti-racism in Canada, calls for structural change for social justice require reflection, critique, and creativity. Many musicians and sound artists are important participants in this social transformation.”

One example of this is the Canada Council for the Arts. It was established in the 1950s as a kind of nation building project to develop Canadian identity based on a narrow range of artistic expression: classical music, ballet, and fine arts.

“Over time, it came to reflect the grassroots changes that happened among individual artists across the country, and today a much wider range of artistic expression is embraced – up to a point. Council has even produced position papers on Disability and Deaf Arts, and Indigenous Arts that inform peer review,” says Waterman.

“A good potential research project would examine this complex articulation of money, politics, artistic expression, and social values.”

The MSSC brings together scholars from Carleton, external research fellows, and members of the community. Many of its events will use the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre in downtown Ottawa, and Waterman hopes that its central location will help foster community engagement.

Ellen Waterman with drums and holding flute

“Community is the basis of our approach, and we will be collaborating with a wide variety of people and groups in Ottawa and beyond. In many respects, the best projects come from the community. In our project ‘Expanding the Music Circle’, we are partnering with the Lotus Centre for Special Music Education, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and Sonshine Community Inclusion Centre for adults with disabilities. Together, we are exploring how musical improvisation can help bridge difference across these communities.”

“The MSSC has a major emphasis on research-creation, and we are participating in an international effort to explore and develop research methodologies that are centered in artistic practice.”

“We are also working in partnership with Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre on a vision to develop collaboratory expressive arts research. In tandem with a recording studio, we envision a multi-arts space for communities, artists, and researchers to work together.”

For Carleton, the Music, Sound and Society in Canada Research Centre is an ideal fit with its vision for the future.

“It is at the nexus of interdisciplinarity, our commitment to community engagement and our focus on social justice struggles,” says Dr. Pauline Rankin, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Pauline Rankin“Carleton has been challenging the idea of teaching music from a canon, and looking at music from a whole range of perspectives. Its vision of research creation with communities that have historically been on the margins of traditional music research is exciting, and Prof. Waterman brings a wealth of research experience and an extensive network. When we first talked about this research centre before the COVID-19 pandemic, none of us had any idea of what we were about to experience, and as the pandemic played out, we all realized on an individual level how important music is as a coping tool and for collective mental health.”

For more information about the Music, Sound, and Society Research Centre visit www.carleton.ca/mssc

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