As a music sociologist in the German tradition of Christian Kaden and others, I regard music and musicality as a central aspect of what it means to be human, and as a significant driver in many aspects of human sociality and human society. My work draws on historical, anthropological and sociological approaches and methods, and is fundamentally interdisciplinary in nature.
For over a decade now, my work has focused on the musicology of war and collective violence, especially where music is used to promote, prepare and facilitate violence. My research in this area has included work on genocide and on the use of music as an instrument of torture. I have an extensive list of publications on this topic, and actively seek to support and promote the work of others scholars working on these issues, including through organising conferences and workshops, and co-editing a number of publications on these topics. I am writing a monograph on the musicology of war, which I hope to complete in 2022.
Currently, I am working to establish a new project on acoustic conditions of detention, which will seek to establish a firm basis in international law for preventing and challenging ill-treatment of detainees that relates to the sounding environment they are held in. This project will aim to build on past research by myself and others into the use of music and sound as an instrument of ill-treatment and torture, and to apply this knowledge to prevent related abuses of the rights of detainees in future.
My other research interests include the social functions of songs and singing. My monograph Auld Lang Syne: A Song and Its Culture (Open Book Publishers, 2021) explores the cultural history of this iconic Scots song and how the social practices and rituals that have emerged around it have helped it become so meaningful for so many communities around the world. I’m a member of the Song Studies Network, and much of my work in the musicology of war has also related to the roles of songs and singing. As a member of the Editorial and Advisory Board of the Musica Scotica Trust, I’m also actively involved in promoting and conducting research into music in Scotland.
My original research interest, from my student days onwards, was the theory and aesthetics of new and experimental composition in the western art music tradition since ca. 1950. Since the publication of my monograph Serial Music, Serial Aesthetics: Compositional Theory in Post-war Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2001) I’ve continued to publish, teach, and lecture in this area, especially on the music and thinking of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and on the Wandelweiser group of composers.
In terms of historical and regional focuses, my specialisms lie in British (especially Scottish) and western/central European cultures (especially German-speaking) from ca. the eighteenth century onwards, but I also actively draw on research pertaining to other regions of the world and earlier historical eras. I am committed to the process of decolonisation of knowledge and research, and reflect on this in my work.