The Aesthetics of Absence in Music of the 21st Century

The Aesthetics of Absence in Music of the Twenty-First Century
25-26 May 2023, Musicology Department, University of Oslo
(organised in collaboration with Department of Musicology, Uppsala University)

Absence connotes a lack of presence; the not-there, the what-is-not, the empty void of nothingness. Ever since antiquity, essentialist philosophy has challenged the legitimacy of such an idea: while reality is defined by what we say about it through positive assertions, it does not make sense to refer to that which is absent and is therefore not real. Yet absence is a vital part of our lived experience; we talk of absence and invoke the non-present in doing so.

Over the past decades, numerous societal and technological changes and challenges have amplified the experience of absence in everyday life, with issues of isolation, remoteness, loneliness, and even death, of ever-increasing global concern. The influence of these issues has also been felt in the arts and in a range of music that draws inspiration from longstanding traditions of artistic engagement with silence, emptiness and other types of absence. This conference asks: how has the continued relevance of absence as a creative and aesthetic impulse been expressed, felt, and understood in recent years? How do new musical expressions of absence say something about the ways in which we engage and interact with and make sense of the world in which we live today? And how might music help us to understand the status of absence where language falls short?

This conference sets out to explore the many ways in which absence is activated and explored in music of the twenty-first century and aims to stimulate a broad and interdisciplinary conversation. We warmly invite perspectives from across all domains of music studies, including those of performance and composition, and related disciplines, such as aesthetics, critical theory, and cultural studies.

Keynote speaker: Professor Judith Lochhead (Stony Brook University)

Presentations may address but are by no means limited to music of the twenty-first century and:
*   Notions of absence and its related themes (e.g. nothingness, voids, and boredom)
*   The (perceived) absence of musical conventions, traditions, parameters or events (e.g. silence, formlessness, decay, lo-fi, virtuality, white noise)
*   Absences of the self (e.g. death, disassociation, disappearance, prostheses, the subconscious, the virtual)
*   Absences of the other (e.g. isolation, loneliness, remoteness, distance, longing, desire)
*   The no-longer-there (e.g. phantoms, ghosts, nostalgia, memory, melancholia)
*   Near-absences (e.g. ‘soft and quiet’ aesthetics, reductions and abstractions of form and content)
*   Absence in relation to its counterpole (e.g. excess, overload, maximalism)

Abstracts (250 words maximum) are to be sent via email by 1 December 2022 to Please include the title of your paper, as well as a 100-word biography. 

Last modified: 2022-10-31