2020 Activities Report

Institute for Ethnomusicology – University of Music and Performing Arts

In December of 2019, three Institute 13 colleagues (Rafal Caro Repetto, Babak Nikzat, and Sarah Weiss) and one PhD student (Denise Schubert) left Graz to fly to Asia on an ASEA-UNINET-funded exchange program. The group met with faculty and students from the Universiti Saens Malaysia in Penang and the Institut Seni Indonesia-Yogyakarta for conferencing, discussions about future research projects, and documentary film events focusing on issues of translocality and performance (a long-standing research focus for the Institute initiated by Asst. Prof. Kendra Stepputat (Institute 13) and Prof Ema. Tan Sooi Beng (USM) in 2016). Our hosts in Malaysia were Prof. Tan Sooi Beng and Dr. Mumtaz Begum Aboo Backer, Dean of the School of the Arts and our hosts at ISI-Yogyakarta were Dr. Koes Yuliadi, Theatre Department (Head) and Dr. Citra Aryandari, colleague in the PhD degree program at ISI Yogyakarta as well as Rector Prof. Dr. M. Agus Burhan, M.Hum.


With memories of these exciting exchanges in Asia, a clarity emerging regarding the new Rectorate of KUG (installed in March 2020) , and myriad plans for further developments in our Institute, including the search for a new Professor (Prof Gerd Grupe plans to retire in June 2021), we began 2020 with great hopes and much enthusiasm.

On 17 January 2020 Rafael Caro Repetto and the Institute hosted Barcelona-based, instrument maker and sound researcher, Martí Ruiz (Universidad de Barcelona). In addition to his well-attended lecture Ruiz ran an instrument-making workshop, with more than 20 participants, in which old pots and pans were hung, hammered, bent, stripped, screwed (and otherwise made unusable for cooking), a rendering that turned them into an orchestra of new instruments with resonant voices that delighted participants and listeners alike.

The very next day, 18 January, PhD student in ethnomusicology and University Assistant Mattia Scassellati won the Best Practice Award at the Doktorandinnen Forum of the Winter Semester 2019-20 presented by the Doktoratsschule.

Some of instruments created during the instrument-making workshop made another appearance at the end-of-semester concert on 21 January in which the Institute’s new Persian ensemble, directed by Babak Nikzat, with dance taught by Maral Eghbalzadeh, had its premiere performance, along with a plethora of music performed by members of the gamelan ensemble course and the Institute’s community ensemble Gamelan Nyai Rara Saraswati. An exquisite performance on the qin by new colleague Rafael Caro Repetto rounded out the evening and all retired to the seminar room for a (light) feast of sweet things organized by the Institute’s infinitely competent administrator, Doris Schweinzer. Little did we know as we cleaned up the last crumbs and dishes that that event would be the last in-person public event we would host for more than a year (and still counting as of February 2021.)

Corona hit Austria, KUG, and Institute 13 just as we welcomed our new Rectorate in March 2020. It seemed frightening and serious but somehow not likely to threaten us in any significant way, so we thought. The Summer Semester began as usual with in-person teaching. The heady excitement of starting fresh courses and engaging new topics filled our minds as we prepared to host and attend the myriad talks, conferences, and other engagements that make up a normal semester in our Institute. One week into the semester, suddenly we discovered we had to switch to online teaching . . . immediately. Although we may have denied it at the time, deep inside most of us began to realize that everything would soon be different for, very possibly, quite a long time. The shock was palpable as was the surprise. Nevertheless, being ethnomusicologists and ever-prepared to absorb disruption and rebound when we encounter disasters ‘in the field,’ we dutifully trialed Big Blue Button, secretly preferred Zoom, discovered some of the wonders of our own Moodle, and began our new careers as online teachers.

On 26 June, we celebrated the end of our first Corona semester with an ice cream party called, ‘ Eis mit einem Meter Abstand’ in a small park on the Murradweg with ice cream from Eis Perle and students from many different classes. That was as close to normal as we could conjure. In addition, there was a call for faculty and students to create videos celebrating the end of our semester of distance learning. The videos are available on the Institute’s Facebook page. And so, the summer began.

Deep in the middle of the summer, on 1 August 2020, Babak Nikzat and his colleague Dina el Zarka (KFU) officially began the research for their newly funded FWF grant exploring the speech and music of Arab minorities in south Iran (AiS). (They received the good news about their proposal on 9 May 2020.) Congratulations!

In the late summer of 2020, it looked as though we might have a normal Winter 20/21 semester, but we were still instructed to be cautious. The Institute is the home of the newly instantiated ICTM study group for Sound, Movement, and the Sciences (SoMoS). The Chair Kendra Stepputat and the Secretary, Rafael Caro Repetto, are both colleagues in our Institute. Working with André Holzapfel from the Sound and Music Computing Center of KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, the SoMoS team planned the first official symposium of the Study Group. Postponed once to 28-30 September, and then moved entirely online, the symposium was a great success, well attended by colleagues from around the world (and from more far-flung places than would normally be the case in an in-person event). Colleagues Caro Repetto, Nikzat, Stepputat, and Weiss were involved in the 2020 SoMos Conference.

In September and October Engelbert Logar was involved in a 4-part Ö1 Radiokolleg series entitled: Singen mit ideologischem Grundton. Organized by Sabrina Adlbrecht and broadcast over a period of a week, the program examined the multiple constructions, meanings, and uses of folksongs since the mid-18th century in Austria and Germany. It was a busy couple of weeks for Logar, as he also presented different lectures at two conferences: one, 16 September 2020, on house, farm and field names in Carinthia at the Symposium of the Institute for Slavic Studies, University of Klagenfurt and the Austrian UNESCO Commission; and another on mixed-language songs in Styria, Carinthia, and Slovenia at the Multilinguality in Folklore conference, 1-3 October 2020, held in Ljubljana and co-hosted by the Institute for Ethnomusicology at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Computer and Information Science.

On 9 October 2020, members of the Institute and friends gathered to celebrate the 65th birthday of Gerd Grupe. Although Gerd will retire from serving as the Professor of Institute 13, he will continue working at KUG for a few more years, serving as the Vice Rector for Research. To celebrate his retirement, two former PhD students, Kendra Stepputat and Malik Sharif organized and edited a Festschrift entitled, Understanding Musics: Festschrift on the Occasion of Gerd Grupe’s 65th Birthday, with contributions from students and colleagues representing all periods of Gerd’s professional life. The celebratory meal was held at Gasthaus Stoffbauer on the Oberer Platten Weg in eastern Graz.

Despite the true devastation it is wreaking around the globe, at least Covid19 restrictions have positive effects other than keeping people healthy, especially in terms of equalizing access to academic engagements. Online events can, should their organizers wish, be accessible to anyone with the ability to get online. (Perhaps Corona is a decolonizing force for our field?)

To this end, the Institute hosted several guest visitors, some to deliver guest lectures and others to visit classes, expanding horizons for our students and enhancing the international outreach of our Institute. In addition to the in-person visit of Martí Ruiz in January, Petra Gelbart delivered a guest lecture by Zoom on gender, sexuality, and Romani performance on 2 December 2020 and the Institute co-hosted ethnomusicologist Michael Bakan as the keynote speaker for a Zoomed theme day on Music and Inclusion at KUG’s Center for Gender Research on 11 December 2020. Virtual classroom visits were made by: Judy Van Zile, Teresa Buckland, Sina Shaari, and Horacio Curti.

Many of the events that had been postponed in April and May 2020 took place in November. The Institute hosted the annual meeting of the ICTM National Committee Österreich, hosted by committee member Babak Nikzat and supported by the Institute's student assistant Teresa Seiwald, from 19-21 November completely online. Two Institute members (Weiss and student Siavash Moazzami Vahid) participated in an online conference on Imperfection as an Aesthetic Idea in Music hosted by the Institute of Aesthetics and the Artistic Doctoral Program both departments at KunstUniversitätGraz.

With fewer activities to attend in general, many students took the enforced at-home time as an opportunity to finish their theses. In 2020, the department has graduated three PhD students – Jelka Vukovic, Denise Schubert and Peter Ninaus, three MA theses – Talieh Attarzadeh, Kevin Kuntner, and Kurt Schatz (with several more soon to defend), and a number of BA theses – Barbara Haspl, Bernadette Planner, Anna Suschnigg, and Magdalena Wolf. Congratulations to these students and to their hardworking advisors.

Over the course of 2020 many people changed positions within the Institute. In March 2020 Kendra Stepputat became the Institute's Chair. In October, Sarah Weiss became the Institute's Deputy Chair, Kurt Schatz left his position as SMA and began his PhD studies with a stipend, and Teresa Seiwald began work as an SMA.

2021 has begun. Although we wait to see what will happen with Covid19, we are moving ahead planning online conferences and guest lectures while teaching (and dancing) with comfort and confidence online.