Research starts with posing the right question. But when is a question right? Music has a huge potential to connect and divide people, to attract and seduce them irresistibly and to abhor them instantly. Hence, what is useful information for one person can be a painful exposure for another person. In my research practice as a musicologist I always work together with those who participate in the music that I am interested in: musicians, listeners and other researchers. Thus, in no way do I own or possess the knowledge I shape and acquire; it has been shared with me, and I consider it to be my job to also share it.
Currently, I am an Associate Professor of Cultural Musicology at the University of Amsterdam. With my colleagues Oliver Seibt and Anne van Oostrum I work on the intersection of internationally recognized disciplines such as ethnomusicology, popular music studies and sound studies. These disciplinary constellations have their own loaded histories and are currently ‘disciplined’ in their own societies, symposia and periodicals. We think that a combination of these disciplinary approaches may result in new insights for academics, musicians, policy makes, cultural participants, industries and governments. Our orientation is grounded in the research group Music and Culture at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA).
Since I also work in parts of the world where people do not have guaranteed access to channels of knowledge formation and dissemination – like the internet, radio, television, (academic) publishers, schools, and professional societies – I always try to reflect on the implications and possible consequences of my investigations for the people I work with. Thus, I do not carry out my research as a distanced observer, but I try to participate in the (music) practice I am studying.
In order to inform my readership about the ways in which knowledge is formed and disseminated, I have to account for the fact that my investigation of music (no matter how quiet and distanced) intervenes in the musical practice. My act of asking musicians about their music will inevitably affect the way they think about their musical practices and about the possibilities of reaching other people with their music and earn money with their musicianship. My presence impacts on the social relations in the field. Thus, the answers I formulate to my research questions are temporary and context dependent; they are starting points for new research questions.
This scholarly approach demonstrates that such incentives for further questions require carefully adopted positions in a debate rather than quick opiniating. They force us to reconsider apparently obvious insights and to reflect on our attitudes in encounters with everyone and everything around us. The humanities and social sciences are clearly indispensable in the training of such social and intellectual attitudes.