University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

A Conversation with the Music and Sound Studies Collaborative, August 1, 2012

Laura Schmitz and Eloise Boisjoli, organizers of the entirely graduate-led collaborative Music and Sound Studies, host presentations and discussions about music and sound.  Here they discuss the group’s goals with Amir Hussain.

The two graduate student co-conveners from the Department of Music, Laura Schmitz and Eloise Boisjoli, explain that the Music and Sound Studies group provides the space for students and faculty to think outside the traditional definitions of music and sound by hosting speakers whose research goes beyond the established academic study of music. For example, musicologists focus on music and its relation to societies through historical investigation, and music theorists concentrate on how music works. These fields have developed a set methodology leaving little opportunity to investigate the definition of what constitutes music. This is where the significance of the group’s name—Music and Sound Studies—comes into play.

One of the definitions of music that we learn as kids is that music is organized sound. But is that an accurate definition? Our field continues to talk about these distinctions. The way I like to think of it is that music is created intentionally to be music, whereas sound can just be the ambient sounds one might hear. But that’s precisely why Sound Studies is so important—because the basic definition is central to those of us who study music. What is sound? What is music? How do they interact?” says Boisjoli, a second year master’s student.

Schmitz, a second year master’s student who works in ethnomusicology says that the collaborative creates a framework for interdisciplinary inquiry into sound

Music and Sound Studies provides a platform for us to reach outside of our specific discipline and interact with researchers who are doing music work or doing work with music and sound but not as traditional music academics. We can really benefit by reaching across those lines and working with each other, especially when we’ve got many crossovers in subject matter, and can incorporate alternative methodologies,” says Schmitz. The area of music cognition, which intersects music with psychology, is one example of this interdisciplinary work. In the fall, one of the speakers the collaborative will host is University of Wisconsin professor Charles Snowdon, who studies how animal species react to music and sounds. (The collaborative’s webpage,, tells of the group’s history and lists their fall speaker schedule.)

As the sole graduate student led collaborative at the IAS, the conveners say they are eager for the opportunity to have access to IAS resources that can help make their group an interdisciplinary success, furthering their ultimate goal of including students from many areas of scholarship. They plan, for instance, to host meetings and events in the Institute’s public spaces to welcome participants from across college and department lines.

One of the great things about the IAS is that it helps connect people from different departments, and we’re searching for those kinds of connections,” says Boisjoli.

We need these connections to break out of our own groove,” adds Schmitz.


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