Nation: Singing in unison or playing solo
A series of academic and public lectures, film screenings at Cinemateket, performance analysis and study workshops in parallel with Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival examines how national identities have been constructed and articulated through music, discuss the relationship between authority and musical practice, and look at how music and art can give national cultural heritage new forms and meaning.
A symbol of ”unifying principles” and ”excess separation”. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s words perfectly encapsulate the ambiguity of the concept of nation. Nationhood binds together people who share a territory, a language and a collective imaginary upon which political unity and personal identity are constructed. Although national identity corresponds to strong human motivations such as belonging and self-definition, it can also become a powerful instrument of control and exclusion.
The development of nation states has shaped modern European history and defined the world map as we know it (CONCEPT OF NATION). The process of nation-building has often been accompanied and reinforced by music. After Great Britain adopted ”God Save the King” in 1744, national anthems proliferated, compositions like Beethoven´s Ninth Symphony (A SUPRANATIONAL ANTHEM) lifted national pride and transmitted visionary political ideas, and Romanticism aided the rediscovery of local folklore.
However, if the Restoration saw the flourishing of democracy and national romantic mythologies, the twentieth century experienced the dark side of nationalist discourse: the rise of radical ideologies, world wars, colonial conflicts, intolerance and apartheid. In totalitarian regimes, art was a target of censorship. For Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, ”art, in an absolute sense, as liberal democracy knows it, has no right to exist”. Music either had to reflect society’s interests or be discarded.
Certain composers laid out a clear agenda, such as Mauricio Kagel, who denounced the system by revealing the hidden mechanisms of Western imperialism (EXOTICA). Others created cultural amalgams: the Italian Giacinto Scelsi borrowed sonic material from Middle Eastern cultures and Indian drones, which he transformed to create previously unheard sounds (SCELSI REVISITED).
We live now in times of cosmopolitanism. The postmodern has pulverized nationhood, societies are increasingly pluralist, the national is overruled by the supranational. Physical boundaries are replaced by borderless virtual space. The question of how to deal with the remains of the nation state is taking on an ethical dimension. What are the new frames of reference? How can we preserve the local while embracing the global?
Philosopher Alain Badiou states that art produces truth which gives form to the shapeless (POLIS XXI). If this is true, art might help configure a new world order. Taking this idea literally, Christophe Meierhans proposes an entirely new constitution based on social engagement and responsibility. New technologies, new media and the digital archive are actively used by artists to revitalise collective memory in today’s new networks (ARV).
It is seems thus impossible to ignore the profound cultural and historical significance of musical discourse and its direct relation to ethics and morality (LE CAS WAGNER). The important part played by music after the tragedy of 22 July 2011 (MUSIC AFTER JULY 22) in Oslo and Utøya is a sign that it does not just rehabilitate, but also integrates and reinvents social landscapes.
Ultima Academy's program is curated by Heloisa Amaral.