Keynote and Guest Speaker




Dr. Michael Tenzer, University of British Columbia.

Paper Title and Description:

Three Polyphonic Homonyms

Three musical homonym-pairs—vocal duets from Croatia and Eastern Indonesia, hocketed instrumental music from Bali and Uganda, and ensemble compositions from France and Japan— are analyzed to discover features both similar and distinct. As homonyms, they each display remarkable psychoacoustic and structural connections, but there are also many incompatibilities in context, concept, and structure. The exercise stimulates comparative thought about polyphony as a worldwide phenomenon, especially its relationships to means of subsistence and technology. The paper also considers the three pairs in comparison to one another, questioning the possible explanations for the various features described, their genealogies, and the consequences of all this for the study of music history, particularly its deep history and origins.


Michael Tenzer has been active as a performer, composer, scholar, and teacher.  He has been active in the international proliferation of gamelan music since 1977, did years of fieldwork in Indonesia, co-founded Gamelan Sekar Jaya (now in its 37th year) in Berkeley in 1979, and was the first non-Balinese composer to create new works for Balinese ensembles in Bali. His work has been cited there as “an important contribution to our cultural heritage” and continues to influence young Balinese composers.  His 2000 book “Gamelan Gong Kebyar: The Art of Twentieth-Century Balinese Music” (Chicago) received the Alan P. Merriam Prize of the Society for Ethnomusicology and the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award.  Tenzer’s music is written for diverse media and has been performed in the Americas, Europe, and Asia with commissions and performances by the Koussevitzky Fund, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, American Composers’ Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Chamber Players, etc. He has a PhD in Music Composition from UC Berkeley (1986), taught at Yale University (1986-96), and has been Professor of Music at the University of British Columbia since 1996.



Dr. Julia Byl, University of Alberta.

Paper Title:

“Unreliable narrators: License, credibility and the writing of historical ethnomusicology”

In recent decades, ethnographic music writing has shown its seams through accounts told multiple times from multiple perspectives, and prose meant to evoke the experience of performance. This paper seeks to determine how the writing styles of the field—and the theoretical assumptions that lie within them—can be adapted to the burgeoning field of historical ethnomusicology. How should we balance the competing demands of the scholar’s accuracy, and the creative license of the author? Recruiting the literary device of the “unreliable narrator,” I will use the writing on music of an ethnomusicologist (Richard Wolf), a novelist (Francis Spofford), a poet (Encik Ali), and a philologist (C. M. Pleyte) to examine what is lost and what is gained in the assertion of authorial prerogative.


Dr. Julia Byl is Assistant Professor in Ethnomusicology at the University of Alberta. She researches and teaches on the intersections of contemporary performances and the musical past; on the space between ethnography, historiography, and archival work. Her recent book Antiphonal Histories is on North Sumatran music history, and her current project focuses on Timor Leste, public music, and political and religious institutions.


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