Skip to main content
Register here

25 April 2023 - 25 April 2023

3:00PM - 5:00PM

Online via Zoom

Share page:

Join us for the Music Research Forum session with Michael Tenzer, Professor of Music at the University of British Columbia

This is the image alt text

Abstract :  At this forum I will share preliminary plans for a chapter on orchestration in world context, commissioned for a book edited by associates of the multi-university ACTOR project (  A provocative 2022 definition of orchestration, stemming also from this project, invokes “the skillful selection, combination, and juxtaposition of instruments at different pitches and dynamics to achieve a particular sonic goal.” (McAdams, Goodchild and Soden: 1.1). The presupposition of individual agency underlying the idea of “skillful selection” indexes a bias toward the aesthetic autonomy of contemporary musicians working mainly in post-18th century Western Art music and most kinds of mediated popular music. An ethnomusicological view is obliged to broaden and historicize this notion to encompass cultural traditions in which orchestration is not (or only minimally) anyone’s expressive choice, but rather something constrained by nonautonomous factors. Among these are environmental and technological affordances shaping organology, place-based acoustics of performance contexts, social structures in which ensemble makeup affirms group identity or community function, and invariable musical roles developed for different instruments in a given ensemble or genre. All of these must adapt to the laws of human cognition. They also hang on each tradition’s construal of the musical entity itself, that is, the ontology of the inner thing we call “music” in each culture, and how its transformation into performed sound materializes these factors. A still broader view suggests an evolutionary thread connecting the timbral strategies evolved for animal biophony, to the worldings of traditional music, to the rise of timbre as an individual’s identity marker in contemporary life.


McAdams, Stephen, Meghan Goodchild, and Kit Soden. 2022. “A Taxonomy of Orchestral Grouping Effects Derived from Principles of Auditory Perception” Music Theory Online28/3.


Michael Tenzer’s is Professor of Music at the University of British Columbia.. His writings include Gamelan Gong Kebyar: The Art of Twentieth Century Balinese Music (University of Chicago Press, 2000; winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor and Society for Ethnomusicology’s Merriam awards), two edited volumes of Analytical Studies in World Music (Oxford 2006, and 2011 with John Roeder), the introductory text Balinese Gamelan Music (Periplus 1992), now in its third edition, and other chapters and articles dealing with the analysis and aesthetics of world music traditions and contemporary music. He co-founded Gamelan Sekar Jaya in Berkeley California in 1979, an organization still vital today. His numerous compositions for gamelan since 1982 have been cited in the Balinese press as a “significant contribution to our cultural heritage.” These and other compositions are available on New World Records.