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Thinking Spaces: Graduate Student Colloquium with Greg Fenton, Brian Lefresne, and Ian Sinclair

Please join us for the next meeting of the Thinking Spaces Reading Group on March 22, 2013. We will be returning to our usual location at the public library at 100 Norfolk at our usual time, 3-5pm. This week will feature a Graduate Student Colloquium, with PhD students Greg Fenton and Brian Lefresne from the University of Guelph School of English and Theatre Studies, and DMA Candidate Ian Sinclair from the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto.

Gregory Fenton is a PhD student and researcher at the University of Guelph. His current areas of research interest include Asian North American literature, cultural studies, biopolitics, anti-racism, Sinophone studies, and new theories of communism. He completed his M.A. in Cultural Studies and Critical Theory at McMaster in 2012. He worked as a public high school English teacher and an I.B. instructor in China from 2009-2011. His presentation will be adapted from a paper-in-progress, “Improvising Personal Rights beyond the National: Chen Guangcheng and a Study of Dissidence.” This paper explores the relationship between improvisation and resistance in an era of global neoliberalism, and asks whether it is possible to pursue an “improvisational poetics of resistance.” He complicates this pursuit by focusing on the example of Chen Guangcheng’s exile and the production of what he terms, “dissident capital.” He will draw an important distinction between the improviser as a site for “resistant critiques” and the improviser as an instrument for “resistant critiques” as he challenges the language of dissidence.

Brian Lefresne is a Ph. D student in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph. His proposed area of study is African-American artistic collectives of the 1960s and 1970s with particular emphasis on jazz musician and poet Sun Ra and his ensemble the Arkestra. Brian holds a B. Mus and an M.A. in Historical Musicology from the University of Ottawa where he wrote a thesis on the compositional techniques of Hungarian-German composer György Ligeti. Brian's presentation, entitled “Building a New Spaceship to Saturn,” will examine the current state of scholarship on and surrounding Sun Ra and the Arkestra and propose, explore, and postulate new directions for research on Ra and his ensemble through a diverse array of critical theories and writings ranging from performance studies and the visual arts to theatre and literature.

Originally from Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Ian Sinclair is a musician, teacher, composer-arranger, and academic-critic predominantly involved in jazz and popular music. Since August 2009, he has been based in Toronto, Ontario and enrolled in the Doctor of Musical Arts in Performance (Jazz) program at the University of Toronto. Ian previously completed a M.Mus in Jazz Performance (summa cum laude) from one of the most prestigious jazz schools in the world, the University of North Texas (2004-07). From 2007 to 2008, he was the Paula Knickerbocker Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. In his presentation, "Jazz Performance Practice and its Relationships with Popular Music," Ian asks, what is the relationship between the performance traditions of jazz and North American popular music? Some scholars (eg. Adorno) have consistently not seen a distinction between the two, though since the 1980s influential writers (eg. Albert Murray and Stanley Crouch) and cultural figures (eg. Wynton Marsalis) have embraced the traditional low/high culture hierarchy, referring to jazz as "America's classical music." More recently, however, many scholars have avoided such hierarchies, instead focusing on how jazz performance inhabits a space that interacts with popular culture--its songs and practices--in an ever-changing and expanding tradition of improvised music-making. Among such scholars is Scott DeVeaux, who in his 1999 article, "Nice Work if You Can Get It: Thelonious Monk and Popular Song," posited that Monk's own "aesthetic was forged not in some idealized space...shielded from the corrupting influence of 'commercial' music, but through an engagement with popular song" (183). Indeed, DeVeaux provides a persuasive and detailed accounting of how Monk's celebrated innovative approach to harmony may have emerged from the materials of Monk's favoured popular songs. Robert Walser, meanwhile, in his article "Out of Notes: Signification, Interpretation, and the Problem of Miles Davis" in analyzing Davis performances, shows how jazz musicians utilize musical strategies that emphasizes an aesthetic that includes an in- the-moment, interactive, risk-laden dialogue with popular song. Ian concludes by demonstrating how these issues are a central issue in his own ethnographic study in Toronto's jazz scene that he is conducting as his doctoral dissertation project.

As always, please spread the word to your peers, students, fellow artists and friends.

The Thinking Spaces series will continue with meetings on April 5 (Tanya Williams), and April 12 (Matt Brubeck).

Improvisation is, simply put, being and living this very moment. No one can hide in music, and improvising in music is to be truly in this very moment and being completely yourself, with all your qualities and faults. It is probably the most honest state for a human being to be in.

– John McLaughlin in an interview with Daniel Fischlin.