Sound knowledge: Musical meaningfulness in Micronesia

Music scholar at the University of Göttingen receives ERC Consolidator Grant of 2 million euros

The music scholar Professor Birgit Abels from the University of Göttingen has received a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). The ERC will fund the project "Sound Knowledge: Alternative Epistemologies of Music in the Western Pacific Island World" (SoundKnowledge) for the next five years with around two million euros. In this project, Abels and her team research music-making in the Western Pacific Island World as a very particular knowledge practice.

The scientists are investigating what musical practices "know" and "how they know it", how music-making makes this knowledge operable and how humans mobilize this knowledge in coping with their life-world through music. Sound knowledge is formed in the performance of musical practice, not necessarily in words. According to Abels, it could be a key to overcoming crises in the post-colonial predicament of the island region, because musical experience condenses ideas, atmospheres, feelings and one’s own historicity into a moment in a way that makes connections perceptible that only sound can really clearly reveal. Identifying these connections can facilitate change and help develop new solutions.

The project will deal with the relevance of this musical knowledge to very real crises: climate change, social alienation and postcolonial trauma; each of which shape certain parts of the region. The project will throw light on the nature and dynamics of this uniquely musical knowledge in relation to these issues. How do people mobilize this knowledge in dealing with these contemporary challenges by making music? This is the central question that SoundKnowledge poses. Based on this analysis, the project will also develop tools for realistic future scenarios: working together with local institutions, the research results will be used to develop local strategies for action that will support the development of community action strategies.

Birgit Abels, born in 1980, studied Arabic Studies and Music Studies in Bochum and London. Her PhD about the music of the island state of Palau in 2009 was awarded the ICAS Book Prize. Her field research took Abels to India, Micronesia and the Southeast Asian islands. As a postdoctoral researcher, she worked in Leiden and Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia). Abels researches the corporeality of musical experience, sound-based epistemologies and the phenomenology of music in post-colonial contexts. She has been Professor of Cultural Musicology/Ethnomusicology at the University of Göttingen since 2011.

The European Union uses its ERC Consolidator Grants to support outstanding researchers in the consolidation of their scientific career. The grants are designed to enable researchers to further consolidate their research team and pursue innovative ideas.

Professor Birgit Abels
University of Göttingen
Department of Musicology
Kurze Geismarstraße 1, 37073 Göttingen, Germany