Life-Writing Beyond Words is a research network and termly series of public events, hosted by Felix Appelbe, the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, and Ocean Ambassadors, that explores how we move between words and the non-verbal.
Life-writing is the study of lives, through letters, diaries, performance, memoir, autobiography and biography. But it frequently has to negotiate the non-verbal, for instance when describing the creative minds of composers, choreographers or artists, capturing the sound and light of childhood, or eavesdropping on the world of animal experience. How can these worlds be captured in words?
We are addressing this challenge by convening a network that spans many disciplines, bringing together academics, practitioners and performers who would otherwise not meet. Free-thinking lectures and laboratories will forge new pathways between the verbal and the non-verbal, journeying towards innovative experimental and performative methodologies.
5 - 5:10 Introduction by Felix Appelbe
5:10 – 5:50pm Louise Cournarie, Rameau le Moderne. Throughout his unusually long life, Jean Philippe Rameau has left an unerasable mark in Music, Theory, Science, Philosophy, and History. The composer/theorist, often referred to as the 'father of modern harmony', and who hated being called a composer, left behind him a forever changed view on music and a large body of work. In a time hugely influenced by the philosophy of Descartes, or the conferences of LeBrun, restlessly attacked by Rousseau, supported by D’Alambert and Voltaire, Rameau the musician and theorist underwent a long evolution. Through his keyboard pieces, this Lecture recital will attempt in having a closer look to the effect of this rich history on both the practice of Jean Philippe Rameau and his theory ideas.
5:50 – 6:30pm Alyn Shipton, How can we explore life-writing that does not use words? One possible answer is to examine both visual art and music for the ways in which we might see or hear biographical ideas. An obvious historical example would be the cycle of self-portraits by Rembrandt, that chronicle every stage of his life, and tell us through peripheral detail not only about the physical changes to Rembrandt the man, but to the environment in which he paints himself, and the clothes he wears. In his new book The Art of Jazz, Alyn Shipton explores the connections between the visual arts and jazz in the first hundred years of the music. Drawing on this unique body of research, Alyn explores how the lives of those in the jazz world have been depicted in music and in painting, drawing, graphics and sculpture. We can see how the image of Miles Davis changed over time, including his own work as a painter; we see how different photographers presented the “Empress of the Blues” Bessie Smith and how she translated the African American experience into song, and using excerpts from his work as an oral historian, Alyn shows how Sonny Rollins used the personal experience of racism in the housing market to inspire his “Freedom Suite”.
6:30 – 7:30pm Roundtable discussion, chaired by Kate Kennedy, on the theme Never the same twice