Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Music

Music Research Seminar: Sumanth Gopinath

Research seminar

Speculative Hermeneutics, Scottish Memory, and James Dillon’s String Quartet No. 6

Lecture Theatre 1, School of Music

The speaker is Dr Sumanth Gopinath (University of Minnesota)


The remarkable compositions of James Dillon are complex in ways not necessarily appreciated within the discourse of the New Complexity, to which the Scottish composer has been unwillingly yoked since the late 1980s. In this presentation I argue that the very elusiveness of Dillon’s expressively powerful and finely wrought music, itself inextricable from his verbal discourse in writings and interviews, raises provocative questions for musical hermeneutics—this being highly relevant, given his placing importance on meaning, narrative, and “symbolic levels” in his music.

Drawing on the composer’s essay “Speculative Instruments” and on personal conversations, I propose the pleonasm “speculative hermeneutics” to denote a diagnostic form of interpretive inquiry based on highly conditional constructive descriptions. An inquiry suited to a speculative hermeneutics is occasioned by the composer’s String Quartet No. 6 (2010), dedicated to the memory of the Scottish trade union activist and political leader, James “Jimmy” Reid, who died near the end of the composition’s creation. Given the latter’s limited poietic relevance to the compositional process, this study instead investigates possible homological and other interpretive relationships between aspects of Reid’s life and work and the quartet’s semiotic and structural features—focusing in particular on the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Work-in (1971–72).

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