James Currie

James Currie

Associate Professor; Historical Musicology Unit Coordinator

306 Baird Hall
(716) 645-0629


PhD, Columbia University


Historical Musicology


James Currie is a writer, performer, and Associate Professor in the Department of Music at the University at Buffalo (State University of New York), where he teaches music history to undergraduates and classes on music and philosophy at the graduate level. He is also on the faculty of the university’s Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture. He has worked in collaboration with a number of composers, most notably the young Singapore composer Diana Soh, for whom he has written texts for commissions from IRCAM (“Arboretum: Of Myths and Trees,” 2013), Radio France (“A/Z” 2017), and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (“Abugida,” 2018). But he has also been active as a performance artist and poet creating works that employ a hysterization of traditional dramatic techniques as a means of exploring the junctures at which the quotidian content of daily life and the abstract, structural rigors of aesthetic form interact in processes of disturbing, mutual self transformation, such as in his three-act work theatre work “Examples of Excess.” The combination, on the one hand, of processes that are more akin to musical practices with, on the other, more normative modalities of dramatic and theatrical writing has lead him to performing his dramatic works (such as his “Note to Self”) with musicians such as the widely acclaimed contemporary music soprano Tony Arnold of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). And indeed, the tension created between the expressive modes produced by singers and those produced by actors is, at a certain level, at the heart of his work. He has also had a noted interest in the potential of solo monologue forms, particularly the lecture format, which he has tended to deform into either ritualistic expressionism or poetic stasis, in both cases leaving the lecture’s normal function (of communicating facts and information) abandoned and exposed, such as in his 2013 performative lecture “On Sonic Gravity,” that was given, as a result of invitation, at the Center for Contemporary Theory at the University of Chicago.

Widely published and internationally in demand, in North America, Europe and Asia as an invited guest speaker, his intellectual work has likewise sought to disturb the categories of disciplinary formations as a means of unleashing aesthetic forces into the very production of intellectual discourse. Thus, in its written form, he has tended to experiment more with the essay than the article, using the more open-ended, speculative qualities that it encourages as a means of investigating the points of vexed intersection between music history, politics, philosophy, and creative writing, as for example in his “Garden Disputes: Postmodern Beauty and the Sublime Neighbor,” which appeared in Women and Music (2008). This is work that has appeared in venues across a wide range of disciplines and which moves rapidly between musicology, philosophy, psychoanalysis, queer studies, and critical theory. Notable instances would include his widely discussed and oft-cited 2009 piece, “Music After All” (Journal of the American Musicological Society), and his polemical 2012 monograph, Music and the Politics of Negation, which, as Martin Scherzinger, a professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, wrote, “is part memoir, part history; part formal analysis, part hermeneutic excursion; part philosophical argument, part political manifesto.” As a lecturer, he has been concerned to bring a dramatic intensity into their writing and performance as a means of unleashing a certain passionate intensity that exists in excess of mere discourse production, and in this he takes inspiration from Schoenberg’s famous remark, that the role of the teacher is “to infect his students” not just to inform them. As with his work as a writer and performer, so with his intellectual practice: the aim is less to put something to bed and bring something to rest, and more to intervene into practices to allow for the possibility for something to happen. To others.

Selected Publications

Music and the Politics of Negation. In Robert Hatten's series, "Musical Meaning and Interpretation," Indiana University Press (Spring 2012).

"A Time to Forget: Music and Context in a Troubled Time. " Work in progress

Selected Articles and Essays

"Another Music, A Time to Forget: Reflections on Edward Said's Late Style," Contemporary Music (forthcoming)

"The Music Without Expression," in Mine Doganten-Dack and Anothony Gritten, eds. , Music and Value Judgment, Indiana University Press (forthcoming)

"The Prima Donna's Art of Politics," in Rachel Cowgill and Hilary Poriss, eds. , Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming)

Selected Papers and Presentations

"Forgetting in a Troubled Time: Music and Politics at the End of Modernity. " Invited keynote address—Stony Brook Graduate Conference, February 2012.

"Edward Said's Late Politics of Forgetting and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. " Invited—Association for the Study of Arts of the Present, Pittsburgh, October 2011.

"Disciplines of Forgetting; Remembering Music. " Invited—Colloquium Series. Cambridge University (UK), Department of Music. May 2011.

Selected Poetry and Performance

"Down the Lane." Libretto for a one-act chamber opera, music by Diana Soh. Commissioned by Size Zero Opera Company. Tête à Tête opera festival. Riverside Studios. Hammersmith, London, UK. August, 2011.

"Surround." The Reactionary Ensemble at the Burchfield Penny Art Center as part of Beyond In Western New York. Participated as text and vocal improviser. November, 2010.

Five-hour long text/music improvisation with The Reactionary Ensemble. At Hallwalls's "Unhinged: Artists and Models Affair 21." Buffalo Central Terminal Building, East Buffalo. May 2008

"Someone had to die"—monologue for voice, tape, and musicians. Included in "Asheboro Wake," an experimental oratorio directed by Otto Muller, performed by members of Open Music Ensemble. Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, New York. May 2008.

"I will not and neither will Music"—solo performance piece with tape recorder. The Love Factory, Rust Belt Books, Buffalo, New York (see documentation at ricroyer.com/ptrsIwillnot.htm). March, 2008.