James Currie

James Currie.

James Currie

James Currie

Director of Graduate Studies
Associate Professor


PhD, Columbia University


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

“The Birth of Modernism—Out of the Spirit of Comedy,” Routledge Compendium of Musical Modernism, edited by Björn Heile and Charles Wilson (in press) 

“The Life and Death of Daniel Barenboim,” in Sound and Affect: Voice, Music, World, edited by Judith Lochhead, Stephen Decatur-Smith, and Eduardo Mendieta (under review, University of Chicago Press)

Review of: Richard Kramer, Cherubino’s Leap: In Search of the Enlightenment Moment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), in Eighteenth-Century Music 15/1 (forthcoming)

Review of: Ronald Radano and Tejumola Olaniyan, eds., Audible Empire: Music, Global Politics, Critique (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), and Jessica C. E. Gienow-Hecht, ed., Music and International History in the Twentieth Century (New York: Berghan Books, 2015), in The Journal of World History, Volume 28, 3-4, 2017

“There’s No Place,” a contribution to “Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits: A Panel” (other participants: Daniel Grimley, Alexandra Hui, Tyler Kinnear), Ecomusicology Review Volume 4 (2016), www.ecomusicology.info

Selected Presentations

“From Adaptation to Analysis: Music Theory, Psychoanalysis, and the Neo-Liberal Academy,” part of the session of the SMT Psychoanalysis Interest Group, “What Does Music Theory Want?” Society of Music Theory, Annual Meeting, Arlington, Virginia, November 2017

“There’s No Place.”  In “Ecomusicology and Listening Beyond Categorical Limits,” panel organized by the Ecocriticism Study Group of the American Musicological Society. American Musicological Society and Society of Music Theory Biannual Joint Meeting, Milwaukee, November 2014.

“Getting to Know You.”  In “Queer Music Theory: Interrogating Notes of Sexuality,” American Musicological Society and Society for Music Theory, Joint Annual Meeting, Milwaukee, November 2014.

“An Orchestra Of Nobodies: Daniel Barenboim and the Affective Disciplines of Musical Life.”  Sound and Affect: Voice, Music, World.  Stony Brook University (New York), April 2014.

“Solid as a Ghost: The Unnatural Inversions of Operatic Modernity.”  Part of the Panel “Are Ghost’s Unnatural?”  International Society for the Study of Narrative (ISSN), MIT, Cambridge, MA, March 2014.

Selected Texts and Performances

“Studies in Hysteria.” Libretto for opera by Clara Latham. Premier: Roulette, Brooklyn, NY, June 2018.

“Abugida.” Text for composition by Diana Soh. First Movement performed by Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Singapore. February 2018.

“A/Z.” Text for compositon by Diana Soh. Premiered on Radio France. October, 2017.

“Annihilation.” Tuning Speculation V: Vibratory (Ex)changes. Organized by The Occulture. Toronto, Canada. November 2017.

“How Big are the Stakes in the Chop House.” Tuning Speculation: De-Tuning Speculation. Organized by The Occulture. Toronto, Canada. November, 2016