Center for Global Studies (CGS)


Political Ontologies of Music: Rethinking the Relationship between Music and Politics in the Twenty-First Century (ONTOMUSIC)

Research Project, 1 April 2021 – 31 March 2024
European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme / Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions

Dr Luis Velasco-Pufleau
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellow, University of Bern / McGill University

Project description

ONTOMUSIC provides an innovative and interdisciplinary theoretical framework to analyse the political and ethical dimensions of contemporary art music in the twenty-first century. It explores the relationship between composers’ ontological assumptions, political thought and ethical concerns. Ontological assumptions are defined as personal or collective assertions about the nature and means of music, which reveal our beliefs on what music is as well as what music can do or accomplish. ONTOMUSIC argues that integrating composers’ ontological assumptions into the exploration of their political or ethical commitments makes possible the study of a broader range of living composers and their views about ethical issues such as social justice, human rights and the environment.

How do composers make their ethical concerns audible through their compositional and performance practices? Which concepts, discourses and imaginaries do they mobilise when talking about the relationships between music, ethics and politics? How can music create new ways of making sense of the common world?

ONTOMUSIC examines composers’ ontological assumptions in relation to four key approaches to music, ethics and politics:
1. The politics of musical material: compositional techniques, musical gestures and political metaphors
2. Sound activism: musical practices and environmental concerns
3. Music and political identities: cosmopolitanism and political engagements with the past
4. Ecological approaches: sound, music technology and the politics of musical interactions

This research project is rooted in an interdisciplinary approach to music and performance practices, which seeks to bridge historical musicology, ethnomusicology, music theory and philosophy. ONTOMUSIC aims to advance our understanding of how composers engage critically with the major ethical and political challenges facing our societies.

Project objectives

The three main research objectives are: 1) to understand how composers’ ontological assumptions shape the political possibilities of their music within a specific symbolic and social order; 2) to examine how composers have embedded their ethical concerns in specific compositional processes, performance settings and musical works; 3) to produce new sources and record first-hand views from composers, in particular women composers, where they develop their ontological assumptions connected to their ethical and political concerns.


Host institution: Institute of Musicology and Walter Benjamin Kolleg, University of Bern
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Britta Sweers

Partner institution: Schulich School of Music, McGill University
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Robert Hasegawa

Scientific collaborations

Chaire de recherche du Canada en musique et politique / Faculté de musique, Université de Montréal
Chairholder: Prof. Dr. Marie-Hélène Benoit-Otis

Swiss Young Academy
Interdisciplinary research project The Future of Human Rights

International Musicological Society
IMS Study Group Music and Violence


ONTOMUSIC has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 101027828.

Additional support for research, outreach and communication activities has been provided by the following: Schulich School of Music (McGill University), Chaire de recherche du Canada en musique et politique (Université de Montréal), Institute of Musicology and Walter Benjamin Kolleg (Universität Bern), Swiss Young Academy.

Research Activities

More information at the ONTOMUSIC website

Project leader