Call for papers – Transposition. Musique et sciences sociales n° 5
Dossier: The many faces of the orchestral conductor
Coordination: Malika Combes and Johan Popelard

Since the creation of the orchestral conductor as a defined position, in the beginning of the 19th century, this figure has been fodder for a variety of discourses and images. A complex and controversial character emerges from an analysis of a diverse corpus of treatises, anecdotes, documentary and fictional films, photographs, sculptures, caricatures, etc., in which imaginaries and theoretical and ideological projections lie. The fascination provoked
by this figure can be found in “cultivated” milieus as well as in the collective psyche (in narratives by Louis de Funès or Walt Disney, for example). His gestures, his charisma, and discussions about the extent of his real influence have fed numerous scholarly discussions and mythologies.
When taking a closer look at conductor gestures, we are called to inscribe them into a genealogy that goes beyond the limits of the music world. We thus aim to understand these gestures within a larger history, including not only leadership and suggestive gestures, but also symbolic gestures of creation and magical rites. The images that conductors have inspired often showcase the physical aspects of conducting in a heroic or burlesque way. The conductor may represent, in one light, a sublime incarnation, a warlord or demiurge, a holy figure of the Art religion, or, in contrast, a useless and ridiculous puppet tending toward the robotic, or a wildly gesticulating madman. The conductor has also fed reflection on authority and submission, forms of power and its excesses. Experiments involving orchestras without conductors (for instance Persinfams, 1922-1932) seem to be both a criticism of a domination-based model and the manifestation of a desire for a non-hierarchical counter-model. Along the same lines, is the feminization of this profession also changing this model? That said, we also see that identification with the conductor figure is common in political and economic domains, wherein the conductor represents gentle or dynamic power relations and the ideal of a harmonious work environment. These metaphoric uses are part of a larger context of art vocabulary being taken up by the fields of power and management.
In order to fully understand the complexity of the figure of the conductor, we must undertake an archeology of these discourses, gestures, fictions, and images, and trace and update the genealogies and networks of metaphors between the musical and extra-musical domains. It is also important to examine the Western specificity of this figure, in order to see what equivalents may exist in other musical cultures. We thus welcome papers that would shed new light on the figure of the conductor and that apply interdisciplinary approaches, including, but not limited to, the history of music interpretation, the history of musical materials, gesture studies, art history, philosophy, sociology, and political science.
Proposals for papers (in French or English), to include a presentation of the research methodology and key findings, should be sent before October 30th 2013 to the following address: The deadline for accepted papers is January 30th 2014
Submission guidelines: