Constructing Musical Associations through Instruments

Will Connor, III

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Many studies of musical instruments have shown the ways in which instruments embody and negotiate cultural and social significance and meaning, but little of this work has focused on the makers of those instruments. According to Alfred Gell, artisans infuse “intentionalities” into their wares that embody the agency of the artisan. In this thesis, I address the agency of makers of musical instruments to gain a better understanding of the roles they play in defining how instruments acquire their social and cultural meanings. These meanings are constantly in flux and, in turn, inform the maker’s decisions and assist in formulating a maker’s role within a musical community. Makers interact with community members primarily through the construction of their instruments as part of what I have called a Maker-Instrument-Player network. Drawing on Actor-Network Theory, I outline some of the ways in which musical instruments afford associations and engender exchanges within a musical community, and I unpack the complexities of the maker’s role. Based on ethnographic case studies which feature contemporary builders of early music instruments and performers of neo-Medievalist Gothic music with whom they interact, I examine the agency and impact of instrument makers on musical processes. This includes analysis of playing techniques, concepts of authenticity and historical accuracy, perceptions of modernity and tradition, sensibilities of craftsmanship, the economics and marketing involved, and the physical attributes of the instruments themselves.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Stobart, Henry, Supervisor
  • Morcom, Anna, Advisor
Award date1 Oct 2012
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


  • Connor
  • ethnomusicology
  • Gothic music
  • Actor Network Theory
  • neo-medievalist music
  • musical instrument construction

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