Seminar in Ethnomusicology and Sound Studies: Peter McMurray (University of Cambridge)

Free to attend, no registration required.


The Islamic hadith tradition is a vast and rich corpus of accounts of the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad. While scholars of music and sound have long attended to the aural intensities of the recited Qur'an, the hadith tradition has largely been disregarded within the field. In this talk, I explore what I call the 'audible metapoetics' of Islamic hadith, as a kind of utterance about utterance, especially within the context of hadith reports about how the Prophet received revelation. Thinking about hadith as a sonic medium offers important insight into ontologies of revelation in Islam and early sonic techniques among Muslims, and also into longstanding debates among Muslims about the permissibility of music. As such, I consider two case studies in the early modern Ottoman period and contemporary hip hop/EDM as further instantiations of hadith metapoetics.



Peter McMurray is an musicologist, saxophonist, and media artist. His research focuses primarily on the intersection of Islam and sound, especially in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, including recitation, liturgy, theology, and architecture and he is currently completing a book and media project, Pathways to God: The Islamic Acoustics of Turkish Berlin. He is also co-editing a volume with Priyasha Mukhopadhyay, Acoustics of Empire, focusing on histories of sound, media and power in the 19th century. Other research interests include global histories of music theory, histories of audiovisual media (e.g., especially magnetic audio media, 1890-1945) and intersections of race and listening. His media practice includes extensive non-fiction audio and video work.

For over 10 years he worked as the Assistant Curator of the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature and he continues to do research on oral poetry, the history/theory of orality, and the voice. As a performer, he has a longstanding interest in jazz and experimental improvisation. He also has been a part of Harvard’s metaLAB and Sensate Journal. From 2019-2021, he co-convened the "Auralities" seminar at CRASSH.

He completed a PhD in Music at Harvard, with secondary emphasis in Critical Media Practice. He also holds degrees in music composition (MFA, Brandeis) and Classics (Greek) and Slavic Literature (BA, Harvard). After his doctoral studies, he held postdoctoral fellowships at MIT (Mellon) and Harvard’s Society of Fellows.

About the series:
The Seminar in Ethnomusicology and Sound Studies is convened by Professor Jason Stanyek of the University of Oxford. Former convenors of the series were Professor Martin Stokes (currently at King’s College London) and Professor Noel Lobley (currently at the University of Virginia). Featuring lectures by leading scholars who have adventurous takes on musical and sonic cultures, the series has a particular grounding in anthropology, sound studies, and ethnomusicology. We typically hold two or three seminars each academic term. Our standard meeting time is on Thursdays at 5pm and events usually take place at or near St John’s College. Our seminars are open to all and admission is free. There is a wine reception after each talk. If you have any questions about the series please contact Professor Stanyek.