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The past as repeatable presence: how music changed from an ephemeral event to an ever accessible object (a comparison between Sweden and Italy during the interwar years).

About this project

Project information

Project status

In progress 2021 - 2024


Ulrik Volgsten

Research subject

Research environments

The aim of this RJ-funded project is to investigate an important condition for music production, distribution and listening in today’s digital world. More specifically it asks the question: How did music change from being regarded as an ephemeral event to becoming an ever-accessible object?

Not only was music regarded as an event, a collective and communal activity, since ancient times; its change into an ever-accessible object to be listened to at will, even in solitude, only came about over a course of many years. Although recorded sound played a major role, this “ontological turn” did not occur automatically.

Previous research has located the crucial years of the change to the interwar years. The specific aims of the proposed project are thus to detail what, during these years, can be assumed to be important factors of transformation. Four distinct areas of music and music-related practice are chosen for investigation. These are

1) music poetics (neue Sachlichkeit, Neoclassicism),

2) copyright (the grounding of IFPI),
3) radio broadcasting (live and recorded music), and

4) record reviews/printed media (popular and serious music)

In addition to its historical perspective, the four areas of investigation will be analyzed with respect to their sociological significance as “mediators” (or as sites for mediators) connecting composers and musicians with audiences and listeners. As such the “factors” of transformation will gain a more substantive explanatory force.

By finally comparing the situations in Sweden and Italy, national idiosyncrasies as well as hypotheses on international (European) commonalities will result. In addition to filling an overdue gap in the history of Western music, the project will provide an important explanatory frame of reference for today’s digitalized music world, showing what is new and what is historically contingent.


Ulrik Volgsten is professor of Musicology at Örebro University, Sweden. His research is concerned with the conceptual history of music aesthetics (composer, work, listener), and how factors such as copyright law and recording and playback technology has influenced the Western concept of music. Volgsten has also published articles on affect attunement and resonance.

Benedetta Zucconi is research assistant at the department of Musicology and Sound Studies of the University of Bonn and guest researcher at Örebro University. Her research topics and publications cover the history of music media, twentieth-century Italian music as well as the entanglements between music, politics and economics.

Contact info:


Research funding bodies

  • The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences


  • Benedetta Zucconi , The University of Bonn