View of Imagining Something Else: A Queer Essay

Imagining Something Else:

A Queer Essay

[1] The Grieg Academy – Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, University of Bergen


This queer essay is in three sections. In the first two sections I take two different flights over the realms of sense, terminology, speaking, in-bodyment, and materiality. In some of the moments of reading, I will be considering the potentially oppressive+anti-oppressive and the potentially tortuous+emancipatory. Underlying the written words and drawn images, I wonder how disciplinary queering of the scene reveals how people and things are inseparable.

No matter what my questioning verbal discourse may do, I am also reminded that SomeThings and SomeBodies also remain resilient and agential. I wish to show how I think it is actually im+materiality which does the queering towards which I increasingly feel called to attend and care. I consider how systematic disengagement from, and diffraction of dominant narrative mechanisms scream out for the perception of a multiplicity of ontological commitments: Could the capacities of what I call the ‘Queer Nervous non-System (QNn-S)’ emancipate the anthropocentric from the Central, Peripheral and Social Nervous Systems?

In the final third section, I introduce my thoughts about Materiality Inscription Analysis (MIA) aimed at how to perform reiterative flights and queering within music therapy research and practice. This is one way that I am advocating for the persistent study of the ontogeneology and ontogenesis of music therapy.

With this digitalized hand-written and drawn essay I wish a renewed unsettling of the becomings of music therapy, that it/they may be globally uniqued, may be temporary, and may be polymodally sensed. Somethings else, somethings more. Perhaps.

Keywords: queer insists, ontogenesis, Queer Nervous non-System (QNn-S), Materiality Inscription Analysis (MIA)

Section One: The first pass

Questioning. Sense, terminology, speech and in-bodyment

There are some moments in a lifetime when the premises and routines of everyday life seem to fall short. As a music therapist, educator, or researcher, it seems commonplace that what is done then said, said then done, is supported and influenced by a whole net of expertise, experience, equipment, investment, and near prognostic expectation. Millions have been invested to get us where we are. All that money can’t be wrong. The educational plan, the research agendas, the practice infrastructures, the current instrument collection, the academic submission interface, ISO 26324:2012, the logos, icons, fonts, the abbreviations, even the white space allocation on paper appear certain and settled. When questioned, the net tightens as if driven by an invisible imperative. At times, and I’m not sure, but it seems so certain and settled that it is really weird.

In 1994, Alfonso Lingis offered a possible explanation of the genesis of this illusion of settled-ness from an eco-political stance in his book titled, “The community of those who have nothing in common,”

The individual who is subjected to the institutional imperative to say what he sees and experiences must say it in statements subjected to the contestation and verification of others in the community. He must formulate his living insights and experience in the established concepts of the language – in forms that are not his own, but are the forms of anyone. His most intimate and living impulses and insights lose their individuality in being formulated; his thoughts are put in the coffers of words that preserve them like tombs preserve, such that later, when he hears or reads his own thoughts, he finds in the words only what anyone else finds; he no longer finds the lithe and virgin fires of his own inner life (p. 137).

Shifting through sense towards terminology, the individual is forced to learn and appropriately apply the words of the institution. Here the opposite of queering is at work. When they open their mouth to speak of that which is rooted within in-bodyment (those ideas that are created within the body) and that of the materiality of the world, those very roots are evaporated by the narrative of how the world comes about. In other terms, the imperative of ontogenesis is not available to ontogeneology. According to Alfonso Lingis (1994):

When he speaks, he speaks as one in whose statement the logic, theories, and cognitive methods of his culture are implicated; he speaks as a representative, equivalent and interchangeable with another, of the established truth. All the ephemeral insights of his sentient body are continued, maintained, or lost in the anonymous body of discourse of the instituted science and culture (pp.137–138).

But it is not only the actual presence of different bodies that is contested, it can seem that moments of time are also already spoken for. Most moments are already allocated for enactment, for the consumption of educational and methodological inheritance and the reiterative educating of others. It seems that the moment in the future in which something is expected to be done is also already filled. Less commonplace, but more needed, are those moments that are given, or more importantly taken, to question the how’s, what’s and why’s of what is done and said and ask if there is any-thing/one positioned out of sight and hidden away from mind. In music therapy and research, different moments are needed for the inevitable surprise and for the body to speak through its own terms and come back to its own senses.

What is to be done then, when, after having taken a moment to think about these themes, things don’t add up anymore? – when things aren’t as straight and black and white as one has been told they should be believed to be? How on this earth, is it possible to survive a disruption of those significant reference points inherited from the elders and those in power? I’m not really sure. I’m not really sure those authors and narrators have an answer to this question either. Normally, reference points are to be kept, maintained, defended, not dislodged. It has not really been the usual convention that the divergent and diverse have been the concern of those charged with keeping the records straight.

Through reading, it is fairly straightforward, yet extremely time-consuming, to experience that the world is not so settled in a large collection of texts as it is in a small number of texts. Texts written away from a particular discipline highlight the alienated isolated nature of that discipline at times. Disciplinary texts are constantly at risk of becoming so self-referential that they are able to continue spinning and propagating without the axis of the world. While writing is given so much power, it is striking that time for reading is not commonly provided in most employment situations. Reading causes disruptions and dis-location. Extensive and immersive reading leads beyond the familiarity of a single discipline’s literature and can have extreme implications. Queering the terms of writing aims to acknowledge the oppression of the odd and all and the potential of queer reading.

As Dana Luciano and Mel Chen (2015) remind,

Many of queer theory’s foundational texts interrogate, implicitly or explicitly, the nature of the “human” in its relation to the queer, both in their attention to how sexual norms themselves constitute and regulate hierarchies of humanness, and as they work to unsettle those norms and the default forms of humanness they uphold (p.186).

Queerly, the sum of all humans cannot define what being human actually is. But queering aims at questioning the privileged position of those who designate status and label. At the same time, it acknowledges the possibilities for anti-oppressive re-pose (meaning both rest and the taking on of another static gestural form, a pose) and re-sponse (both interactive resonance and another unique thought). It aims at giving a moment for the reading of others and oneself. But this is not a rant of anger and injustice against the minor or awkward. That would be far too simple to write, a rant against either/or, with the slightly cynical offer of either/or + both.

Although collectively being human is not ubiquitously identical, some people attempt to dictate how the world is and how other people are to be in that version of the world-as-narrated. To do this, irrelevant reference points are installed for others, and pressure, power, oppression, and tortuous mechanisms can be employed to settle them down and help them lose themselves from their own sensing of their world. But the world is a realm of negotiation. SomeOnes try to win. EveryOne tries to persist. Forces of insistence and resistance jostle to make impression upon each other. Impression may lead to oppression and insistence may hold tortuous natures. Over time, I feel that it becomes more difficultly obvious that it is necessary to consider the oppressive+anti-oppressive as a single construct. All acts privilege and hide. I similarly feel that the tortuous+emancipatory can be held as one. All acting confuses and illuminates. In particular, binary constructs illuminate and hide, include and exclude.

Gender and race studies point insistently to the horrific and terrifying quality of dominant binary constructs used to attempt to dictate how and what the world is, and what forms of being human exist as portrayed by Margaret Lock and Judith Farquhar (2007). I fantasize at times if there is a possible calming effect of being able to count pre-determined binaries in research [and being able to be counted oneself] which makes complex, detail-rich work unattractive and too stressful for some. This seems particularly striking in a life-space-time which is narrated by many as being too-complex, too-diverse, too-individual, too-unreliable and as a result, simply too-overwhelming to be dealt with. But what if counting in prescribed terms is not your thing? What if, however hard you try, you are not able or permitted to become countable on the terms of others? At times, I feel that the path on which epistemological choices are anthropocentrically formed is similar to a high-altitude alpine ridge. The apparent foundation is kept so thin that each deviating or alternative stride is precarious no matter how essential it may be. And it is in this sentiment that I feel met by queer theory.

Turning again to read more of Dana Luciano and Mel Chen’s (2015) writing on the paths of queer theory:

We are not attempting, in pointing to this history, to reserve queer theory for LGBTQI-identified people or topics. Nor are we insisting that queer theory must always remain “faithful” to its moment of emergence; this in our view would hypostasize a living and lively body of thought. Rather, we are marking a specific kind of situation – a desire to persist in the face of precarity – as the primary catalyst for queer thought in general (p.193).

Whilst learning with peers about the colonial, racist, and discriminatory aspects of the cultures of my past seven sites of residence, I have over time become more and more aware over time of how might my “own” thoughts and actions potentially map within discourses of the tortuous+emancipatory, the oppressive+anti-oppressive. In particular, as a music therapist, I choose to think about how my actions and thoughts are in both resonance and dissonance with those who I work with and with their “desire to persist in the face of precarity” (Dana Luciano & Mel Chen, 2015, p.193). I don’t know about you, but it feels awkward, yet important, to mention this contemplation. I don’t want to tread on anyone’s toes. I don’t want to imply that anyone else must engage with this process, however useful I might find this personally. To ask myself if I am being oppressive+anti-oppressive or/and tortuous+emancipatory in my work does not imply that I think others are. I’d just like to think about this a bit more.

So, what do I mean with tortuous+emancipatory? – I am thinking about tortuous as in: the purposive functionalization through over-entanglement in irrelevant points of fact so as to disorient and disrupt the sense of inseparability in another person or group. In contrast, I am thinking about emancipatory as the act of being freed or freeing oneself from the functionalized role given by others so as to be able to be in one’s own entanglement of materiality and ideality, in one’s own corporeal and incorporeal.

I initially was induced into thinking about the co-constitution of materiality and ideality through Elizabeth Grosz’s (2017) writing on the incorporeal in which she privileges both that of the body and that of the idea. By re-considering the co-constitutive nature of materiality and ideality, feminist, critical, and quantum narrative theory has driven a project of challenging dominant narratives and providing a levelled bed for the consideration and coming out of everything. Elizabeth Grosz (2017) expressed this in clear terms, “The world is a material unity, a living being that includes every thing, every body, including those bodies that are ideas” (p.25).

By refusing to allocate hierarchical significance to materiality or ideality, the recent history of queer theory perhaps has offered an anti-oppressive way of considering aspects that are considered to be significant by the subject rather than by the surveyor. It has seemed that queering has generated an opening for that which inevitably exerts force as resistance to appropriative acts of oppression. The confrontation of binary-based oppression and tortuous gender discrimination encourages emancipation of the human from the Human, helps materiality and quantum narrative to slip into anthropocentric clubs, and reflexively considering the doing of the doer.

Interestingly, queer theory has also been able to consider the queering of itself as presented in Michael O’Rourke’s (2013) work on non-standard queer theory. Distinctly impressed by the work of François Laruelle’s (1996/2013) concept of non-philosophy, a way of considering philosophical work by way of avoiding the engraved and static modes of philosophical thought and method, Michael O’Rourke (2013) reflected,

Unmaking the queer project itself and allowing it to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions might sound terribly negative. But we could argue, by turning to Laruelle’s non-philosophy, that this crumbling of the concrete conceptual edifice of queer theory is precisely what will allow for and carve open and expand queer theory in (and as) the future (p.125).

Is this what lies ahead for music therapy theory? What is it that should be turned to (like François Laruelle’s non-philosophy) to support the carving open of the future? Might it be perhaps the idea of considering the consideration of everything as held in Laruelle’s non-hierarchical stance considered by Michael O’Rourke (2013):

Laruelle may not call himself a queer theorist, but he does call himself a realist and the real, for him, is the thing in-itself in its actuality: one-in-one, human-in-human […] For Laruelle standard philosophy is chauvinistic insofar as some things appear as objects and others as subjects. This is a prejudicial error because for Laruelle everything is included: this is his Vision-in-One, his theoretical pluralism. Nobody, no/thing is left behind. As Koloza explains Laruelle refuses to define the human precisely because there is no set humanism at work (p.128).

In his closing words of considering a non-standard queer theory, Michael O’Rourke (2013) described how:

Laruelle has persistently identified his work as a heterodox and even heretical form of thought, one which will necessarily be misunderstood when viewed according to the norms philosophy sets for itself. […] So, in the last instance, perhaps it would be best to remain heterodox, heretical and undomesticable (p.134).

This may sound, from some positions, like an impossible call to music therapy. Almost all reference points might be shifted, lost, or discarded. The standardized protocols of pre-intention and post-assessment will be dragged into disarray and the standing of therapy within the local, national and international contexts of health care, education and everyday society may change. But no matter how drastic these changes may initially sound, isn’t the role of the care-giver to engage with the other’s caring and not solely to care for one’s own position? Surely a care-profession that is strong enough to consider heterodoxy, to acknowledge potentially oppressive patterns within the profession and to attempt at avoiding tortuous error, will eventually become a strong care profession. I am convinced by this possible future and how, in my reading, Michael O’Rourke’s dialogue with François Laruelle’s idea of flat ontology maps well with the aesthetic experience of music therapy.

As the French philosopher Jacques Rancière (2009) has contended:

Aesthetic experience has a political effect to the extent that the loss of destination it presupposes disrupts the way in which bodies fit their functions and destinations. What it produces is not rhetorical persuasion about what must be done. Nor is it a framing of a collective body. It is a multiplication of connections and disconnections that reframe the relation between bodies, the world they live in and the way in which they are ‘equipped’ to adapt to it. It is a multiplicity of folds and gaps in the fabric of common experience that change the cartography of the perceptible, the thinkable and the feasible (p.73).

An opening towards everything that flat ontology/multiplicity offers might resonate well with the endlessly present but seldomly acknowledged range and scope of what actually goes on in music therapy. Music in, and as, therapy seems well constituted to do this work, as long as we don’t mess it all up.

Queering: There is another way

In my work as a researcher and educator, I would like to monitor my life in terms of the potential for oppression and tortuous error. It feels that all deeds and thoughts hold the potential for oppression just as error (unwished oppression) potentially holds the risk of (unintendedly) adding to re-traumatization and is possibly tortuous. It seems too simple to just hope not to be oppressive and not to add or extend the tortuous effects of colonial, discriminatory, and power-infested histories and discourse from which there is no dis-location regardless of re-location. It seems that a more discomforting, worthy and locatable questioning – a queering – is required.

But how, might this be practiced and progressed?

There is a way.

I have felt it to be useful to learn more about what oppression and torture is and how it is portrayed, characterized, and experienced. It has been useful to learn about my intentions and commitments, and it helps to confirm the importance of the capacity to distinguish between each other and become more aware of the ways that we may discriminate and oppress each other. In addition, it is important in this way to learn more about the very different ways of attempting to understand what on earth is going on, collectively and individually.

For me, it has been particularly important in relation to music therapy and anti-oppression to read and consider the implications of the writings of Sue Baines (2013) and her writing together with Jane Edwards (2015). The book, Feminist Perspectives in Music Therapy edited by Sue Hadley (2006) and the writings of Elly Scrine and Katrina McFerran (2018) and Sue Hadley and Maevon Gumble (2019) are also seminal texts in learning about this topic. Tia DeNora’s (2014) Making Sense of Reality also contributes a great deal to the understanding that there are many different ways of considering human experience and the existence of polytheoretical explanations. The importance of considering perceptible and silenced dialogues is also excellently exemplified in the work of Jill Halstead and Randi Rolvsjord’s (2015) questioning of the gendering of music instruments and its relevance to music therapy. Due to the collective voicing of the individuals of communities, I believe the bodied sources of autoethnography (you may like to read Tony Adams, Sandra L. Pensoneau-Conway, & Derek Bolen, 2017) has a great deal to offer music therapy as a form of research seldom embraced by the music therapy community as an entirety. For inspiration, you might like to try out reading queer autoethnography like the work of Tony Adams and Derek Bolen (2017) and music therapist Maevon Gumble (2019). It might just inspire music therapists in the future to consider the significance of lived experience for those living the lives of those experiences.

There is another way.

It has been important to consider my own motives, movements, and materializations in terms of the first point. A simple question, “What of my doings may be potentially oppressive or torturous?” is useful in quickly getting close to the work. Why might I be wishing that a client or patient should act in a particular manner? Who wins, who loses, who invests, who profits, who does not? Then replace the “who” with the word “what” and repeat. Analyzing my own perception of my mirror image (looking at presentations, publications and other records) is not as useful as having a peer-of-trust who can share their perception of my image with me. There, habitual vocabularies and repertoires commonly hidden to myself by myself become accessible and available for reflexive assessment and potential change.

There is another way.

It has been useful to create what I might call a “coping space” for the responses to the second point. For me this has included a regular, scheduled, and protected time for solitary improvisation giving me time for music creation, silence, and quietness. In these hours it has been possible to think. To think retrospectively and to think prospectively and to retreat from conventional reference points and move towards surprising, unexpected, and welcomed thoughts.

There is another way.

As will become clearer during later sections of this text, creative writing, drawing, and sketching has emancipated my pen use and opened up a new space for thought-filled inscription. I have not left writing, but non-exclusively privileged writing-by-hand, drawing-by-hand, sketching-by-hand, and thus acknowledging thinking-by-hand. The entire first draft of this manuscript was handwritten and drawn by a Pilot G-2, 0.5mm, blue pen. The revisions were mostly hand-written and typed into place. Some small typographical and word level changes were done by typing.

There is another way.

I have treated images and figures in written documents literally and analytically in their form, color, size, connection, or isolation to corporate templates and historical context. I have questioned the innocence of quickly and simply created images and figures and experimented with allocating them more hierarchical significance than the words around them. I have read color as political and agential. I have explored reading graphic elements as co-constitutive of significant but difficult to uncover communicative motives. I have initiated a collaborative project with Neil Emmanuel (UK), Hilde Kramer, and Ashley Booth (both in Norway) called Comic Care, to extend this exploration collectively.

There is another way.

In the penultimate final draft of this manuscript it became obvious that my use of first names in the list of referenced authors and their works (conventionally labelled ‘the reference list’) caused a problem for the production of the article. The problem was related to automated XML parsing functions that use the exact structure and syntax of characters of the reference list entry to link with the digital version of the reference by way of the Digital Object Identifier (DOI, see ISO26324:2012 at and complex coding language. It was clear that my intention to relate and refer to the person who had authored the work as opposed to the work as an object had completely unintentionally caused a hiatus in the publication system. During the dialogues surrounding the potential queering of the reference list in a scholarly article in general terms, it became inescapably clear that it would be necessary for me to try and fulfill both needs – the pragmatic compliancy required by processes that are based on automatized digital processing and the communication that I hold scholarly work of authors to be human-relational and co-constitutive. Although I had to remove the first names from the reference list, and add a list of the full-names of the authors in the acknowledgement section, this process has reminded me how structures, systems, people and objects are inSeparable, separable only in this case by way of syntax, command and coding. Is a referenced work a digital object or a communicative expression by a person – well I guess it is at least both, and probably much, much more.

There is another way.

I have also considered the “use” of materials not conventionally present in music therapy research. I have considered it to be important to take materials literally. What do they do? And by materials I do not mean only physical bodies as the term is sometimes misunderstood, but also conceptual devices, software (Word, Excel, and SPSS are lovely candidates), a graph, a font. I have tried to be considerate of egoistic appropriation of materials (the “use” of materials) and alternatively attended to the agency and co-constitutive aspects of materials and ideas.

There is another way.

Specifically, as a music therapist, I feel well equipped by the profession’s training in pattern recognition, an extreme fine temporal resolution capable of sensing subtle shifts in emphasis, timbre and harmonic context, a healthy compositional and structural awareness of form over time (extremely short and very long) and highly focused attention to shifts in shared attention and attunement. Through this, I feel music therapists are perhaps well equipped to carry out anti-oppressive responses to potentially oppressive discourse and acts.

There is another way.

Regardless of prescribed paths.

There are always other ways. Regardless of exclusion, of being labelled “strange” or “colorful” or “wonderful.” And there are precarious, inescapable, tormented, nervous ways.

There is another way.

Becoming nervous

In my recent reading life, I have engaged with nervousness portrayed through times of music performance, as anxiety about uncertain futures of weakness, as a form of heightened concern about the discrepancies in discourse of the past and their implications for the present and future. Becoming nervous is common in times when things don’t quite seem to be normal. It is a situation in which individuals may become aware of other people or processes that perform their normality in place of themselves. Through the generosity of my peers, I have been led to read what Michel Foucault (1977) has written about normality:

The judges of normality are everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the ‘social-worker-judge’; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he[/she/they] may find him[/her/them]self, subjects to it his[/her/their] body, his[/her/their] gestures, his[/her/their] behavior, his[/her/their] aptitudes, his[/her/their] achievements (p.304).

Initially, this seems to offer an explanation. But normality and normalism are, for many, the opposite of what is wished for. Normalism attempts escape from detailed and careful judgement by dealing with non-conformists via discourse. It seems that being a part of a discourse thus entails potential oppression and dealing with non-conformism. To me, it seems to get worse before it gets better, particularly after reading what Alfonso Lingis (1994) wrote on the topic:

Every discourse among interlocutors is a struggle against outsiders, those who emit interference and equivocation, who have an interest in that the communication does not take place. But in the measure that communication does take place and that statements are established as true, it designates outsiders as not making sense, as mystified, mad, or brutish, and it delivers them over to violence (p.135).

Alongside interference and equivocation, I have read also of nervousness of the unfolding of power in politics, of race, of nations, of gender, of epistemology, of economics, and of the senses. Privileged opportunity that rises through these domains highlight discrimination most commonly against those in society who are not to be discerned or distinguished by concept from anyone else. Conceptualization masks, perhaps overthrows, and dominates perception (David Howes, 2009; Fiona Macpherson, 2011). Inherited (taught and then adopted) concepts dictate percepts. Openings for nervousness unfold in the form of miniscule discrepancies in dictation and discipline. In seeking out these world-word crevices, queering is performative. It is not here or has been there. It points to a state of continuing non-settling.

In his homage to the life and work of José Esteban Munõz(1999), Michael O’Rourke (2014) took up Muñoz’s mantra that queer theory is a co-constitutive vitality of the present in which “Queer Insists.” If you have some time, and to understand how I also comprehend how reading changes the reader, please consider reading Michael O’Rourke’s 2014 book “Queer Insists (for José Esteban Munõz†)”. You really should read it – it might bring you closer, and then away from, what I am trying to get at here, perhaps.

Something new: The Queer Nervous non-System (QNnS)

I have also engaged with the attributes of nervousness as a realm of sensitivity. This nervousness helps establish and extend a sensorial palette. It increases capacity for detail and ability in distinguishing between perceived impulses and perceptions. This highly plastic capacity, that is positively correlated with practice, can lead to a heightened propensity towards transvestation and change (Macpherson, 2011). It can lead a spiral of wanting to learn – listening, learning, listening anew, which queers the listening out for the expected, the en-visioned. Building upon Yvon Bonenfant’s (2010) idea of queer listening, Sue Hadley and Maevon Gumble (2019) have written, “By engaging in queer listening, a person does not see a body and expect a certain kind of voice or hear a voice and expect a certain kind of body, thereby also making this a practice of queer looking” (p. 225, emphasis in original). In addition to hearing and seeing, could the sensorial repertoire (are there really 47 human senses?) be cleft opened to reveal queer sensing?

If queer sensing may be considered in this way, it is perhaps also possible and useful to consider it to be a capacity of inhibiting pre-ception which permits a repeatedly novel open-coding of perception. Thus, perception can be dis-located from expectation, and the world may be sensed in a different way. Terms might be rearranged, which in themselves shift the preceptive field and create new expectations. Importantly, this is only a temporary stage from which the insistent process will re-sume.

Cross-modal expectations interrupt where physical properties of movement and gesture, ideas, perceptions, pre-ceptions, things and histories are expected to be not as expected. Maybe a bit, maybe not, we might be surprised, horrified, brought to tears, or laughter. Perhaps the aim is to let myself become brought nearer to what the phenomena is being rather than solely what I am making it into. I hope to become more familiar again with the once unknown.

Fortunately, however, familiarity decreases as queerness increases. Phenomena must become strange again before they can be re-known and Alva Noë (2015) has proposed that the arts are proposedly great tools for that work. Nonetheless, there is still much to do. Sensorial orientation, by way of reference based on previous assessment, becomes uncertain, unsettled. Reference points shift, leave, re-locate or dance in the air. In this mode in the past, I (Gilbertson 2015) have found it useful to consider that the central and peripheral nervous systems are joined by the social nervous system, demonstrating the fluid assembly of distributed and previously hidden co-constitutive elements of the unusual and the everyday.

Becoming nervous, through my reading, provides access to both discrimination and distinguishing. Becoming nervous, from this reading, must not only be treated as a sign of weakness or disbelief by the dominant narrative ear. Becoming nervous could be treated as a determined and willed propensity to invite and include the existence of the previously unknown and hidden without the expectation to have included and uncovered all that is. It means that it is ok to not settle with the perforation of the binary “dominant and non-dominant” and go for what Sue Hadley and Maevon Gumble (2019) call the performative of “everyone.”

Could a Queer Nervous non-System (QNn-S) emancipate the human-centric from the Central, Peripheral and Social Nervous Systems?

Seen from my desk, I have the sense that this nervousness will never settle.

It is a queerness that is implacable, a form of unsettled resilience described by Roger Sansi and Marilyn Strathern (2016) as being so determined that it cannot be changed, pacified or swept aside. It means that also in music therapy, there are endless “new normal,” not standards. There are, perhaps, to align and play with Alfonso Lingis (1994) and Michel Foucault (1977), an emergence of new “queer judges.”

Queering inscription and its devices

To be better able to understand the books of my recent reading life, I have been struck by approaches which try to see inscription as a part of the phenomena of what is being researched. [Rather than just reports of the research]. I have been asking myself “what role do the inscriptions play in being the subject rather than representations or measurements?” During this questioning, I have been led to Vicky Singleton and John Law’s definition of inscription devices who were in turn led by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar’s 1979 “Laboratory Life: The social construction of scientific facts.” Building on Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar’s writing, Vicky Singleton and John Law (2013) described these devices as:

a set of implicit and explicit strategies that work more or less repetitively to order, sort, define and arrange a heterogeneous but relatively discrete social and material field. Defined in this way, devices may be understood as separable and specific instances of Foucauldian technologies of power. Such technologies, it will be remembered, are heterogeneous. That is, they extend from social relations through material artefacts and architectures, to bodies, subjectivities, talk and knowledges (p. 260).

Unsettling me, the more I read about the co-constitutive nature of writing and publishing, the more challenging it became to participate in roles of reviewing, serving as a journal editor, and actually thinking about engaging in writing to publish. Instead of public dissemination, I felt led to read and write in more solitary modes. Becoming immersed in learning to read the writing and not the written, the relationship between word, matter, discourse became lost, clearer, lost again, differently clear, less lost, more difficult, almost impossible, only to momentarily become clear again. The devices described by Vicky Singleton and John Law are really deeply hidden, especially in one’s own writing.

I felt an impending desire for divergent non-human accomplices. So, I bought a fairly large constellation of different pencils and pens, brushes, and drawing inks. At the height of my “hipster” retro-phase which the ethnographer Paul Atkinson told me over lunch was “an attempt to do something simple in the most difficult way possible,” I bought a fabulous mint-condition 1953 East German Erika 10 typewriter here in Bergen, Norway and a collection of original silk typewriter ribbons from a collector living in the Netherlands.

By doing simple things the most difficult way possible, I began noticing differences. It was illuminating and created not only literary, but also material mess in my social science (John Law, 2004). It didn’t matter that the differences were to be found in the luminosity of doodled lines, or letter type, but that matter mattered.

Staying at “arms-distance” from music therapy literature and public music therapy gatherings [to be able to think] and, in particular, the field of early neurosurgical neurorehabilitation, it was possible to consider what was going on in terms of how phenomena are co-constituted for a while by “observer-authors.” It was possible to consider how the observer position is based on authorship and not necessarily reporter-ship and how authorship is materially pre-defined and verbally pre-destined. Increasingly, I worried that the means that I had inherited for carrying out the roles that I drew upon myself and had projected onto myself by others were insufficiently self-thought and consumerist.

For one extended phase I found it necessarily useful to move away from a direct engagement with the discourse, privileging distance and recluse for progress. I felt that I might need to keep as far away from the music therapy business as possible. This sense resonated highly with the stories from artists collected by Martin Herbert (2015) in his book titled, “Tell Them I Said No” about purposive disengagement and aesthetic growth. I engaged with this to allow a shift from doing research “in a field” towards doing research “as a specific person” as a part of a field of co-constitutive components. I feel fortunate to have had this quiet, at times reclusive, but strongly invested opportunity to begin a search for a different option – being a me that is different to that me given/taken, but a me that emerges from a place within me, a place to come out through, as a person of the world. I was also encouraged by Kaisa Kärki’s (2018) writing about intentional not doings and have become a great fan of intentional omission as a highly relevant device of resistance and growth. What a great read in these times of “academic production!” Both disengagement and intentional not doings share motives and ways of refusal and rejection of patterns of compliancy. Not that I am against the concept of compliancy, in the sense of contributing to a cause or sense of order, but I would like to value taking time to think and learn about the cause and manners of contribution and resistant intentional omission.

Thus, queering music therapy for me entails becoming nervous not only about the words and terms of discourse, but about the materials, architectures, equipment, assessment guidelines and so-called tools, investment profiles, colors of diagrams, and physical bodies of human, and non-human types. I’m not sure if it is always possible or relevant to work out what is the most significant but difficult to uncover element here. It can lie almost anywhere, even in the things that are not done. But most probably you might be lucky by carefully looking into the intersections of previously hidden crossing lines. Thus, music therapy may well indeed prove itself to be relational in a specific sense, it is just that we might be surprised at the intersectional relationality of the work.

Illustration 1.

A self-portrait whilst reading Nina Lykke (2014), which shows a face made out of ellipses. The eyes are crooked and the mouth is three sets of ellipses in a straight line.


But I can’t really pause just here and now. What I am thinking is: there are specific words of research methods that are used to describe what is going on and these extend from the predictive (can be used before an event) to idiomatic (produced during or after an event). I think there is a spectrum of research methods that is anthropologically and ethnographically extending right now. I feel that there is an opening being grafted to help move from prospectively-fixed analytic repertoires towards analyses that are unfoldingly improvisational and becoming clearer about their own becoming.

Section 2: Another flight

Sense and quantum inseparability: Queering human+material

Music therapy research has seen a continuous growth during the past decade with a particular emphasis on diversification of methods and domains of inquiry (Jane Edwards, 2016; Barbara Wheeler & Kathy Murphy, 2016). All the more surprising it is that the materiality with which music therapy research is made has not, to date, undergone a more extensive, systematic, or integrated analysis.

I have wondered for a while whether it is necessary to consider why this endeavor may be important, indeed inescapable for the further development of music therapy research and quite possibly that of many other fields of research? I will respond to this query with three main interrelated points:

Firstly, if, in contrast to so-called standard cognitive theory, human perception and thought is considered as being something that is extended (Richard Menary, 2010), embodied (George Lakoff & Mark Johnson, 1999), distributed (Andy Clark, 2011), anthro-material (Karen Barad, 2007), materially engaged (Lambros Malafouris, 2004), and sensorially social (David Howes & Constance Classen, 2014), then music therapy research must move forward in considering not only the human-to-human interrelational acts, but also the richer, more entangled view of cognition as materio-socio-biological processes that are individually uniquely singular in their form, context, and presence. Rather than feeling lost, music therapy doesn’t need to feel alone with this challenge – but must join those fields which have engaged with this challenge for quite a while now. Have fun, and try and find out who they are, I say. One such inspiration could be the work of Neri Oxman (2013), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scholar who has developed Material Ecology; her lab explores fusions of architecture, design, biology, and art.

Secondly, where the role of inscription processes and equipment design distinguish “results” from “measurements,” it is essential to consider and include an assessment of relative possibilities and limits that are set by inscriptive devices. This is necessary to oppose treating research inscription as if it were “natural” data in need of human interpretation.

Thirdly, music therapy has joined forces with, in part, research movements that have long histories – long histories of enormous financial investment. Where the sum of financial investment increases so does the irrationality requirement to challenge the status of those histories. Put simply – it is difficult to debunk or even question ideas that have cost a great deal of money to create in the first place. To construct the brain to be what it is today has cost billions of dollars (I guess). It is considered absurd to question the common mainstream narrative of what the brain is. Or not. The brain, like gender, is not a given. Investment, of course, occurs in a multitude of ways – time and energy, technologically and semantically, and in terms of space, either of floor measured in square values or cubic values.

Taking the inseparability of methods, concepts, results and materiality further, other thinkers (for example, Peter-Paul Verbeek, 2005) claim that the concept of inseparability implies an actual separability, where this may be related to epistemological rather than ontological boundaries. To temper potential misunderstandings, proponents of critical realism, (such as Joseph Maxwell, 2012,, for example) have proposed that it may be a useful option to consider the co-existence of an ontologically concrete world plus a constructivist epistemological one in the form of a material/meaning mono-concept. Going a step further, Graham Harman (2018) has suggested that Object Oriented Ontology should be considered as a way of approaching the world from a less anthropocentric position, and, by doing so he offers an alternative to Annemarie Mol’s (2003) commitment to multiplicity and “the body multiple” as expanded in her ethnographic study of arteriosclerosis in a Dutch hospital.

Put together, these three aspects, although not exclusively, could contribute a great deal to the ways in which music therapy research materializes, as ontogenesis, “inscriptorially” and territorially.

Pen and paper: Drawing into The Gap

As a part of a refusal to solely engage in typing about music therapy, I began around 2010 to draw and illustrate in ink and pencil. I experience that, when drawing scenes from the therapy room from my memory, aspects are re-presenced that were not a planned part of the “intervention.” Once upon a time, I began a music therapy session with a young client who expressed a strong interest in staying physically in the presence of her mother at all times. In the first few moments of the session, I asked what we might do, and she told me that she was going to return to her mother straight away (who was in the waiting room across the corridor from the therapy room). The singing nature of our voices were prominent in these first exchanges and her initial words, “I’m going to my mum,” created the melodic, harmonic, and temporal basis for a 20-minute improvised song. The number of steps she took corresponded with the syllables of her vocal phrase, the distance between piano and door corresponded with the amount of time it took for her utterance. When drawing multiple scenes from the music therapy session, a depiction of an aspect of the door was included through my explorative recall (refer to Illustration 2).

Illustration 2

The Gap, which shows a blue and white hand-drawn picture of a set of doors with yellow light coming from behind the door.


The child skips around the room, singing about leaving the room, and her voice actually does. It is pulled by the resonance chamber of the hallway through the gap between the door leaf and door frame. She remains, she leaves. Simultaneously in body and sound.

Sound waves, we are commonly told, emit in all directions, but it is less commonly narrated that this movement is also due to the pulling of waves into motion by more static waves in the surroundings. Complex waves such as light or sound can be transformed into their constitutive elements, which is a process called “diffraction” as discussed by Karen Barad (2007). When waves pass through a gap (such as under a door frame), the size and shape of the gap directly determines a unique transformation of the waves. Thus, the gap is co-constitutive of the sound in motion.

Once drawn through the gap into the hallway, the material properties of the voluminous hallway, marble, wood, carpet, bronze, and plaster all join co-constituting the new form of the child’s voice. Once again, but completely anew, the waves are again drawn under the door leaf between the frame of the opposite door into the waiting room where Mum was beginning to sip on a cup of freshly brewed tea. The voice now contains not only the child but the sound of cubic volume and metric distance between the child and mother. Calling out, the child sounds out the spatiality of distance; listening in, the mother is submersed in proximity in materio-spatial attachment.

In this example, I have tried to re-in-visage a common scene, potentially very easily “interpreted.” But here, I have played with exploring visual memory of ecological detail through a graphic materialization which (un)surprisingly includes a gap – the quantum physical presence of waves and not only a door in the unfolding. This example is, however, a difficult and complex one. It does not do well in qualifying or certifying what actually went on. Nor does it promise to end hypothetic uncertainty. Even more severely, it threatens to open up an endless array of possible causalities and paths of logic. It draws an account where the drawing is a materialization in itself of what is accounted for by the author. By embracing the possibility for materialization of that which does not conventionally belong to the fixed account or discourse, it is possible to re-consider what is included and excluded. After all, it was the yellowish light shining from the hallway under the door which literally illuminated the gap in my memory and led the narrative on its particular course on these pages.

Though I began drawing the door as a part of re-viewing the movements of the body of the child, the Gap became perceivable to me through a new graphic reiteration of the scene which encompassed its own reiteration and related conceptual discourse. The re-iterative drawing directed and led re-viewing the scene through which architectural and material agency called me to attention. The ideas regarding the physical, quantum nature related to re-viewing the scene is led by reading of Karen Barad’s (2007) work on quantum analysis and David Boje’s (2012; 2014) work on quantum narrative. I would also like to acknowledge the work of earlier researchers who inspired them (for Karen Barad a main inspiration was Nils Bohr (1934/1961)) and also the materials (for David Boje, it was his blacksmith’s hammer) that drew their attention and directed their writing (please view David Boje’s 2012 film, “Quantum storytelling: Blacksmithing Art in the Quantum Age”.)

Though I may have been able to find a better illustrative example than this significant gap, I hope that the act of re-remembering, re-drawing, re-narrating inspires a re-consideration of “that what exists before the narrative is constructed” (see David Boje & Tonja Henderson, 2014, on antenarrative) in the work of researching music therapy. This is no easy endeavor, at times reaching into the quantum realm, and it certainly does not fit easily with many ontological underpinnings of music therapy research. Nonetheless, I feel that now is a good time to consider how it may fit well with a queering of what it means to make a differentiated account of music therapy. As Karen Barad (2011) suggested:

The quantum (dis)continuity queers the very notion of differentiating. It offers a much-needed rethinking of (ac)counting, taking account, and accountability that isn’t derivative of some fixed notion of identity or even a fixed interval or origin. (Ac)counting – a taking into account of what materializes and of what is excluded from materializing – cannot be a straightforward calculation, since it cannot be based on the assumed existence of individual entities that can be added to, subtracted from, or equated with one another. Accountability cannot be reduced to identifying individual causal factors and assigning blame to this or that cause. Rather, accountability – the ability to take account – must not be based on any-thing as such, but rather, must take account of the intra-activity of worlding, of différance, of the nonthematizable quantum (dis)continuity which does not exist in space or time but is the very condition of possibility of spacetimemattering, of the cut (cross) cutting itself ad infinitum, the world always already opening itself up, that is, of the entanglements of spacetimematterings. Accountability must entail a mathematics of nonclosure. Simple substitutions, equivalence relations, or transitivities among individual elements are undone (p.149).

What is clear in my reading of Karen Barad’s text here is that words can be inherited, renewed, questioned, made to inheritance. That lead me to write a short note to the relevant judge, the Referee of Terms, whoever you are, wherever you might be:

‘Queer terms of reference’: A poem for the Referee of terms

My Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil halts jarringly in the middle of my…

Who gave me the words I have used in the past to consider music therapy?

Why did they choose those words?

Are there any ontological commitments invested in those terms?

Who told them to use those words?

Who says which words we should all use?

Who uses their own words that no one else does?

Does anyone out there know how words affect my perception?

Is it true that my perception is dictated by the words I use? They say it is.

Who told me to use those words?

Which ontological commitment do they think I should adopt?

What will I do without the words they told me to use?


Queering equipment: ‘Camera/Concept, Concept/Camera’

My interest in equipment is as a practitioner–researcher within an educational stance. As a musician, my biographic sense of embodiment is physio-equipmental. It has always fascinated me how I have felt to have a certain awareness of music-related equipment and instruments (my intense reading and collection of catalogues in the late 1990s, and early 2000s, certainly heavily contributed to this). Of course, I expect that my awareness of equipment is interlinked with the advertising potential of the media in which I am enclosed. My access to equipment and instruments has also been directly related to the infrastructure of funds and financial privilege of the societies in which I have lived. The geographic, and in one sense, geological context which enables the distribution of equipment and instruments to the location of my work has also played an important role (although the concept of remote locations is dramatically changing). Of similar significance on my body of equipment has been the global processes of mostly electronic and digital technologies and the enormous investment in marketing by multi-national and global commercial concerns. So, how much of this is my choice? It feels like I am choosing, but am I being t(s)old. Of the research equipment, how much has been personally or marketing driven? Of the music instruments? Perhaps very little. For research methods that are dependent on equipment (hard or soft), it’s strangely awkward to entertain such questions!


One camera, two cameras, three cameras, four,

Pointing at the faces, the ceiling and now the floor.

Where is parent, where is babe?

Where is the family with the picture through which they are made?

One camera, two cameras, three cameras, four,

Pointing all over, 360 points now to new theoretical flaws.


Queering ontology and moving towards ontogenesis of argument

If I presume that the world is based on a specific sense of what it is, then it is possible to consider a specific ontological commitment. In this way, a research method, or a lecture about the timing of events in music therapy, are ontological statements that are a part of worlding – the work done to convince oneself and others of how things are. This is a way of being that I have lived for over two decades – this has been the conventional manner in which work is done in music therapy research and education. But, “Not so fast, Slippery Sam!” I say. Is there not a different way, not qualitative, not quantitative, not mixed but…. one that is based on the lack of entities that can be distinguished and then re-joined but something else? Karen Barad (2011) said yes:

I have argued that what we commonly take to be individual entities are not separate determinately bounded and propertied objects, but rather are (entangled “parts of”) phenomena (material–discursive intra-actions) that extend across (what we commonly take to be separate places and moments in) space and time (where the notions of “material” and “discursive” and the relationship between them are unmoored from their (anti)humanist foundations and reworked). Phenomena are entanglements of spacetimematter, not in the colloquial sense of a connection or intertwining of individual entities, but rather in the technical sense of “quantum entanglements,” which are the (ontological) inseparability of agentially intra-acting “components” (p.125).

Looking back over the first two decades of my work as a music therapy clinician and early-stage researcher, I can now recognize how I was very concerned about being able to attribute plausible links between concepts within early neurosurgical rehabilitation with people who are affected by severe traumatic brain injury and specific elements of music improvisation (Simon Gilbertson & David Aldridge, 2008). The work was embedded in its theoretical epoch, at that time, at that place. It was built upon therapeutic practice that had been ongoing since 1994. In 2004, I selected “relationship” to be the core category of my Ph.D. project, which was built on a construct of idiosyncratic–conventional and isolated–integrated axes using George Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory as its ground. With clinical work from the early 1990s and research work in the early 2000s, “interaction” and “relating” were significant concepts within the contemporary discourse enveloping people with severe traumatic brain injury. The imperative was public enactment, not of hope, but of socio-temporal convalescence that could be heard and seen.

To choose to be with those people who were, at that time and place, verbally codified as the “weakest” and “most fragile in society” was a straightforward choice for me. I think this was only possible because those labels which I adopted from my context were dis-located from my motivation to explore the creative capabilities of the co-constitutive scenario, human and non-human, living and non-living in practice.

So how can potentially discriminatory labelling (“weakest” and “most fragile in society”) co-exist with emancipatory improvisatory practice? I think there were two imperatives working here at the same time.

The imperative that was leading my improvisational practice was that of the inseparability of everyone and everything, a commitment to ontological inseparability and the intra-action of materiality+ideality. The labelling practice, however, was led by a different imperative – one that demanded the conceptualization of human constellations in terms of inter-action and interpersonal relating, one that is dependent on the functionalization of the “weakest” and “most fragile in society” based on the oppressive nature of ableism and social norms. Might this be an example of the oppressive+anti-oppressive construct?

I knew little of these new words and theories (for example, ontology, materiality, etc.) at the time (around 1994), but the practice-led foundation of much of my subsequent contributions to research, practice and in education were focused on attending to how I may be led in sonic/music improvisation by the patient, devising idiosyncratic instruments, and exploring unconventional ways of inscribing and documenting the processes.

What I felt to be a significant advance, through this process, was to be able to generate an opening in the discipline which could become aware of the ignored presence of the spirit, the temporal isolation of the disregarded mind and the fragility of the sickened body. Thinking back, how wonderful and emancipatory it would have been to have been able to contextualize music improvisation through Elizabeth Grosz’s (2017) work in which she discussed the incorporeal and how the idea and ideal is materialized. Though certainly contrasted by many less convinced by the so-called New Materialism (see Diana Coole & Samantha Frost, 2010), a reading of music therapy in intersection with Elizabeth Grosz’s (2017) writing would have certainly changed the course of the development of the discipline in the area of early neuro-rehabilitation during the 1990s and early 2000s.

It is music, with its unending resolution of what Karen Barad (2007) called “intra-action,” that continues to be absolutely fascinating for me, revealing how it is possible to return and re-return to experiences of clinical practice only to discover additional re-figurative accounts (Gilbertson, 2013). Karen Barad (2011) introduced her understanding of an intra-action as follows:

The notion of intra-action (in contrast to the usual “interaction,” which presumes the prior existence of independent entities/relata) marks an important shift, reopening and refiguring foundational notions of classical ontology such as causality, agency, space, time, matter, discourse, responsibility, and accountability. A specific intra-action enacts an agential cut (in contrast to the Cartesian cut – an inherent distinction – between subject and object) effecting a separation between “subject” and “object.” […] Intra-actions cut things together–apart (in one movement) (p.125).

After the years of practicing, researching and teaching, instead of feeling compelled to choose one theoretical commitment to how the world is (as I thought was expected of me), I have stayed with the struggle for a while and am now more positively provoked to think further and more critically about how theoretical commitments come about to be and what is involved in their making, thus engaging no longer with having to choose between existing ontologies but critically examining my own role in ontogenesis.

One significant example of my process of learning was to carry out the project, “In visible hands: The matter and making of music therapy” (Gilbertson, 2015). In that project I collaborated with six music therapy colleagues in body casting of one of their hands in a significant moment they chose from their past music therapy practice. This was done while engaging in an in-depth explorative conversation. Not only did the process reveal the significance of ideas, bodies, instruments, biographies and create “concrete evidence” (fine-art acrylic casts) of the therapists’ hands, but also surprisingly led to the acknowledgement of the changes in the alginate “used” for casting. Here, the material agency of the matter of the research immersion itself became clearer to me. As a result, it also became clear how the verbal findings were inseparable from the materiality from which they were inspired and exhaled.

In the years since “In Visible Hands” (Gilbertson, 2015), I have continued to be concerned about how choices regarding research method point to a continuous dilemma of attention – that of inattention and exclusion in forms that may be conscious (and planned) or non-conscious (perhaps planned or not). The consequences of choices may only be considered innocent and without the need for inquisition if they are ignored. But this does not imply that they no longer exist or persist. With my attention drawn to materiality since 2014, I have more recently been struck again by its intersection with discourse once again. A central part of this current examination, therefore, has been to consider the potentially oppressive+anti-oppressive and the potentially tortuous+emancipatory powers of discourse.

Queering potentially oppressive+anti-oppressive, potentially tortuous+emancipatory discourse

Michelle Murphy’s (2015) text, “Unsettling care: Troubling transnational itineraries of care in feminist health practices” has made a deep score into my earlier idea of music therapy’s seemingly becalmed relationality. Long gone are the days where I could settle with a scale of relationship. In an ever-increasing nervousness, I have now come to a point where I have a particular sense that music therapy cannot be understood with the same premises as before. This “not-understanding” is productive in the sense that it has opened up far-reaching crevices that require scoping and mapping. I think there is an opening in music therapy for a shift from dealing with the search for the matters of fact to matters of care. Michelle Murphy (2015) wrote, “‘Matters of care’ […] amplifies the affective entanglements through which things come to matter and injects commitments to attending to marginalized, invisibilized and neglected elements, experiences, and relations” (p.721).

It seems to me that there is a dangerous innocence being acted-out concerning the use of behavioral/psychological/physiological/pathological attributes coded in terminology and textual (words and numbers) claims in music therapy. It is a severe power of responsibility to determine what another person is through one’s own choice of terminology and terms of reference. Acts of oppressive codification are rife, and the field of music therapy has only fairly recently intensified in challenging potentially oppressive processes in research, practice, and education. One way of attending to this is to challenge the core understanding of what the discipline is and what it is not.

Queering what a discipline is

Immersed in the process of active day-dreaming after reading a call for applications for funding, I doodled on a large piece of paper, and my mind meandered around how a strategy for developing international, inter-disciplinary research and development might be formulated. For a while, one of the imaginations that I have had is to explore how ideas about humans are transformed or “materialized” through illustrations, films, furniture, software, educational programs, buildings, movements, sounds, poems, anything and everything really. I felt like I could ask almost anyone in the world. Asking everyone in the world is a tall order for a faculty-based call for funding, but I settled on asking a large group of colleagues I knew who were committed to thinking about how they considered those for whom they care for in their work. Importantly, gathering together people who are committed to care, seemed to be accompanied by a mutual inquisitiveness about the yet unknown on which a familiarity of incompleteness could create bonds that reach beyond a disciplinary attribution. The materializations of care had fluid edges which belied disciplinary distinction. Thus, thematic terminology was produced in close, quiet dialogic conversation and supported by crafted visualizations of ideas, ideals and images. The group is very young at the time of this writing, but already exhibits qualities of what is known as post-disciplinary, which is, as an aside, very close to the perceived profile of needs of people affected by severe traumatic brain injury – perhaps something that may even appear more like music care than music therapy.

It is of significance to consider the group of people who constitute the Materializing Care network as a care assembly, rather than an inter-disciplinary initiative. The group brings together unknown expanses of imagination and a sensorial capacity for past, current and future resonances with those involved in a mutuality of caring. The group is:

  • Anders Bærheim (Research Group for General Practice, Interprofessional Education in Primary Health Care, Faculty of Medicine, University of Bergen, Norway)

  • Anna Harris (Department of Technology and Society Studies (TSS), Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University, The Netherlands)

  • Beatrice Allegranti (Dance Movement Psychotherapy, Choreography, Film, Artistic Director, University of Roehampton, UK)

  • Carole Pearson, (Artist, UK)

  • Claire Todd (Artist, Scholar-University of Sunderland, UK)

  • Ewald Van der Straeten (BVDS Architects, Fieldworks, Rooftop Studio B, London, UK)

  • George Bradley (BVDS Architects, Fieldworks, Rooftop Studio B, London, UK)

  • Jill Halstead (Grieg Academy – Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, University of Bergen, Norway)

  • Kjell Morten Stormark (NORCE Helse/RKBU Vest: Child and adolescent mental health and child welfare; UiB/HEMIL – Research Centre for health supportive work, ecology, and lifestyle, Bergen, Norway)

  • Neil Max Emmanuel (Freelance Motion GFX Artist & Illustrator, Storyboard Artist, Visual Facilitation, London, UK)

  • Rika Ikuno-Yamamoto (Faculty of Core Research, Ochanomizu University; Lecturer & Supervisor on Music Therapy, Tokai University, Japan)

  • Robert Gray Jr. (University pedagogy, Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age project (TALIDA), University of Bergen, Norway)

  • Sabine Popp (The Art Academy – Department of Contemporary Art, Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, University of Bergen, Norway)

  • Simon Gilbertson (Grieg Academy – Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, University of Bergen, Norway)

  • Simone Ghetti (Architect, Asplan Viak, Bergen, Norway)

  • Tia DeNora (Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology, University of Exeter, UK)

  • Wolfgang Schmid (Grieg Academy – Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, University of Bergen, Norway)

  • Wouter van de Velde (International Accounts Manager: Noldus Information Technology: Human behavior/ecological interaction research software/hardware, The Netherlands)

  • Xueli Tan, (Grieg Academy – Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, University of Bergen, Norway)

As I returned to my office after the inaugural meeting of the Materializing Care network in April, I sat still for many moments. It was so obviously clear that there was a strong distinction between having to be a music therapist (as in so many other contexts I experience) and having created the space for the Materializing Care group to be with one another. I spent the afternoon reading about what Carolyn Kenny (2014) described in her portrayal of the Field of Play: “The Field of Play is about being. It is about giving our attention to the spaces we create in music therapy through an intense focus on being” (paragraph 8).

Section Three: Materiality Inscription Analysis

Being a producer

After these two passes in Sections 1 and 2, I would like to introduce one way I think it may be possible to continue to be engaged in re-iterative and re-generative passes over one’s own work (as a therapist, student, researcher, educator, person). To do this, I think that specific moments are needed to generate an anti-oppressive response to consumption. Here I am considering another way forward, perhaps through working toward a producer position.

This is how my doodling (refer to illustration 3) brought me to imagine this.

I began with the i) consumer – the route on which everything that is offered is taken up. At this point in time all other routes are imperceptibly parallel.

But, in my doodling, there is a decisive moment in which new routes are drawn. I called this emergent moment of the ii) prosumer. The prosumer gradually becomes aware that there is more. It becomes clearer that this is different to the consumer position. Choices emerge.

The prosumer becomes aware that one may commit to a divergent route.

I will call one of these iia) the professional – the route which is perforative, with the aim to make marks, perforations in the score or publications that remain over time.

Alternatively, one can commit to iib) that of the producer – a performative route which becomes engrossed in the analysis of the process of the making of inscriptions.

And the good thing about doodling is that afterwards you can witness all of these thoughts at the same time. Especially the thin, inconsistent line in the middle which is not mentioned in this text.

Illustration 3.

Consumer, prosumer, professional and producer. Illustrated is a hand-drawn doodle of blue lines on white paper, three of which are arching downward, and one is arching upward. Above the lines from left to right are the words “consumer” and “prosumer,” with “professional” coming off of the upward arching line stating: “perforative (making perforations that remain over time some as marks or inscriptions.” The word “producer” comes off the downward arching line, stating “performative + analytic of inscription making.”


All four of these roles are possibly adjacent and temporally concurrent, at times possibly within the same very person – but in relation to different investment to different domains. Through considering these routes, it is possible to question how music therapy research is determined by materials, objects, terms of reference, imagination, equipment and discourse.

Where does the ontology come from and where is it going?

What I am advocating for here is the persistent study of the ontogeneology and ontogenesis of music therapy. I am asking: where do the roots of ‘the way the world is understood to be’ come from, and how have they come about? What is involved in generating the resulting ontological commitment and how are the epistemological needs met? By engaging in an analysis of materiality and inscription, my main intention is to create a moment for reflection and a moment for consideration of what I and the devices I select might be hiding, oppressing, ignoring and mis-acknowledging. In terms of a hope-filled post-anthropocentric future, a materiality inscription analysis is a call to acknowledge everything in music therapy, not just the humans, not just the materiality, not just the inscriptions, but the co-constitutive aspects of it all. This is my queer call – to open music therapy not just to everyone, but also to everything.

Thinking about everyone and everything in music therapy: Materiality Inscription Analysis (MIA)

In these times of heightened competition for funding and prioritization, it is highly significant to evaluate the nature of evidence being used in research studies. This is completely in accord with Brynjulf Stige, Kirsti Malterud, and Torjus Midtgarden’s (2009) suggestion than an agenda that embraces pluralism is needed for the evaluation of qualitative research. Elsewhere it has been recommended that evidence should comply with specific checklist items, for example the CONSORT Statement ( Here though, I argue that an analysis and reporting of the materiality and inscription agency of research processes is essential ethically. Most seriously, and in light of this current essay, many of the contemporary tools for the inscription of evidence and research assessment hide or silence material characteristics and colonize research processes through displacement and substitution of the materiality from which they are extracted.

By carrying out a material inscription analysis of published, planned or envisaged research studies, it will be possible to ascertain the potential material–ethic displacement and the grade of substitution within those studies. In turn, this will permit a retro-‘manus-fracture’ of research evidence which might be able to lead back to the real-world process and all the way back to the research hypothesis. I recognize this analysis to be paramount in a fair, ethically–sustainable and materially sensitive research future – one which becomes nervous and concerned with dominance and oppression.

I think a type of analysis of the co-constitutive aspects of both materiality and inscriptory practices provides moments in which producers can emerge and consider their lack of aloneness and authorship in practice, education and research. The essential need for emancipatory and anti-binary analysis (Nina Lykke, 2010; Jane Edwards, 2012; Michael O’Rourke, 2014; Sue Baines, 2013; Sue Hadley & Maevon Gumble, 2019; ) of agential matter (Peter-Paul Verbeek, 2005; Karen Barad, 2007; Neri Oxman, 2013; Jane Bennett, 2010) and how inscriptions dictate how reality is contested (Bruno Latour & Steve Woolgar, 1979; John Law, 2004; Joseph Maxwell, 2012; Tia DeNora, 2014; Nina Lykke, 2014) is from my reading, inescapable and inevitable. This is because inscription in itself is not an innocent activity or tool – it relentlessly and transparently evidences imperatives (both those considered visible and those which undergo attempted dictation as being invisible). But inscription cannot hide the inscription devising that gave rise to itself. Reflexivity about inscription devising can shed light, however intentional or unintentional, behind the lines or forms of inscription. To understand the visible and audible, the invisible and inaudible provides contrast and luminosity.

In research work, where inscription devising is what is it said to be all about, I suggest that it is an imperative to question the source, intentions, aspirations, and motivations of everything that has led one’s self to enact or perform the world in one’s own way. Inevitably and unsurprisingly, human and non-human, living and non-living forces will be found and hopefully uncovered. The hidden and silenced, are acknowledged and sensed. Not subdued or oppressed but present and presenced.

I imagine at this point you might well be waiting to see ‘the’ actual Material Inscription Analysis (MIA) and find out what I think it is. Well, let me begin with what it is not:

What Material Inscription Analysis is not

There is/are:

  • No checklists

  • No manual

  • No protocol

  • No quick

  • No dirty

  • No golden

  • No lack of uncertainty

  • No end…

What Materiality Inscription Analysis can be

MIA is a call for the consideration of what is not acknowledged in practice and in research particularly in the domains of materiality and inscription. After taking time to consider these domains, you should be able to list the questions and any responses you have generated as you have asked yourself about your own practice and research. I suggest these could be included in published research reports and requested by journals to accompany all reports of to be published studies.

Materiality Inscription Analysis: some examples of questions

Here are some questions that I have found useful as part of processes of materiality inscription analysis:

  • Why did I choose to do what I did using what I did?

  • What do I think led me to this decision?

  • Of the non-human, living or non-living aspects of the therapy scene, are there any that might be co-constituting the process and results that I am observing?

  • If I consider how decisions made in the establishment of the scene may be relevant (architecture, finance, availability of resources, someone else’s preferences), what could I be missing?

  • Am I hiding anything?

  • Are there oppressive histories linked to ignoring the participant’s inseparability from the body of materiality and inscription?

  • Does my non-conscious gaze pattern give anything away about my attention? Any other parts of my body?

  • Why do I end the planned analysis at the point I have?

  • Am I scared about anything?

  • Do the participants have anything to lose if I acknowledge that change in therapy might be allocated to something else than the humans involved?

  • Do I have anything to lose if I acknowledge that change in therapy might be allocated to something else than the humans involved?

  • Do I have something to lose if I acknowledge that the patterns of change that are being reported from therapy are dictated by the patterns of the programming and technological limits of the equipment?

  • Could the nature of materials be leading the culture of music therapy? (Here you might like to read the book called “What if Culture was Nature all Along”, edited by Vicky Kirby 2017).

  • If the answer to the previous question was yes or maybe – which narratives in the research would require re-writing?

  • Would the revisions be catastrophic for current policies and educational curricula?

  • Could the power of any potential catastrophe be the reason for a lack of consideration of these ideas?

  • Are there any discriminatory or oppressive aspects to my local work if claimed to be globally relevant?

  • Are any aspects of the research contributing to the continuance of oppressive and potentially tortuous acts?

  • How have I dealt with difference in my research?

  • Do I treat difference between humans differently than I treat difference between materials?

It is clear to me that what I am proposing here is not easy work. It might even mean having to invest and allocate work time for reading texts related to the domains of analysis that are of significance for your work. It might be that your sensory capacities are more advanced than the inscription possibilities provide for. You may need to create something new, specific, and relevant. It might be different. It might be hard to understand using the terminology and referential points of familiar research – so more effort will be needed. It is easier and quicker to attend to the conventional and familiar, but what we are exploring here is increasing the level of effort and intensity of time to acknowledge that the unfamiliar is conventional.

In place of The Conclusion – A final question: “So when is queering considered to be successful?”

  • When there is an acknowledgement of the horrific nature of its absence for some,

  • When there is an acknowledgement of the transparency of the missing,

  • When the paradox of a sense of individual achievement is met with an awareness of the limited nature of individual achievement. This is due to the co-constituted nature of multiplicity of which one is an inseparable part,

  • When it is possible to live one’s life and co-constitute ‘the perceptible, the thinkable and the feasible’ (Jacques Rancière, 2009, p.73),

  • When it is ongoing,

  • Over to you.


For their generosity and influence upon this essay I would like to acknowledge and thank:

The Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design (KMD), UiB for their sustained support of my work and for the grants which made the following projects possible: In Audible Movements, In Visible Hands, InVisible Society, and Materializing Care: An international cross-professional network

All of the members of Materializing Care

My wonderful colleagues at the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Centre (GAMUT) and KMD

Cheryl Dileo at Temple University, Philadelphia, for inviting me to give a paper related to ‘The Gap’, at the International Conference: ‘Advancing and Evolving Methods in Music Therapy’ in March 2018 and Brynjulf Stige, Leader of GAMUT, who made it possible for me to attend the conference

Sue Hadley who, after that presentation sat with me for a few moments and then later navigated me to this Special Issue

The Special Issue editors Candice Bain and Maevon Gumble and the anonymous reviewer, Cindy LaCom, who together critiqued, encouraged and empowered me during the review process.

Tanja G., David Aldridge, and Jane Edwards for their everlasting companionship on all my meanderings…

… and to the cited authors/editors/constellations whose works co-constitute this article:

Alfonso Lingis, Alva Noë, Andy Clark, Annemarie Mol, Barbara Wheeler and Kathy Murphy, Brynjulf Stige, Kirsti Materud, and Torjus Midtgarden, Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Carolyn Kenny, David Boje, David Boje and Tonya Henderson, David Howes, David Howes and Constance Classen, Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, Elizabeth Grosz, Fiona Macpherson, François Laruelle, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Graham Harman, Jane Bennet, Jane Edwards, Jacques Rancière, Jill Halstead and Randi Rolvsjord, John Law, José Esteban Munõz, Joseph Maxwell, Kaisa Kärki, Karen Barad, Lambros Malafouris, Margaret Lock and Judith Farquhar, Maevon Gumble, Martin Herbert, Michael O’Rourke, Michel Foucault, Michelle Murphy, Neri Oxman, Nils Bohr, Nina Lykke, Peter-Paul Verbeek, Richard Menary, Roger Sansi and Marilyn Strathern, Simon Gilbertson and David Aldridge, Sue Baines and Jane Edwards, Sue Hadley, Sue Hadley and Maevon Gumble, Tia DeNora, Tony Adams and Derek Bolen, Tony Adams, Sandra L. Pensoneau-Conway, and Derek Bolen, Vicky Kirby, and Yvonne Bonefant.

About the author

My current position (2019) is Associate Professor, Music Therapy, The Grieg Academy – Department of Music, University of Bergen, Norway. Since my foundational training in music performance, ethnomusicology and composition I qualified as a music therapist in 1993. I have since worked as a therapist, researcher and educator in clinics and universities in England, Germany, Ireland and Norway with children and adults with unique developmental and health biographies. I am a senior researcher of the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Centre (GAMUT) and a member of the Editorial Board of The Arts in Psychotherapy and a reviewer for various publishers. I am the Leader of the Grieg Research School for Interdisciplinary Music Studies and convener of Materializing Care: An international cross-professional network.

Because of my wide range of educational, practice and research collaborations and interests, my work is characterized not by a specific method or theme, but by a flexible exploration of methods and techniques that facilitate a widening attention to what is of significance rather than popularity. It is fascination, not necessarily finance, that drives my inquisitiveness. I like a good giggle in company and I am not too fussy where/when or from whom/what inspiring ideas come from.

Correction notice

The published version of this article was corrected on 06.11.2019.



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