Dr James Kennaway, “Bad Vibrations: Music as a Cause of Hysteria, Sex, Madness and Death?”
Time: 6.00-7.30pm (doors open at 5.30pm). Tuesday 26 March 2013.
Location: Room 1.9 in Doorway 6, Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh
For most people, music is an entirely positive part of their lives. However, there has long been an undercurrent of anxiety about music and its medical effect on body and mind. Music has been used as a cure for disease since as far back as David’s lyre, but the notion that it might be a serious cause of mental and physical illness was rare until the late eighteenth-century. At that time, physicians started to argue that excessive music, or the wrong kind of music, could over-stimulate a vulnerable nervous system, leading to illness, hysteria, hypnosis, infertility, nymphomania, madness, immorality and even death. Since then, there have been successive waves of moral panics about supposed epidemics of musical nervousness, caused by everything from Wagner to jazz and rock ’n’ roll. It was this medical and critical debate that provided the psychiatric rhetoric of “degenerate music” that was the rationale for the persecution of musicians in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. By the 1950s, the focus of medical anxiety about music shifted to the idea that “musical brainwashing” and “subliminal messages” could strain the nerves and lead to mind control, mental illness and suicide. More recently, the prevalence of sonic weapons and the use of music in torture in the so-called War on Terror have both made the subject of music that is bad for the health worryingly topical.
Dr Kennaway’s Masterclass for early career scholars and practitioners (including postgraduates) will be held in the University of Edinburgh, 2.30-4.30pm on Tuesday 26 March 2013 (in the afternoon before the seminar). This will be an opportunity for less experienced researchers and practitioners to learn from Dr Kennaway in an informal small group context.