University of Limerick
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Towards an ecocritical community music practice

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posted on 2023-02-03, 15:15 authored by Kevin McNallyKevin McNally

This thesis documents my research journey to develop an ecocritical community music practice, combining an academic exploration of ecocriticism with an arts practice investigation of my work as the facilitator of a community gamelan ensemble in County Cork, Ireland. My focus is on the human experiences of interconnection that occur via musicking, and I link those experiences to the interconnection of all beings in the biosphere. The interconnection and interdependence of everything in an ecosystem or a biosphere can be known as a rational fact, but because modern human life insulates us from the consequences of our activities, we don’t feel like we are affecting and are affected by the nonhuman entities around us. Indeed, most of the time these nonhuman entities – microplastics, kelp forests, carbon atoms in the atmosphere – are effectively invisible to us. 

I always knew that musicking was an expression of interdependence with other musicians, and as I followed a path through ecocritical literature, I realised that that there is a much more profound and far-reaching form of interdependence happening between bodies, sounds and spaces than I first thought. That sonic interdependence is a model for feeling the truth of the evolutionary feedback loop that co-constructs organism and environment, and, therefore, musicking is way of generating an affective atmosphere in which we can learn to care – truly care – for the entities that surround and sustain us. 

The theoretical basis for my research links contemporary ecocriticism and affect theory with ethnomusicology, ecomusicology and community music studies, finding resonances across those disciplines. I use a mixed-methods approach to document the practice via autoethnography, audio-visual material, focus groups and questionnaires. Two major pillars in the research journey are the two doctoral performances that are both research outputs and intrinsic methods for interrogating the topic. The first is presented as a duet between a solo human performer and a gong, and it is an exploration of the agency of nonhuman material, inspired by posthuman and ecocritical literature. The second is a series of ‘field trips’ in which the gamelan orchestra uses sound to probe the affective atmospheres generated by playing in different performances spaces. 

This thesis lays bare the process of rebuilding my community music practice along ecocritical lines, and finds that much of it has to do with the curation of affective atmospheres, to which participants actively tune.



  • Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Mel Mercier

Second supervisor

Jenny Roche

Department or School

  • Irish World Academy of Music & Dance

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