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Embodied listening and the music of Sigur Ros

Elsdon, Peter



In 1990 Susan McClary and Robert Walser appealed for a musicology which could account for the effects of rock, or as they put it: ‘a greater willingness to try to circumscribe an effect metaphorically, to bring one’s own experience as a human being to bear in unpacking musical gestures, to try to parallel in words something of how the music feels’ (McClary and Walser 1990, 288-9). McClary and Walser were arguing for attempts to validate ‘physically and emotionally oriented responses to music’ (287), which they saw as crucial to any understanding of rock, but uncomfortable modes of response for musicology to deal with. Around the time of the McClary/Walser article, musicologists were questioning the body’s exclusion from discourse, and theorising ways in which it might be better integrated into musicological thought (Leppert 1993, Walser 1991). Since that time much scholarly work has been produced which interrogates the role of the body in musicking, work represented for instance by an examination of the idea of gesture (Gritten and King 2006, Davidson 1993). The bodies under examination in this discourse have been those of performers, but increasing attention is being focused on how performers experience the production of music. Fred Everett Maus has recently termed this approach an ‘analytical somaesthetics’, following Richard Shusterman (Maus 2010). This article uses facets of embodiment theory to interrogate the music of Icelandic band Sigur Rós, a group who seem to affect audience and critics alike in a way that is highly unusual for rock music. One of the questions their music poses echoes one that McClary and Walser asked in 1990, namely how we might account for the expressive effect of rock music. I will begin by theorising embodied listening, and accounting for how it might apply to rock music, before presenting readings of two Sigur Rós songs premised on interrogating how the listener is afforded opportunities for embodied participation.


Elsdon, P. (in press). Embodied listening and the music of Sigur Ros. Popular musicology,

Acceptance Date Sep 1, 2013
Deposit Date Dec 16, 2016
Journal Popular musicology online
Electronic ISSN 1357-0951
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Issue 2
Keywords Sigur Ros
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is the accepted version of an article published in: Popular musicology online, 2015, issue 2.


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