Congratulations to Jon Fessenden, PhD Candidate in Music History & Theory, on the publication of his article “Autistic Music, Musicking, and Musicality: From Psychoanalytic Origins to Spectral Hearing, and Beyond,” in Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 13 (2019): 1–19.

Read the summary below, and check out the article at the link! Delighted to see your research in Music and Disability Studies reaching an international audience, Jon!

Observations of autistic musical behavior have been recorded for as long as the modern concept of autism has existed. Early autism researchers such as Leo Kanner identified autistic musicking—including listening and performing—as skilled but bizarre: autistic musicality was subsequently conceptualized from a psychoanalytic perspective as integral to the self and deeply interconnected to a pervasive pathology. Upon the decline of psychoanalytic approaches to autism in Anglophone research, autistic musicality transformed into more a myth than a serious topic of inquiry. However, a flurry of diverse studies over the past two decades has reignited interest in the topic. Music scholars drawing from disability studies began celebrating autistic musicians, and offered theories of autistic hearing and listening. In the sciences, trials revealed curious auditory processing abilities among autists, including perceptual strengths in tasks involving pitch, and weaknesses involving time. I argue that this specific combination—termed “spectral hearing”—is not only a sensory–cognitive imbalance, but portends to a neurodiverse aesthetics of perception. Like autism itself, autistic musicality is infinitely varied; however, spectral hearing and other differences appear as common subtypes that can be explored by integrating disability studies concepts, scientific data, and personal experience. Autistic musicality is a rich topic deserving of further consideration, as greater knowledge would help elaborate the nuances of the autistic lifeworld.