Prof. Dr. Denis Laborde | Researcher

Mobilities, Migrations, Reconfiguration of Spaces
Centre Marc Bloch, Friedrichstraße 191, D-10117 Berlin
Email: denis.laborde  ( at ) Tel: (+49) 030 / 2093 / 70713

Disciplines : Musicology | former Department : Plateforme « Musique – Anthropologie – Globalisation »


After studying at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, Denis Laborde conducted the world premiere of Alvin Curran's Crystal Psalms at Radio France (New Albion Records). He discovered ethnology, and prepared a doctorate at the EHESS on the poetic-musical improvisations of Basque bertsulari (Nicole Belmont). After becoming editor-in-chief of the journal Ethnologie française, he joined the CNRS (LAIOS). Appointed to Göttingen (MHFA - Max Planck Institut für Geschichte) then Berlin (Centre Marc Bloch), he organized an international research network on World Music. On his return, he joined the Georg Simmel Centre and was elected to a post as director of studies at EHESS. In 2017, he founded the Institut ARI in Bayonne, now a team within UMR Passages (UMR 5319). Since September 1, 2023, he has been a researcher at the Centre Marc Bloch (Berlin), where he heads the "Mobilités, Migrations, Recomposition des espaces" team and pilots the CNRS IRN Of What is Music Capable in Situation of Forced Migration. In 2020, he was awarded the CNRS Silver Medal.

Denis Laborde uses music as a tool for analyzing human societies. He focuses on situations, borrows theoretical support from social anthropology, and maintains an ongoing dialogue with history, philosophy and pragmatist-inspired sociology.  From traditional Basque repertoires to jazz worlds, he focuses on the way a musician sets up the environment as a resource for action. He demonstrates that, far from being a game of chance, improvisation is a game of skill: you can't improvise yourself (La mémoire et l'instant; Thelonious Monk, sculptor of silence). His interest in situational analysis has led him to question situations of open conflict, in particular denunciations of blasphemy (Bach in Leipzig, Good Friday 1729; The unbearable sound: the strange career of musicoclashes, MIT Press; "Écouter la musique, c'est un grave péché", Geneva).

His work with Patrice Veit in Germany on music venues has led him to examine figures of knowledge and cultural institutions. He coordinated several publications (Allemagne, l'interrogation, with Alf Lüdtke; Erinnerung und Gesellschaft, Maurice Halbwachs (1877- 1945) with Hermann Krapoth; Désirs d'histoire with Michael Werner; Le Cas Royaumont, Paris).

He then founded the ARI Institute in Bayonne, at a time when the city was becoming a gateway for migrants, welcoming 12,000 people in one year. The need for intelligibility emanating from civil society prompted him to devote his research to the way in which music-making accompanies those in situations of forced migration throughout their journey (Migrants Musiciens, Geneva): why music in such circumstances? and what does this music-making produce? With the Institut Convergences Migrations, then with Columbia University and the Center for World Music in Hildesheim, he structures international projects on this theme. With his doctoral students, he created an original form of scientific writing: the Haizebegi festival, Art - Science - Society: concerts, films, workshops, colloquia and meetings that enable musicians and a wide range of spectators to share the libido sciendi that drives researchers who, like him, make music a tool for understanding human societies.

Institution of thesis