Brian Fairley

  • Visiting Lecturer in Music
Brian Fairley, visiting lecturer in music. A male, smiling, with facial hair, wearing a light blue sweater-vest over a lighter blue shirt on a grassy hill.

Brian Fairley is an ethnomusicologist and media historian specializing in traditional music from the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus. His research brings together approaches from historical musicology, sound studies, and media archaeology, exploring the idea of polyphony in world music, the history of multitrack recording technology, and the role of musical comparison in producing racial and ethnic categories. His work has been published in the journal Ethnomusicology and in the proceedings of the Tenth International Symposium on Traditional Polyphony. He has articles or chapters forthcoming in Theoria: Historical Aspects of Music Theory, the Journal of Sonic Studies, and the edited volume Insurgent Music Theory: Terminology and Critical Methods for Antiracist Music Studies.

Brian's current book project, Dissected Listening: Race, Nation, and Polyphony in the South Caucasus, uncovers a little-known series of experimental sound recordings featuring traditional singing from Georgia. These recordings all employed different techniques of sound separation to isolate the individual voices that make up Georgian three-part singing. Beginning with recordings made in a POW camp during World War I, this book rewrites the early history of multitrack sound recording, showing how technologies we take for granted today, in everything from the Beatles to TikTok, were deeply entangled with colonial taxonomies of race and a view of music history that placed Western polyphony at the apex of human music-making.

Brian received his PhD from New York University in 2023 and his MA in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in 2017. Prior to academia, Brian was a professional theatre artist, working primarily as music director and dramaturg for Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, Massachusetts. With Double Edge, he adapted texts, arranged music, and designed sound and video for over a dozen productions between 2006 and 2013. He was nominated for two Independent Reviewers of New England awards for sound and video design for The Grand Parade (of the twentieth century) in 2015. Brian is also a pianist and an amateur performer of Central Javanese gamelan music.


  • Ph.D., New York University
  • M.A., Wesleyan University