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Postgraduate forum, Autumn 2016

Postgraduate forum, Autumn 2016

2016’s autumn postgraduate forum – 28th September, in the Music Research Centre – showcased a typically diverse range of talents, tastes, specialisms and perspectives. The forum also featured, for the first time, a poster competition – giving students the opportunity to share ideas and progress in a different format and broadening our means of creative communication.

Another new addition was the representation of a multi-institutional research cluster supported by the White Rose College of Arts and Humanities. Nicola Pennill is one of 3 students within the interdisciplinary collaborative network ‘Expressive Nonverbal Communication in Ensemble Performance’, funded by the White Rose College of Arts and Humanities and drawing together supervisors from five departments in the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York.

Nicola visited the department to share her work on practice strategies, communicative structures, and the realities of time management in the rehearsals of different types of ensembles (professional and amateur). She offered empirically supported insights into rehearsal dynamics that were variously surprising and familiar (e.g., proportion of time devoted to arguing about interpretative decisions…!).

Ben Eyes talked about how to make computers go wrong, explaining that to maximise creativity and ‘avoid the boring’ in computer music we should play around with assumed limitations and preconceptions around what computers can/can’t or do/don’t do. Ben’s poster on the same theme gives a succinct breakdown of options…

Deconstructing, reassembling, and relocating the creative process is also an ongoing preoccupation for Morag Galloway, whose work – often featuring theatrical elements – is tied to her relationships with individual performers (and in this case, individual pianos). Personality and personal experience have a crucial role in her approach to writing; this exploration of the composer’s collaboration with pianist Kate Harrison-Ledger featured an intense, emotional performance of What does this moment require? on grand and toy piano simultaneously.

In line with this autographic theme, ‘Playing with time: felt shapes and embodied temporal expressivity’, a lecture-recital by flautist Jennifer Cohen, offered thought-provoking propositions about connections between physical movement, psychological affect, and temporality in musical performance.

Based on the application of cognitive theory to observations drawn from her own work as a performer, Jennifer implicitly touched on issues surrounding subjectivity and personal creative practice as research. (The White Rose College of Arts and Humanities has a student-run ‘Practice as Research’ network; you can follow them on Twitter – @WrocahPar – if you’d like to find out more about their activities). An accessible breakdown of some in-depth theoretical discussion, combined with virtuosic and emotive live examples of vibrant ornamentation accompanied by Dr. Peter Seymour on the harpsichord, combined in an inspiring talk.

Chaired for the first time by Dr. Federico Reuben, the composition workshop featured sketches and works-in-progress by Patrick Jones, Carlo Estolano, and James Williamson.

Patrick and violinist Brigitte Mallon discussed testing out variously challenging/playable versions of the closing section of Patrick’s Étude for solo violin – using extreme sul tasto techniques to achieve a striking ‘panpipe-like’ sonority.

Responding to Robert Morris’s 1965 installation ‘Untitled’ (, James’ twenty mirrors, for two pianos (Alice Masterson & Sophie Adams) and two Indian elephant bells, evoked spatial concerns, reflecting the vertiginous variety of images when viewing the same object from different angles. Two formations were tested, one in which the pianists sat facing each other, and a repositioned run-through exploring alternate dimensions of performer engagement.

Exploring ensemble in performance space also came into play in Contra-Golpe, Carlo’s piece for electric guitar (Carlo) and piano (Vicente Magalhaes).

The abundance of fast, rhythmically complex unison passages (which sparked conversation about co-ordinating and blending the sound of the amplified and acoustic instruments, culminating in a rerun with the amplifier underneath the piano) spoke to the composer’s interest in reworking elements of highly syncopated traditional Brazilian Choro music in combination with contemporary/jazz idioms.

Other researchers approached the preservation or re-presentation of national, traditional, or indigenous musics through scholarship rather than composition.

In ‘From the Land of the Ice and Snow’ Helen Diggle explored contemporary reimaginings of ancient Northern European soundworlds – from Led Zeppelin to Disney’s Frozen – raising questions of ‘authenticity’ and identity.

These latter themes surfaced in Mary Emmett’s talk on her work cataloguing the living tradition of Lakeland Hunting Songs. Taking a different angle, the focus here was again on autochthonous or ‘folk’ musics as perceived today – but this time as they are preserved or sustained in/by the community of their origin. Preoccupied with the ongoing reality of the extinction of oral traditions, Mary’s work acknowledges the urgency surrounding projects to keep them alive in the present.

A trained Thai classical singer, Suchada Sowat’s presentation on the Phrommas episode in Khon masked dance drama included recordings of her own participation in group performance; a combination of ethnography and the semi-autographic interest in personal creative practice as an integral part of research seen elsewhere in this programme.

We were delighted to have Kate Giles, Deputy Director of the Humanities Research Centre, as a judge for the department’s first poster competition. Designs were as diverse as the range of topics:

*Echoes of the rhetoric of Christian mythology as meaning-making in the origins of house music – ‘a secular Christianity for the gay diaspora’?

*Psychological research into the perception of wrong notes in score reading

*Critical historical readings of othering depictions of ‘degeneracy’ in Weimar opera

*Ancient and contemporary Northern European styles, traditions and composers, from Scandinavian and Finno-Ugric regions to modern-day Lithuania

*Making computers go wrong, and

*The vast creative potential of audiovisual alternatives to traditional notation

First prize was awarded to Charlotte Armstrong’s submission on ‘The Degenerate Condition’ and politically loaded portrayals of ‘Degeneration, Disease, and Disability’ in operas by Shreker and Zemlinsky, with a special mention for incoming PhD student Owen Burton’s poster on characterising the idiom of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara.


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About the author

Claire completed an MA by Research at York in 2015, supervised by Dr. Tim Howell and funded by the York Masters Opportunity Scholarship. Her PhD focuses on Baltic art musics from the mid-twentieth century to the present, dealing with questions such as whether or not ‘the post in post-Soviet’ is ‘the post in postcolonial’, as…

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