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Series 5

CMPCP/IMR Series 5 (2014-15)


Off the page c.1700 / c.2014

Stevie Wishart (CMPCP Visiting Fellow)
13 October 2014

Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1

Stevie Wishart is a composer and performer whose recent compositions and research projects include using realtime processing published as an annotated CD and DVD, The Sound of Gesture; a choral song cycle Out of this World, commissioned for the BBC 2011 Proms; and a large-scale Vespers for St Hildegard for voices and instruments, premiered in York Minster at the 2013 York Early Music Festival, and based upon her 2012 recording for Decca.

Early recordings and the de(con)struction of Brahmsian performance norms

Anna Scott (Orpheus Institute)
20 October 2014

Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1

Though they are generally viewed as invaluable evidence of late Romantic performance practices, early twentieth-century recordings continue to be viewed as mere addenda to more malleable documentary traces. Nowhere is this truer than in the sphere of Brahms pianism, where even modern recordings seem more reflective of verbal accounts of Brahms’s performance style than of the early recorded performances of his students. While contemporary tastes and standards are often said to occupy the lingering gaps between Brahms as he was recorded and modern recordings, it is my contention that this space is mediated by a pervasive aesthetic ideology, one that buttresses a set of immovable performance norms designed to protect relativist constructions of Brahms’s classicist canonic identity. In this lecture-performance I will demonstrate how copying the recordings of Brahms’s piano music by the pupils of Schumann and Brahms can problematise this identity, affording the emergence of a recordings-inspired style of Brahms performance resplendent with the corporeal and psychological conundrums more typically associated with Romantic music-making. By sidestepping ‘inspiration’ in favour of imitation, and by working from sound to document rather than the other way around, one arrives at a recordings-inspired style of Brahms performance that is suddenly reflective of both sounding and documentary evidence of the composer’s musical contexts.

Anna Scott is a Canadian pianist-researcher interested in using the early twentieth-century recordings of the Schumann-Brahms circle of pianists to question the persistent gaps between the loci of knowledge, ethics and act in the performance of Brahms’s late piano works. Anna is an active solo, lied and chamber music performer; she is a Doctoral Artistic Research Fellow at The Orpheus Research Center in Music (ORCiM) in Ghent, Belgium; and she is currently completing a practice-led PhD under the supervision of Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, to be defended at Leiden University in December 2014.

Performing lost repertoires: seventeenth-centry French keyboard music from the perspective of Mersenne’s 1636 clavichoard

Terence Charlston (RAM / RCM)
26 January 2015

Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1

The description of the clavichord in Mersenne’s Harmonie Universelle (1636) is sufficiently detailed to have enabled the clavichord maker, Peter Bavington, to build a working example. This meticulous and very musical reconstruction invites the player to find a repertoire appropriate to it and in so doing challenges, in a variety of technical and interpretative ways, their view of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century French keyboard music. The obstacles encountered in defining an appropriate repertoire are considerable. Although clavichords were made, known and played at this time in France, no clavichords of demonstrable French provenance survive today. The sources of French keyboard music are themselves problematic, and very few survive from the period after Attaingnant’s five publications for ‘Orgues, Espinettes et Manichordions‘ of 1531 and before the relative wealth of surviving late seventeenth-century manuscripts and printed books. Not surprisingly, the literature and discography have tended to emphasise the importance of the professional French clavecinistes and organists and in so doing underestimate the role of other keyboard instruments, such as the clavichord. By attempting to redress this balance, the Mersenne clavichord project has revealed three main areas of enquiry: the definition of the techniques of known clavichord music of the early sixteenth century; an examination of the few surviving sources of the early seventeenth century; and an assessment of the performance implications for the mainstream harpsichord and organ corpus. The results of this creative interaction will be presented and performed by the speaker during the seminar using the primary research tool, the Bavington/Mersenne clavichord itself.

Terence Charlston enjoys a varied career as a performer, teacher and academic researcher, specialising in early keyboard instruments. He took degrees in Oxford and London in organ, harpsichord and musicology. Terence’s repertoire spans the sixteenth century to the present day, reflecting a passionate interest in keyboard music of all types and styles and his discography numbers over seventy commercial recordings on harpsichord, organ, virginals, clavichord and fortepiano. He was a member of London Baroque from 1995 until 2007 and is a core member of the ensemble Florilegium with whom he has toured worldwide. Terence is an important advocate of early keyboard instruments within the educational sphere. He founded the Department of Historical Performance at the Royal Academy of Music in 1995. In addition to his work as professor of harpsichord at the Royal College of Music, London, he teaches basso continuo at the Royal Academy of Music, London, and is International Visiting Tutor in harpsichord at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Cutting through the noise: learning to listen to acoustic recordings via a 21st-century re-enactment

Amy Blier-Carruthers (RAM)
2 February 2015

Room 102, Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1

When we listen to early recordings, especially those from before the invention of electrical recording in 1925, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to hear past the hiss and crackle, through the patina of time and the technology and hear what the great performers of the past really sounded like? Perhaps, now, we might be able to get a little bit closer. This paper will present ongoing research centred on a re-enactment of the landmark acoustic recording of Beethoven’s fifth Symphony by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Arthur Nikisch. It was a ground-breaking recording because it was one of the first attempts to record an entire symphony with a full orchestra of international repute and a famous conductor. This modern re-enactment, a project created by Aleks Kolkowski (Research Associate, Science Museum) with myself as co-researcher, was undertaken by a group of musicians made up of students from the Royal College of Music, conductor Robin O’Neill, and sound engineer Duncan Miller. Through fieldwork observation, documentation, interviews, and having captured the sound in the room with modern recording techniques, I am conducting an analysis to look at three main issues: what can current music students learn from this type of experience? Can we extrapolate what is and isn’t preserved on early recordings by comparing the sources we now have available? And what did musicians have to change about their performance in order to achieve a successful acoustic recording?

Amy Blier-Carruthers holds the post of Lecturer in Postgraduate Studies at the Royal Academy of Music, having previously spent three years lecturing at the Royal College of Music. Her PhD (received from King’s College London), currently being prepared for publication as a monograph, compares live performance and studio recording, using both analytical and ethnographic methods. Her research and teaching interests revolve around subjects involving performance style, recording practices, ethnographic approaches to classical music-making, innovative performer-led concert practices, the history of performance on recordings and the aesthetic and cultural contexts of these. She has recently given papers at conferences in Singapore, Quebec, Vienna, Tel Aviv, Utrecht, Oslo, Ghent, London and Cambridge and has been an invited speaker at the Royal College of Art and the Smithsonian Institution (Washington). She is a core member of the AHRC Research Network ‘Performance in the Studio’, and has recently been awarded funding from the AHRC as co-investigator for a Digital Transformations project ‘Classical Music Hyper-Production and Practice as Research’.

Improvisation, attention and rapid decision-making under uncertainty

Adam Linson (University of Oxford)
2 March 2015

Room 102, Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1

The practice of musical improvisation has been traditionally analysed with approaches derivative of either composed music or spoken language. A significant challenge to compositional and linguistic models of improvisation has been posed by an alternative social account, which initially emerged from ethnographic studies of practising improvisers. These studies brought into view a social dimension of improvisation that has begun to be explored in psychological research. Yet, for the most part, social psychological treatments of improvisation are not concerned with its biological underpinnings, and the limited neuroscientific research on improvisation has tended to focus on an asocial view of competence and performance. In contrast, I will present a novel sociobiological account of improvisation that integrates socially-oriented and post-cognitivist perspectives. My preliminary model brings together insights from ecological and experimental psychology (including the work of Daniel Kahneman); research on expertise and decision theory; and neuroimaging studies of attention, perception and action. The resulting picture offers the potentially surprising suggestion that, in some key respects, musical improvisation has more in common with certain non-musical activities than it does with other musical practices.

Adam Linson is active internationally as a double bassist, improvisor, composer, and scholar, who performs acoustically and with live electronics, solo and in a wide variety of ensembles, and can be heard on several critically acclaimed albums. He also designs, develops, and performs with real-time interactive computer music systems. He has published on a range of topics including the ecological psychology of improvisation, the philosophy of art and artificial intelligence, and the historiography of music technology. He is currently a Research Associate at the University of Oxford, Faculty of Music, where he was formerly a CMPCP Visiting Fellow.

Performing free – an ethnography of free improvisation practices in Brazil

Franziska Schroeder (Queen’s University Belfast)
16 March 2015

Room 102, Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1

In this talk I will speak about the practice of free music improvisation in Brazil. The reflections and findings presented are derived from research conducted as part of a four months Higher Education Academy (HEA, UK) Fellowship, carried out between February and June 2014. The aim was to enquire whether or how the practice of free improvisation is taught in the Brazilian higher education system. As part of this ethnographic study visits to the following universities were scheduled: The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ; The Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO); The University of São Paulo – USP; The Federal University of Minas Gerais – UFMG; The Federal University of Bahia – UFBA; The Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal (UFRN); and, The ELM, the Escola Livre de Música in Unicamp. In the talk I will discuss some general background thinking to the research process, specifically recalling the work of French composer and educator Alain Savouret. I will examine the improvisational spirit, the improvisatory world-making approach (the ‘jeitinho brasileiro’) that is often considered to be integral to the Brazilian way of life. In the final part of the talk I discuss the applied ethnographic methodologies, which includes the design of questions that were used for the fifty video interviews with Brazilian musicians and teachers, as well as reflections on participatory action research, influenced by Taggart’s sixteen Tenets of Participatory Action Research (1989).

Franziska Schroeder trained as a contemporary saxophonist in Australia, followed by essential saxophone lessons with Marie Bernadette Charrier from the Conservatoire Supérieure in Bordeaux. She now lectures at the School of Creative Arts, Queen’s University Belfast, convening modules in performance, improvisation and critical theory. She supervises PhD work in digital media performance, improvisation, and participatory practice. Franziska has written for many international journals; she has published a book on performance and the threshold, an edited volume on user-generated content and a recent book on improvisation. A prestigious Sir Ron Rooke International Scholarship (2014) allowed her to live in Brazil for six months where she carried out ethnographic work on free improvisation practices.