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Research report January 2020. Supported by the lectorate ‘Music, Education and Society’, research group ‘Making in Music’, Royal Conservatoire The Hague

Richard Barrett
01 January 2020

In September 2017 I submitted my doctoral thesis Music of Possibility to the University of Leeds, and was awarded the degree in January 2018. In the meantime the thesis has been revised and expanded for publication, under the same title.[1] The principal question of my research was to define and analyse what I think of as four central innovations in twentieth century music – systematic composition procedures, electronic/digital technology, free improvisation, and the awareness of the geographical and historical context of musical creation – and to explore ways of unifying and radicalising them for the present and future, with illustrations drawn from my own work as a creative musician during the period (2013-17) when I was working on the thesis.

The ideas presented in the thesis already had their origins in the annual series of lectures I give at the Institute of Sonology, and their realisation plays a significant role in the work I’ve been doing since 2009 with the Sonology Electroacoustic Ensemble. This group brings together students, ex-students and staff from the Institute of Sonology and other departments, and occasionally also outside guests (such as trumpeter Peter Evans, guitarist Han-earl Park and synthesizer player Richard Scott). The ensemble’s work is focused on a collaborative investigation into combining traditional and electronic instruments in an improvisational context, bringing together participants with many different backgrounds and approaches. I try to encourage a situation where all members of the group - including myself and any other faculty members who may participate - have an equal creative input into the music we make, which is presented in between four and six public performances each year, plus an annual five-day intensive workshop which I usually teach alongside my long-term collaborator and fellow electronic musician Paul Obermayer, my partner in the duo FURT since 1986. These workshops involve participants from all three of the KC’s “creative departments” (Composition, Art Science and Sonology), and have also included several Erasmus exchange students.

The ensemble has participated in developing several specific research projects by Sonology Masters students, but, apart from this, it embodies a way of conducting research in diverse areas: sound design, amplification and spatialisation, improvisation as a method of composition particularly suited to the electronic/digital domain, the development of electronic instruments towards a comparable degree of fluency to traditional acoustic instruments, and many others. At the same time, although the membership of the ensemble naturally varies from year to year, its evolution over the years of its existence forms a deepening basis for participants to draw upon.

The purpose of the present project, then, is firstly to document the current state of this evolution, and secondly to trace its continuation over the course of a year, beginning slightly before the workshop held in late October/early November 2018 and extending slightly past the following one which was held a year later, in order to obtain an overview of both the cyclical development of the group’s work over the course of a year and the similarities and differences between two successive workshop sessions with completely different personnel.

The present text is intended to constitute a modest body of knowledge concerning this kind of composer-performer ensemble, serving not only to give an extra momentum to the work the ensemble is already doing within the KC, and a basis for its continuation in the future, but also to communicate the insights deriving from this work to people in our institution, and elsewhere, who might be wishing to initiate or further develop the realisation of related ideas.

Read on at the Research Catalogue.

1) Barrett (2019)

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