Category: Author interviews

Author spotlight: exploring the relationships between composers and performers

Author spotlight: exploring the relationships between composers and performers

Music student John Aulich published an article about his research in Issue 2 of our student research journal Fields. We caught up with him for a chat about his work and his experiences getting published.

In the summer of 2015, I was invited to prepare a piece I had written in the third year of my undergraduate studies for inclusion in the second volume of FIELDS. ‘Power, agency, deference and difference: Examining the politics of composer–performer relationships in the wake of recent innovations’ explored the notational praxes of three radically divergent composers to try and uncover the ways in which they might limit or encourage interpretative agency on the part of performers. The paper was one among a number of tentative early steps on a wider research trajectory concerned with the immediate political ramifications of particular pieces of music. In other words, to ask how a piece establishes hierarchies between performers, composers, and audiences at the moment of performance. For me, the emergent political microcosm that a performance inhabits is as integral to what music is or could be as more obvious specifics, such as notes, chords and rhythms.

While further research has since led me to new positions not entirely congruent with the implications and conclusions of that particular paper, being invited to publish and continuously advised by experienced scholars throughout the process gave me the confidence to develop new lines of inquiry. It was an indication that I might be onto something; that somebody somewhere thought it a valuable contribution of potential interest to the wider academic world. Further, participating in Fields allowed me to join a community of colleagues in the same position, whose incredibly diverse research interests caused me to see much more fertile grounds for cross-pollination than I had thought possible, from sociology to biomedical science. To borrow an illustrative concept from the urban sociologist Richard Sennett, the boundaries between our specialisms became fluid sites for the exchange and transformation of ideas: bustling hedgerows as opposed to concrete walls. Such was the impact of this realization that its resonances carried through my master’s research and into the heart of my current interests as a practising composer.

Inspired by the broadening sphere of influence on my creative world, my master’s research sought to turn the gaze of political analysis to my own work. By casting out the critical theory that strongly informed the paper published in FIELDS, I was able to reimagine musical processes and concepts as analogous with aspects of the material world, using post-structuralist materialist philosophy as a theoretical basis. I reimagined the score, for example, as a biological cell-like space with its own agency: it could both absorb and react to a specific performer’s energies, and resist them. To borrow a Tim Ingold idea, rather than read the score, a performer would instead correspond with it. In Condensation (Strike Work) (recording), the music can only take form through an exploration of possible speeds by a specific performer. Like Manuel DeLanda’s Deleuzean metallurgist, a performer cannot impose the final form so much as tease it out.

Illustration 1: Condensation (Strike Work) (2015). The speed indicator line on the left hand side of each staff is indicates the pace of the music relative to the fastest and slowest speeds a particular performer could possibly achieve.

Where I had previously imagined freedom to be the degree to which a performer can exercise their interpretative will uninhibited, I now imagine it to be more akin to the potential for new possibilities to emerge from this kind of correspondence. For Πολυτροπος [Polytropos] (recording), a later piece which I developed with the bass clarinetist and improviser, James Wood, this notion of correspondence took a more qualitative form in what I called the ‘flow rate’ line. To quote from the performance notes, ‘When the line is at its thinnest, performers should dwell in the material, pay more attention to detail, and take as much time as is necessary to execute the particulars as given. When the line is at its thickest, performers should hack through the material, allow for a high degree of inexactitude, and move faster.’

Since completing my master’s degree, I’ve also explored the notion of correspondence with new technology. In an as-yet-untitled piece for fellow composer and violist Adam Sangster, the performer works with a computer algorithm that tends towards certain behaviours, but nonetheless reacts to his sounds in unpredictable ways. It has an agency of its own that he can try to subjugate, and he has an agency that it can also act to undermine by forcing him to switch between one of two staffs (see left).

In at least one respect since FIELDS, I’ve come full circle; a section of my FIELDS paper explored the implications of confusing cueing systems in some works by the composer Christian Wolf. For my first large-scale ensemble piece since participating, the composition of which is ongoing, I have developed a similarly confusion-inducing cueing system of my own. For now, the kinds of correspondence it might illicit among the players remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: I have no idea what I would be doing if it weren’t for FIELDS.

Read John’s article in Volume 2 of Fields

 

 

 

 

 

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Author spotlight: solving power issues in engineering

Author spotlight: solving power issues in engineering

Engineering student Nick Horne has recently published an article about his research in our student research journal Fields. We caught up with him for a chat about his work and his experiences getting published.

How would you explain your research to someone new to the subject?

I would explain my research as a methodical approach to an engineering problem, starting with the objectives of the proposed solution in order to gain an understanding of what is required. It was important to understand the problems effecting power system quality, which the project aimed to address, as well as their causes and countermeasures, in order to understand the purpose of the system and produce a good technical report. My research covered the existing technology available, found the best suited to the application and evaluated the results against the highest benchmark I had access to.

As a first time author, how did you find the process of getting published?

I found the process of being published interesting and relatively straightforward. The editors of the journal were very helpful and constructive with their comments and suggestions which my work benefitted from. Ample time and support was given which made the process of writing my article enjoyable and ensured it was of the highest quality I could achieve. The whole experience has been rewarding and I’m proud that my work was selected for publishing in Fields.

How do you think this experience has helped you develop new skills?

The experience taught me how to better structure my sentences and make the journal flow better for the reader, better grammar and punctuation made the article easier to read. My journal was based on my final year project report which was a considerably larger body of work; this experience therefore provided experience in extracting key information and creating a more concise article. It also meant I was able to identify what information from my report would be suited to an academic style paper, adapting certain sections to explain terminology and provide context. Writing for a wider audience, with the aim to interest and educate the reader, was a challenge I enjoyed throughout the process.

Read Nick’s article in Volume 3 of Fields

Author spotlight: how did gender expectations affect medieval England?

Author spotlight: how did gender expectations affect medieval England?

History student Katie McAdam has recently published an article about her research in our student research journal Fields. We caught up with her for a chat about her work and her experiences getting published.

Give us a quick overview of your research area

My area of research has focused on societal gender norms surrounding masculinity and kingship in medieval England. By examining the downfall, death and conspiratorial narratives surrounding Edward II, my article analyses the way in which his failure to meet contemporary gender expectations ultimately doomed his reign, and were to shape the memory of his life and reign. The two areas of masculinity and kingship have been consistently linked throughout the historiography, with Edward often being remembered as a homosexual monarch, even as a gay icon, and his leadership failures are continuously linked with his perceived failings as the ideal medieval male. After Edward II’s death, a letter was written by a notable cleric, Manuel Fieschi, claiming the king was still alive and living out his days secretly as a devout hermit in Italy. My article then goes on to analyse the prevalent trope of secret survival which is associated with many famous deaths throughout history, such as Elvis Presley and Princess Diana and examines why this phenomenon of believing the dead are living on in secret occurs so frequently in history.

How did you find the process of publication? Did it help you to develop as a researcher?

The experience of becoming a first time author has been both exciting and eye-opening for me and has most certainly developed me academically in a number of different ways. I feel my ongoing studies have vastly improved due to the new level of scrutiny I can impose on my own writing and content after working with the Fields team so closely to re-draft and improve my work throughout the past year. Attention to detail was never a strength of mine, but this experience demanded a high level of this skill and so I can now apply this both academically and professionally to my other projects. Overall I also have a much greater appreciation for the level of work that goes into having work published, and as a result feel I hold myself to a much higher standard than before I got involved with the process, which is certainly paying off in other areas such as my grades and feedback.

I have really enjoyed the experience and the process, especially the dedicated workshop day where I could discuss research areas with other writers and learn from each other, and my involvement has definitely made me keen to strive to do similar things in the future.

Read Katie’s article in Volume 3 of Fields

Author spotlight: how do crystals protect our drinking water?

Author spotlight: how do crystals protect our drinking water?

Chemistry student Laura Lo has recently published an article about her research in our student research journal Fields. We caught up with her for a chat about her work and her experiences getting published.

If I was to explain my research to someone new to the subject, I would firstly ask them if they ever thought about the process of clean tap water. We wash, drink and cook with it, but this water has been recycled for 4.6 billion years. You would hope it’s clean! Now, my project is not just about water, it’s also about growing big shiny crystals. Now I know what you’re thinking, how do crystals have anything to do with water? Well, you see, water travels through pipes to reach our taps; however a time before lead poisoning was more understood, houses built before the 1970s used lead pipes that connected to the mains. At present most pipes have been replaced, although water companies will also use a water treatment called phosphate dosing which stops traces of lead leaching from any remaining lead pipes – there are still quite a few! This action results in the formation of a white precipitate which coats the inner pipe, therefore protecting the water. This white precipitate is the crystals! So in a nut shell my project was to develop a new method to grow pure large versions of these crystals in a controlled environment to enable future research in understanding their properties and how they act in the way they do to protect the water and inevitably, us.

I have to admit, the process for Fields was very quick in terms of getting published, before you know it 6 months have passed and you’re handed your final proof albeit lots of back and forth communication and changes that need to be made to your article. The whole experience was one of a kind, you spend your time writing a piece of work that was originally only meant as an essay or dissertation to be read by one or two people, but then it gets chosen to go forward to Fields, and your work suddenly gets critiqued and peer reviewed by experts who decide whether your paper is publishable. But it’s all worth it, seeing how far that piece of work has come, from final year dissertation with a few spelling mistakes here and there (I’m a scientist!) to published journal worthy; it’s a great motivational story to tell.

It’s a massive accomplishment for me, as it’s a rarity to get your paper published as an undergraduate and I am very grateful I have been given this opportunity to share my research and findings. I found this project fascinating and gratifying throughout, therefore I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Read Laura’s article in Volume 3 of Fields

Author spotlight: why is social entrepreneurship on the rise?

Author spotlight: why is social entrepreneurship on the rise?

Social Sciences student Gemma Humphris has recently published an article about her research in our student research journal Fields. We caught up with her for a chat about her work and her experiences getting published.

When I first discovered the term ‘social enterprise’ I had no idea what it was. I researched the term and discovered that a social enterprise is what it says on the tin, a business with a social purpose. Any profit made by the company would be reinvested into its social purposes. As a student wanting to start their own business I was fascinated by this idea and loved the fact that a business can be about more than just profiting the owners. So, when it came to writing my dissertation this seemed like a natural topic to research. Some of my friends didn’t understand the benefits of social enterprise, therefore I wanted to learn more about the people who set-up and run social enterprises and what makes them different to typical entrepreneurs. What I learnt was extremely interesting, making the process of writing the dissertation easier!

When I was asked if I was interested in publishing my dissertation I was surprised and honoured. I had to make plenty of changes to get it to a high enough quality and suitable for publishing. This included cutting down the words from 10,000 to 5,000 which seemed near impossible at the outset! It taught me to refine and perfect my writing, ensuring that I covered my points in as little words as possible.

Although going back to my dissertation multiple times was difficult, I learnt the art of perfection and persistence. Continuing to work on it and making sure that it was at a high standard, which I had not had to do with my other work. This gave me a fresh perspective on the effort that my lecturers and university researchers must put in, to get their work published. This understanding of how research is carried out and developed over time takes a lot longer than I would have ever guessed.

Read Gemma’s article in Volume 3 of Fields

Author spotlight: how important are nuptial agreements?

Author spotlight: how important are nuptial agreements?

Paralegal Helen Newman has recently published an article about her research in our student research journal Fields. We caught up with her for a chat about her work and her experiences getting published.

I am not a writer, not really. I am a case loaded paralegal working for a specialist criminal practice. I may write the occasional blog post for work based upon cases I have managed but for the most part my writing is restricted to Briefs to counsel, Statements and Letters with the occasional Application to court. I returned to University as a mature student to do the Graduate Diploma in Law – urged to do so by my employer and family – so getting my head around writing from an academic perspective was a challenge in itself. The article on prenuptial agreements is based upon my dissertation on the same subject. I have to admit that my choice of dissertation subject was guided by my desire to structure my study – this felt like a topic I could remain focused on – unlike something like medical negligence where I feared I could end up going off on a tangent. Working in a criminal practice I had no involvement in family law to be aware of the increasing desire of parties to protect their assets ahead of marriage and very much thought of ‘pre-nups’ as something for the rich and famous, for celebrities, but as I researched the subject I was fascinated to discover the popularity of them across Europe and found I really got into the topic. It did seem nonsensical that business partners can sign a contract but life partners couldn’t, or rather that the court would consider them differently.

My research involved me becoming familiar with a new area of law, and a new style of writing. In Criminal practice I may read a few articles but the focus is more on court judgements, so I had to get used to reading family law journals and books on the subject – often with quite political undertones. It was interesting to have the opportunity to consider different viewpoints on the same case – though in many ways it appeared that the judgement itself was welcomed, more that the authors differed on the difference it would actually make going forward. I had also never had to read government white papers before – this in itself was an experience – as there seemed to be several all saying the same thing for much of the papers. Nor was I used to things being so open at the end of a matter – in the criminal law a higher court gives its ruling and that stands until challenged – this was about investigating the possibility of a required change to the law – with the final outcome seeming to be that there was no actual outcome and that further consultation may be needed in the future.

The opportunity to develop my dissertation into an article for publication was an exciting, if not daunting, one. Not only did it require a different style of writing, free of legal jargon, but it also needed me to expand upon some areas whilst removing others as I still had a word count limit! It was a brilliant experience, especially having the copywriter’s feedback to highlight where I needed to make things clearer. I would certainly urge anyone who is given this opportunity to go for it!

Read Helen’s article in Volume 3 of Fields