This is a call for audio or audio-visual work which explores this practice-research theme in some way. The work will be presented online through YouTube and the website and additionally promoted through the IASPM UK & Ireland online conference hosted by the University of West London this summer. Discussion of the pieces (and/or practice-based responses) will also be presented through the website. The work can be in any style (from the highly commercial to the highly experimental) and be any combination of vocal, acoustic, electrical and electronic. It has, of course, to illuminate the theme and can include:

  • Performance
  • Composition
  • Studio Recording
  • Sound to Picture work
  • Pieces for Radio
  • Sound Art

The only format limitation is that the submission needs to capture or represent the work in the form of a video – although that can include a static image with an audio soundtrack – which must be under 20 minutes in length.

Works can take any form, from being a purely musical or sound art piece to fragments interspersed with explanations – or anywhere else your imagination takes you. They may be completed pieces or incomplete ideas / works in progress. As long as you are the copyright owner and/or can give permission for them to be presented online, they may be pieces created since the start of the 21st century or pieces specially created for these ‘events’. You will maintain full rights and ownership over any submissions. The idea is to explore and stimulate ideas about how music and sound art is created and communicated. There is no fee and no limit to the number of submissions per person. Submissions will be subject to peer review.

The deadline for submissions to the first session (Deductive and Inductive Working Methods) is 24th April 2020. Please upload your video to YouTube, Vimeo or a similar media hosting site and send the URL link or HTML embed code to along with your name, institutional affiliation (if any) and a short description of the work and how it relates to the theme (under 50 words). There will be six other calls with different themes every two weeks during the summer. This session will start on the 30th April 2020 and the comments, questions and responses will be open for 14 days. After that they will be locked but still remain available for view.

The themes for the seven sessions are outlined below:

1. Deductive and Inductive Working Methods

One of the key distinctions in scientific research methods is between deduction and induction: between the ‘top-down’ process of starting with an hypothesis and designing experiments to prove or disprove it and the ‘bottom-up’ process of looking at some data and trying to extrapolate some meaning or hypothesis from it. What are the processes that are parallel to this in musical/sonic creativity? If conceptual systems like serialism or sonification can be seen as kinds of aesthetic hypotheses with pieces being either ‘proof’ or ‘disproof’ of their aesthetic worth, isn’t all musical activity based on a conceptual system? But isn’t the process of listening always an inductive process of extrapolating ‘meaning’ from someone else’s musical or sonic ‘data’? How do these ‘top-down’ deductive and ‘bottom-up’ inductive ways of thinking affect our approaches to making and listening to music?

2. Restriction & Affordance

Stravinsky said “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self” and this theme relates to the restrictions and affordances that are imposed upon us by both circumstances and choice. How do we notice possibilities and how and why do we decide to ignore some and embrace others? And these restrictions and affordances exist in both the physicality of the world that surrounds us and in the subjectivity of the ways in which we perceive and interpret it. Indeed, as the example of Eno’s Oblique Strategies illustrates, the selection of deliberately restrictive practices can be a vital part of our creative toolbox. How do these ideas of constraints and possibilities inform our work, the ways we think about music making, and the ways we teach and learn?

3. Three Forms of Engagement

Richard Middleton described three modes of engaging with music as “gesture, connotation and argument” and these relate to (1) the literal sound of something happening and our gut level response to it (e.g. foot tapping), (2) the way that these sounds create subconscious connotations that give them additional meaning (e.g. a ‘sad’ melody or a pattern that suggests the sound of water moving), and (3) musical features that require us to think consciously about their meaning (e.g. noticing a formal structure or a theme). All forms of music engage us in all three of these ways, but in different ways and to different extents, and they all produce different forms and levels of satisfaction and pleasure. How does our tacit or explicit understanding of these mechanisms inform our musical practice?

4. Representational Systems

Music is, in itself, a representational system: using a sonic formalism to suggest types of activity or narrative, types of environment and types of mental processes. Like all forms of art it allows us to represent some aspect of life in a distilled, distorted, simplified or focused way and, thus, to cope with, respond to and re-imagine the world. And on top of this, the way that we stage live performance, the way that we create recordings and the systems that musicians use to communicate their ideas to each other all add another layer of representational systems. And, as with all forms of representation, we can engage with both the thing being represented and the form that the representation takes. We can appreciate, for example, both an emotional narrative being represented in musical form and the skill and elegance with which it was enacted. And the extent to which either of these takes precedence and the extent to which technique and virtuosity become transparent are also key factors in the ways we make music.

5. Metaphors

Metaphors are based on one of the defining characteristics of human intelligence: the ability to create categories. The fact that we are able to consider two phenomena as being simultaneously similar in some respects and different in others is the basis of metaphor. It enables us to connect two different things by understanding them as having multiple features or characteristics and of which they have one or more in common i.e. we can put them into categories like ‘red things’ or ‘guitar music’. It also allows us to create the transient categories of metaphor – that this guitar performance has some of the characteristics of sad behaviour, or that by calling a piece of music Bucephalus’ Bouncing Ball, Aphex Twin challenges us to find more obscure characteristics of bouncing in the music as well as the very obvious ones. How do we both exploit and subvert forms of metaphor and categorical knowledge in our musical practice?

6. Responding & Not Responding

Musical practice is often talked about in terms of interaction and the ways in which participants respond to each other, but just as important are the ways in which they don’t respond. A ‘call’ and ‘response’ create a very different impression than a solitary ‘call’. Quite a lot of musical communication is one way, or about the ways in which one of the participants can be seen to be ploughing on regardless or to be unaware of what’s going on around them. The isolation flowing from the Covid-19 social distancing measures has pushed us further towards ‘playing to’ fixed recordings rather than ‘playing with’ responsive collaborators, but this has always been a feature of music, even before the days of recordings (and the coronavirus). And, of course, there are just as many possibilities for artistic meaning in unresponsiveness as there are in responsiveness.

7. Influence & Power

Somewhat ironically, Newton is often credited with the notion that we stand “on the shoulders of giants” when, in fact, he borrowed the idea from the 12th century philosopher, Bernard of Chartres (and who knows where he got it from?). We are all influenced by the ‘giants’ who came before us and, of course, by the activities and outputs of our contemporaries. That is the basis of the notion of culture and the premise behind inter-textuality. This ‘influence’ works on the macro-level of our life narratives and the ways that music can form our identity as well as the micro-level of the moment to moment interactions in musical practice. The next note I produce can be informed just as much by the one you’ve just played as by ones that Jimi Hendrix played half a century ago. But what are the mechanisms by which this influence occurs, why do some ‘voices’ become louder than others, and why do some have the power to influence us while others don’t?