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Music to your Ears

by YPU Admin on December 20, 2019, Comments. Tags: Humanities, instrumental composition, music, music composition, PhD, and vocal composition

Introduction

My name is Maria Palapanidou and I am a second-year PhD student in Instrumental/Vocal Music Composition. My research is about structuring music in a three-dimensional environment with the help of specific software. I draw various curved surfaces, colourful shapes, and rectangular planes on a virtual three-dimensional space to visualise musical parameters, such as which instrument will play first, second etc. or how loud or soft the dynamics will be. This aggregate ‘3D image’ of the shapes and planes is then used as a compositional tool to translate this image into a traditional musical score.


In Depth…

For me, doing a PhD in Music is a dream come true. I have always wanted to continue my Music studies to a postgraduate level. In order to do so, I did a Bachelors Degree in Piano Performance at the University of Macedonia in Greece, and I completed a Masters Degree in Instrumental/Vocal Music Composition at the University of Manchester. As my research is led by my own practice, it is ultimately important to myself as a developing composer and musician. It focuses on the way I understand time, space, shapes and their connection, and how I translate them into a piece of music.

However, this 3D tool I am using can have further applications in education and musical analysis. Three-dimensional visualisations can be a very helpful when explaining or describing musical terms such as register (high or low pitches), tempo (how fast or how slow) and form (the number of different sections and their order). In addition, I am currently searching how this ‘3D image’ can be used to help people with hearing loss understand what a piece of music ‘looks like’ without needing to detect vibrations.

'In this piece, the performers 'walk' inside a virtual maze and improvise on their instruments according to the shapes and colours they see on the walls'

Most of my time, as a full-time student, includes composing music, listening to other composers’ pieces, reading articles relevant to my research, attending composition workshops and research forums, and collaborating with other musicians to organise concerts and rehearsals of my pieces. Being aware of current trends in composition, new instrumental techniques and new technology, as well as, receiving feedback from the players are a very important part of a composer’s life.

What is more, as a pianist, I work with other composers by performing their pieces and giving them feedback on notation and pianistic techniques. This double identity (composer-performer) allows me to understand both sides of musical creation, and helps me realise how to use notation to communicate a complicated thought through the musical symbols with precision.

'Sketching the four sections of a string quartet piece (two Violins, one Viola, and one Violoncello) in three dimensions' 

Going Further

My research has a connection to architectonic features (space, height, structure, surface, material and colours). One of the most important musicians to establish this field was a Greek composer named Iannis Xenakis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iannis_Xenakis). He worked a lot with computer based music, as well as literally translating an architectonic sketch into music. Some of his very characteristic works are:

 

Searching for Transcendence: Research into Music and Religion

by YPU Admin on September 29, 2016, Comments. Tags: Humanities, music, Religion, Research, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Hannah Burton and I’m currently studying for a PhD in theology and music. As an undergraduate I studied Music at the University of Liverpool, and then moved back to Manchester where I completed a Masters in Religions and Theology. I enjoy the diversity of this subject – especially in a city such as Manchester where a people from a wide variety of religious backgrounds live, work, and have an impact upon the city’s culture. I’m particularly interested in the ways in which people feel they experience religion, or God, in their lives, and my research tries to understand how music can enable this experience for individuals.


In Depth

Music plays a prominent and important role in many religions as part of prayer and worship, and so it seems reasonable to explore how it might create an experience of and a direct connection with something transcendent, or God. To do this, it is useful to have a case study of attitudes toward both religion and music, and examine the similarities and differences therein. Therefore, my research analyses the writings of several early nineteenth-century scholars from the fields of theology, philosophy, and music criticism. Most prominent are FDE Schleiermacher and ETA Hoffmann.


Schleiermacher was a theologian writing at the turn of the nineteenth century. His ideas about religion were radically new at that time – he encouraged his readers to concentrate less on religion’s rituals and doctrine (the in-depth beliefs and ‘rules’ of religion) and to focus instead on having a religious intuition and feeling. He rejected the idea that having a great knowledge of religion was key, and argued, on the other hand, that the essence of religion is being able to perceive, recognise, and feel and presence of the transcendent (or God) in the world around us. However, because the transcendent is not of our world, we can never fully reach or understand it. Nevertheless, Schleiermacher maintains that we must continue to strive to intuit and feel transcendence by engaging closely with everyday objects and experience in our lives.


ETA Hoffmann was a theatre director, composer, and music critic writing at around the same time as Schleiermacher. Some of his best-known writing about music includes interesting ideas about how music reveals an ‘unknown realm’ of ‘spirits’ that is outside of our world. Though music creates a glimpse of this realm, Hoffmann claims that it does not reveal it completely, and so music’s listeners often feel a sense of ‘yearning’ for what Hoffmann notably calls ‘transcendence.’

So there are certainly parallels between these two theories of religion and music! I hope to be able to show, through my research and by looking at some musical examples, that there are particular features in music that enable us to experience, intuit, feel, and yearn from, transcendence. I also hope that this case study might shed some light on how music might continue to evoke an experience of God and transcendence today, particularly across different genres and contexts.


Going Further

Some faith communities and organisations blog about their perspective on the place of music within religion and theology, such as these examples:

https://www.rca.org/resources/theology-and-place-music-worship

http://www.theworshipcommunity.com/theology-of-music-part-one/

To find out more about how music affects us, have a look at this blog post written by a neuroscientist: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-graziano/why-is-mozart-a-religious_b_875352.html

If you want to know more about studying Religions and Theology at the University of Manchester, have a look at our department’s webpage: http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/religionstheology

 

Combining Cultures Through Music

Introduction

My name is José Guillermo Puello. I grew up in the Dominican Republic where I went to a French school. When I finished school I came to the UK to study music at university. I recently graduated with a PhD in Composition from the University of Manchester. My research focused on the integration of Dominican music and culture with European contemporary concert music. My thesis consisted of seven original pieces of music, including works for orchestra, for small chamber ensemble, duets and trios. I decided to pursue this area because I wanted my music to reflect my background. As the research progressed, I became interested in how the audience perceived the music and how I could integrate extra-musical elements into my music.

When I started my undergraduate degree, I never thought I was going to do a Master’s degree, let alone a PhD. It was towards the end of my second year that I started to integrate Dominican dance music (i.e. merengue) into my compositions. I continued to develop this throughout my third year and my Master’s. As a result, my style became clearer and my Masters supervisor suggested that I do the doctorate. These past four years doing the PhD provided the opportunity to better define what I want my music to be.

In depth

My doctoral research focused on integrating Dominican cultural elements into my music, building strong musical structures and developing my rhythmic language. To this effect, I researched the music of other Latin American composers, such as Astor Piazzolla, Amadeo Roldán, Tania León, Julio Alberto Hernandez, Alberto Ginastera and Leo Brouwer, to evaluate how they incorporated Latin American elements into their music. I also researched the music of other composers, such as Stravinsky, Birtwistle, Debussy, Bartók, Berio and Ligeti, to understand how other composers dealt with rhythm, folk music and the articulation of musical structures.

The act of composing is not just writing notes on the page but also of listening, studying and problem-solving. I don’t think I know of any composer that just sits down to write the music in their head. I always compare composing to an architect designing a building. It very often starts with a concept/idea that the composer/architect tries to realise using the techniques they have developed and borrowing/adapting the ideas and techniques of others.

During my PhD, my research into Dominican culture mainly influenced the concept of the piece that I was composing. For example, I wrote an orchestral piece based on a religious ritual and another based on a Dominican poem. As I read about the Dominican Republic and its history I realised that the fusion I was creating in my music could be compared to the melting pot of cultures that shaped Dominican history. The music, whilst taking inspiration in Dominican music, is closer in style to the music of European composers (i.e. contemporary classical music) than to merengue or salsa songs.

One of the most gratifying aspects of being a composer is writing for and collaborating with other talented musicians. I have been fortunate enough to have my music performed by a number of professional and amateur ensembles, including Manchester Camerata, Psappha, The Fourth Wall Ensemble and Quatuor Danel, in the UK, Europe, Canada, USA and the Dominican Republic. Furthermore, each new piece brings its own challenges, which provides the opportunity to keep learning and to keep imagining new musical possibilities.

Going further

If you would like to know more about the University of Manchester Music Department and the very active Manchester University Music Society, you can visit the following websites:

- http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/music/

-  http://www.mumusicsociety.co.uk

You can visit my website: www.joseguillermopuello.com or listen to my music on soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/jgpuello  

Below are some links to pieces that I have listened to and studied as part of my PhD.

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

The video has a five-minute introduction. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rq1q6u3mLSM

Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTPec8z5vdY

Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, French Horn and Piano

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQTNEx4P3qU

Juan Luis Guerra Todo tiene su hora (merengue song)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4s_5gfCNhY

Berio’s Sequenza III (for voice)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGovCafPQAE

Birtwistle’s Ritual Fragment

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAIKZiXPDRA

Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3f4qdJHatNM

Debussy’s La mer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlR9rDJMEiQ

Varèse’s Ionisation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wClwaBuFOJA

Brouwer’s El decameron negro

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbcW8X73MBI

 

Investigating Latin American Culture in Manchester

Introduction

My name is Nicola and I’m in the third year of a PhD in Latin American Cultural Studies. I did A-levels in Spanish, English Literature and History and went on to study Spanish at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, spending my year abroad in the north of Chile. After returning to Chile for another year to teach English, and then doing a Masters in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester, I began my PhD which looks at how members of the British public engage with Latin American culture in the city of Manchester.


In Depth

The first thing to point out about studying Spanish (or any language) at university level is that it’s not just about the language! While your language skills are obviously important and will be developed, you will also spend lots of time studying foreign cultures and how other people around the world live and express themselves. This can involve studying literature, film, music, art, history, religion and indigenous cultures. And, in the case of Spanish, you don’t just study Spain, but also Latin America!

After doing my undergraduate degree and Masters, and living in Chile, I found myself particularly interested in how Latin America is perceived in Britain. Latin American culture, such as salsa classes, music, food and films have become popular in this country over the past couple of decades, yet Latin Americans are a relatively small immigrant population in the UK and not many people travel there, although both have started to increase in recent years. My research therefore investigates how Latin American culture is produced in the city of Manchester and how members of the public consume it.

My research focuses in particular on the annual ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival at the Cornerhouse cinema. I analyse how the film festival is produced, the reasons why they choose some films over others, why they choose particular images to publicise the festival. By interviewing members of the audience, I can find out whether these choices influence the way members of the audience envisage Latin America, or if there are other factors to be considered, such as how the media portrays Latin America. My research also investigates what attracts British people to Latin American culture, especially whether it stems from a cosmopolitan concern to understand others around the world, something particular to Latin American culture and/or disenchantment with contemporary British culture and society.


Going Further

See what you think of the ¡Viva! film festival at their website: http://www.cornerhouse.org/viva2014?no-redir

For information on studying Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Manchester: http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/splas

For more information on Latin Americans in the UK, you might like to read this report on the Latin American community in London: http://www.geog.qmul.ac.uk/docs/research/latinamerican/48637.pdf