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  Modular Synthesis Musicking: Embodiment, Experimentalism and Ecologies of Technologies; Immersive Interfaces and Improvisation-Composition

   Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

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  Dr Brian Bridges, Dr Rob Casey, Dr Brian Irvine  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Hardware modular synthesis (and sound processing) is an old technique which is enjoying a new resurgence, through developments including software and digital modelling of analogue circuits, patching-based graphical programming environments (including, but not limited to Max/MSP and Pure Data), but also, more recently, through the cohering of designers, DIY enthusiasts, and new generations of musicians around shared standards such as Eurorack. The resulting modular re-definition of music-making and the productive fragmentation of performance interfaces and instruments’ sonic architecture has helped to democratise both musical and technical processe. Experimental music practices including aleatoric/open-form structures and generative models, alternate tuning systems, and microsound are increasingly explicitly considered within, or accessible as a by-product of, new designs. Furthermore, the physicality and spatiality of modular synthesis interfaces has recast the act of electronic music-making as embodied, and, potentially, embedded, and enactive and extended (connecting with the models of 4E embodied cognition), also connecting with themes of immersivity and multimodality, and accessibility, within interaction design (e.g. NIME, CHI conferences), as well as the embodied turn the humanities and ubiquitous music. Further areas of potential influence include the development of music/audio technologies across a range of platforms and in a range of social and creative contexts, including networked audio devices and networked-based/telematic performances, interactive audio installations, and machine learning in audio interaction and creative practice, as well as the use of modular technologies in ensemble contexts.

Music at Ulster is a vibrant community of practitioner-researchers, with interests in key areas of contemporary practice including composition, music technology, participatory/applied music, and improvisation and performance and soundtrack research. We are one of the leading centres for composition on the island of Ireland, with five composers on staff, including two professors, performance specialists (both music and drama), and colleagues in film and screen and heritage/museum studies. We have supervised 20 PhDs to successful completion since 2009, and staff have presented work at leading venues across the UK, Ireland, Europe and the US, and our Inclusive Creativity project (Impact Case Study) was placed joint first in the 2021 UK Research Excellence Framework (Music, Drama, Performing Arts, Film and Screen).

NB: As this is an area involving practice-based/practice-led research, applicants are judged on the basis of exemplar materials and experience (examined through their application materials and, if shortlisted, interview). Please note that applicants are requested to provide links to documentation of their previous creative output via links in their project proposals or CVs.

We are based in Derry/Londonderry at Magee campus, and benefits from a range of partnerships across Northern Ireland, the wider UK, and the island of Ireland as a whole, as well as a rich multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary context working alongside drama, performing arts, film and screen and heritage/museum studies. This project connects with existing departmental activities and partnerships including the Derry Sound Factory series (experimental and improvised music) and Oscillations and Modulations (a festival of electronic music tools and techniques), and we have previously hosted the Irish Sound Science and Technology Association international conference on two occasions.

Creative Arts & Design (9)


Bates, E., 2021. The interface and instrumentality of Eurorack modular synthesis. In Rethinking Music through Science and Technology Studies (pp. 170-188). Routledge.
Cadoz, C. and Wanderley, M.M., 2000. Gesture-music. Trends in gestural control of music.
Casey, R., 2015. Developing a phenomenological approach to music notation. Organised Sound, 20(2), pp.160-170.
Cox, A., 2001. The mimetic hypothesis and embodied musical meaning. Musicae scientiae, 5(2), pp.195-212.
Dourish, P., 2004. Where the action is: the foundations of embodied interaction. MIT press.
Godøy, R.I., 2006. Gestural-Sonorous Objects: embodied extensions of Schaeffer's conceptual apparatus. Organised sound, 11(2), pp.149-157.
Godøy, R.I. and Leman, M. eds., 2010. Musical gestures: Sound, movement, and meaning. Routledge.
Hunt, A. and Kirk, R., 2000. Mapping strategies for musical performance. Trends in gestural control of music, 21(2000), pp.231-258.
Jensenius, A.R. and Lyons, M.J. eds., 2017. A NIME reader: Fifteen years of New Interfaces for Nusical Expression (Vol. 3). Springer.
Jordà, S., Geiger, G., Alonso, M. and Kaltenbrunner, M., 2007, February. The reacTable: exploring the synergy between live music performance and tabletop tangible interfaces. In Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Tangible and Embedded interaction (pp. 139-146).
Keller, D., Schiavoni, F. and Lazzarini, V., 2019. Ubiquitous music: Perspectives and challenges. Journal of New Music Research, 48(4), pp.309-315.
McGrenere, J. and Ho, W., 2000, May. Affordances: Clarifying and evolving a concept. In Graphics interface (Vol. 2000, pp. 179-186).
Lazzarini, V., Keller, D., Otero, N. and Turchet, L. eds., 2020. Ubiquitous Music Ecologies. London: Routledge.
Keeffe, L.O. and Nogueira, I. eds., 2022. The Body in Sound, Music and Performance: Studies in Audio and Sonic Arts. Routledge.
Puckette, M., 2002. Max at seventeen. Computer Music Journal, 26(4), pp.31-43.
Roddy, S. and Bridges, B., 2018. Sound, ecological affordances and embodied mappings in auditory display. In New Directions in Third Wave Human-Computer Interaction: Volume 2-Methodologies (pp. 231-258). Springer, Cham.
Roddy, S. and Bridges, B., 2021. Meaning-making and Embodied Cognition in Sound Design Research. In Doing Research in Sound Design (pp. 21-36). Focal Press.
Rogers, T., 2010. Pink Noises. In Pink Noises. Duke University Press.
Small, C., 1998. Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Wesleyan University Press.
Smith, L., Lyons, F., Bridges, B. and Casey, R., 2022, June. WithFeelVR: the Spatial and Textural Affordances of VR as a Mapping Strategy for an Accessible Digital Musical Instrument. In Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference.
Shapiro, L., 2010. Embodied Cognition. Routledge.
Simurra, I., Messina, M., Aliel, L. and Keller, D., 2022. Radical creative semantic anchoring: creative-action metaphors and timbral interaction. Organised Sound, pp.1-14.
Vail, M., 2014. The synthesizer: a comprehensive guide to understanding, programming, playing, and recording the ultimate electronic music instrument. Oxford University Press.
Varela, F., Thompson, E. and Rosch, E., 1991. The embodied mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Wakefield, G., Palumbo, M. and Zonta, A., 2020, July. Affordances and Constraints of Modular Synthesis in Virtual Reality. In Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (pp. 547-550).

 About the Project