About the project

Running from April 2015 to January 2016, this project, led by Dr. Simon Zagorski-Thomas with Dr. Amy Blier-Carruthers (Royal Academy of Music), Dr. Andrew Bourbon and Dr. Emilie Capulet, seeks to create new and exciting sonic worlds in the production of live and recorded performances of the classical repertoire.

This will involve working with classical performers on extended performance techniques for the recording studio and the concert hall, drawing on the multi-tracking and editing techniques of popular music to create innovative and experimental recordings of the classical repertoire and live surround sound projections of concert performances. This will also involve the creative and experimental use of analogue and digital signal processing to stage these constructed performances in ways that challenge the listener to reinterpret works from the established canon of classical music.

The world of instrumental classical music is comparatively conservative in comparison to other areas of the creative arts where historical works are presented in a contemporary context. The notion of creative contemporary interpretations of a historical text has been explored much less widely in this realm than, for example, in that of Shakespearian theatre. One exception has been historically informed performance, the attempt to recreate musical performances as they would have sounded in the time of the composer of the work in question. This has, of course, been paralleled in London's Globe Theatre's productions of Shakespeare in all its Elizabethan splendour but there have also been numerous productions in modern dress, in radically reinterpreted settings, including multi-media presentations and effects and even in contemporary language. And, at the same time, recorded classical music has stuck to the notion of presenting the work from the perspective of an audience member in a concert hall. Indeed much of the sales rhetoric of classical recordings is framed in terms of realism: just like being in the auditorium.

A recent example is that of 'dummy head' binaural recordings made in famous concert halls: experience the orchestral sound from 12th row centre at Vienna's Musikwerein. In the world of film and television, on the other hand, Shakespearian actors can be allowed to whisper and raise an eyebrow in close up or thunder across a battlefield in glorious Cinerama. Their performance techniques have adapted to the potential offered by editing, multiple takes, camera angles, CGI and special effects.

This project seeks to redress that imbalance by utilising the creative non-linear editing, alternate performance practices, spatial staging and digital signal processing that have developed within popular music, to create radical re-interpretations of music from the classical repertoire: from Bach to Debussy. They will be developed through discussion, negotiation and collaborative creative practice between performers, recordists and music theorists. The aim is to highlight particular perspectives and features of the pieces that have been identified as salient by music theorists and to develop performance, production and processing strategies that illuminate them in recordings and technologically mediated performances.

Practice as research

An additional dimension of the project is to utilise digital multi-media to both document and explain the creative processes involved and to put this output online as a proposed new template for practice-as-research publication.

The notion of a research question in creative arts practice is a thorny one that frequently only becomes evident in retrospect but it is also often a collaborative and negotiated process which can be subject to a variety of interpretations. Presenting this process through video of the discussion and workflow, the use of video-recall for post-hoc analysis and multi-perspectival commentaries by the collaborative participants, allows this complex nature to be reflected in a published output. The same is true for the demonstration of tacit knowledge and other unique features of practice-as-research that are ill-suited to traditional text based publication.

In addition to being an important contribution to research in classical music and record production, this practice-as-research digital online published output serves as an exemplar or a template for similar work in other areas of creative arts research. The last event in the project will therefore be a hybrid conference, part face to face and part online, in which academics from a range of practice-as-research backgrounds will come together to discuss the merits of this template and the contribution that it makes to the development of formal structures that would produce greater parity in funding applications and research 'excellence' assessments between practice-as-research outputs and traditional text based publications.