Research seminars are an important aspect of the research environment in music at Newcastle University. They showcase some of the most distinguished and cutting-edge thinking and practice in music. They bring renowned thinkers and practitioners to the University, and the seminars are also a platform for homegrown research dissemination. They are often linked to current research projects or research groups run by us or with which we are affiliated.

This year's seminars take place on Wednesday 4pm to 6pm in Armstrong Building 3.38


Week 1:  Wednesday 4 October 2017
Dr Jonathan Hicks, Newcastle University
‘Ubiquity Organised: on the Geographies of Victorian Mechanical Music’

Mechanisation touched many aspects of Victorian life, including the performance of music. Long before the advent of sound recording, or the contemporaneous introduction of perforated paper rolls for player pianos and the like, the simple pinned barrel was widely used in both public and private settings. In large cities like London, the most prominent instrument to use pinned barrels was the street organ, which was at the centre of a well-documented campaign to regulate the “nuisance” caused by organ grinders, particularly organ grinders who had migrated to English cities in search of work. The Street Music Act of 1864 saw the middle-class opposition to foreign invasion (mechanical, acoustic, and economic) enshrined in law. Yet, throughout the same period, the pinned barrel was also marketed to parish churches across the country – churches that sought to accommodate the growing demand for Sunday hymn-singing without relying on poorly-trained amateur organists or costly hired professionals. While the phenomenon of street nuisance has received widespread attention in cultural history, musicology, sound studies, and English literature, the advent of mechanically-assisted congregational singing has been less remarked outside of the sub-field of ecclesiastically-minded organology. My aim in this paper is to ask how we might bring both sorts of pinned performance together under a rubric of musical ubiquity. Rather than thinking of ubiquity in terms of listening “anywhere, anytime,” as the Gramophone Company slogan would later have it, the double life of the pinned barrel in Victorian London suggests that ubiquity can also be divisive – a means of organising musical life, both socially and spatially.

Week 3: Wednesday 18 October 2017

Dr Kerry McCarthy, Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor, Newcastle University
‘Tallis New and Old'

The earliest surviving source of Thomas Tallis’s music is a slim handwritten volume of motets for five voices. It is one of the precious few documents of Tallis’s life and work, which form not so much a paper trail as a rather pointillistic scattering of crumbs. This manuscript contains only one piece by Tallis, the monumental Salve intemerata, which must have been new or close to new when it was copied. The rest of the book is devoted to the music of an older generation, stretching back into the fifteenth century in some cases. Salve intemerata enjoyed a long afterlife: as the raw material for a later parody mass by Tallis himself, as a piece of ‘early music’ treasured by Elizabethan and Jacobean anthologists, and as a source of abstract exempla of three-part counterpoint. This study uses a single document—and a single piece of music in it—to explore nearly a century and a half of transformations in English musical repertory, genre, scoring, and style.

Week 5: Wednesday 1 November 2017

Dr Bennett Hogg, Newcastle University, with artist and printmaker Alex Charrington and with artist, curator and writer Prof. Mike Collier, Sunderland University

'Singing the World: A Dawn Chorus at Cheeseburn'

Imitating with the mouth the fluid voices of birds
came long before
men were able to sing together in melody and please the ear. 

Lucretius (94-55BC): De Rerum Natura

This presentation will explore some attempts to explore non-hierarchical interrelationships between the human and non-human world. In doing so, we will suggest that distinctions between culture and nature are considerably less stable than they have traditionally been seen to be, and that these instabilities are fruitful territory for artistic research. 

The raw material/experience standing at the genesis of the project was the dawn chorus at Cheeseburn Grange in Northumberland, the site for which the collaborative exhibition "Singing the World" was made. In this short talk and workshop, we will begin by explaining why, early on in our project, we decided that there was little point trying to imitate birdsong in the music - not only is this artistically uninteresting, but at Cheeseburn you are surrounded by the real thing.

 At the height of the recording of the dawn chorus, it is possible to hear what could be described as a bloom of sound; sixteen ‘songs’ that weave texturally in and out of each other; rhythms and melodies (and, we suggest that there are melodies) merging to form complex and rich sonic patterns.

We will then describe the process we engaged in over several days, refining digital visualisations of individual birdsongs and explain how the idea of using medieval musical notation (neumes) emerged. We will discuss how these notations were transcribed from neumatic into modern musical notation, so that contemporary singers would be able to turn the notes into sound; and why we then realised that the human voices somehow didn't "fit" the printed images we were simultaneously developing. 

 Like the musical notation, these prints were also twice removed from the original birdsong, the neumatic notations derived from the sonograms here being taken into a more abstracted visual language. The further refining and ‘stylisation’ of these images were then taken further into a set of individual screenprints. 

Finally, we will look at the re-composition of what was originally intended to be choral music into a complex and multi-layered piano piece (by co-incidence, the screenprints have seven layers to them, and there are seven pianos overlain in the music). We will explain why this extra distance from the original sound of the birds was just what was needed to connect to visual images.

 In conclusion, we will discuss how we plan to develop these ideas in print and sound – and then open up the floor to ask the question … ‘Is Birdsong Music’ … and what does an examination of this question tell us about ourselves and our relationship to the world. When, perhaps, is birdsong music?   

Week 8: Wednesday 22 November 2017

Sir James MacMillan, composer
'A composer’s personal reflections on the impact of religious, social and aesthetic influences on music'

lease note that this is part of the University’s Public Lecture series, and will be held at 5:30pm in the Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building.

This is a time when artists are told that, to be at the cutting edge of culture, they have to reject the burdens of tradition, especially religion. Music has offered a stubborn resistance to this command, and it is clear that many of the great composers of the last century were either profoundly religious men and women or reflected deeply on the wider possibilities of the sacred in their work. James MacMillan explores this phenomenon in a musico-historical context and subjective reflection.

Week 10: Wednesday 6 December 2017

Dr David McGuiness, University of Glasgow
'Bass culture in Scottish fiddle music from 1750'

Writers in pop songwriting teams can find themselves categorised either as topline (melody and lyrics) or as production (arrangement and grooves), with a smaller group of composers who successfully do both. In traditional music in Britain, it is generally only the topline which receives serious consideration from scholars, and which is considered to carry the ‘traditional’ content. Instead, this paper traces bass traditions in Scottish fiddle music through written and printed sources and into the recording era, and it observes the interaction of these traditions with those of the topline.

Dr David McGuinness divides his time between historical Scottish music and contemporary work. As director of early music ensemble Concerto Caledonia he has made thirteen albums, mostly of newly-rediscovered repertoire, and has been a music producer and composer for television and radio, most notably on several seasons of E4’s teen drama series Skins. In 2007 he produced John Purser’s 50-part history of Scotland’s music for BBC Radio Scotland, and co-ordinated the station’s observance of No Music Day with the artist Bill Drummond. From 2012 to 2015 he was principal investigator on the AHRC-funded project Bass Culture in Scottish Musical Traditions, and from 2018 he will be music editor of the Edinburgh Allan Ramsay edition, also funded by the AHRC. In Spring 2018, Drag City will release What News, an album of traditional ballads made in collaboration with singer Alasdair Roberts and electroacoustic composer Amble Skuse. David is a Senior Lecturer in music at the University of Glasgow.

Week 12: Wednesday 10 January 2018

Dr Daniel Grimley, Oxford University
'Delius in the Garden'

For further information about the seminars please contact Agustín Fernández or 0191 208 7636