Bath Open Score Lab

Postgraduate composition student Alex Glyde-Bates tells about a recent visit to the Open Score Lab at Bath Spa University

On the 1st February, myself, Ben Jameson and our supervisor, Dr Matthew Shlomowitz made our way to Bath Spa University. We had been kindly invited to talk about our work at a new research study group called Open Score Lab based at the University. The Open Score Lab, organised by Professor James Saunders is a monthly forum for composers and practitioners to talk about their work with a particular focus on new approaches to scoring, interdisciplinary performance practices and collaborative working methods. The purpose of the Lab is to develop new approaches to scoring, and consequently to develop new modes of music making.

We set off from Southampton early in the morning and made our way across the south west, enjoying the rural scenery. Arriving early for our talk, we took in some of Bath’s impressive Georgian architecture before getting a taxi to the University’s Newton Campus. Situated quite a way from the city centre, the Music Department is nestled on the side of one of Wiltshire’s many rolling hillsides. After taking in the campus’s pastoral vistas, the three of us found the room in which where we were due to be speaking. There we were greeted by James, who helped us get set up ready for our presentations.

Up first, I presented on one of the first pieces I wrote as part of my PhD as part of a collaboration with a group of Brussel’s based performers, my One and Four Canons. My talk covered how in the piece I had engaged with, and notated, interdisciplinary performance practices to de-familiarise the well-known Kanon in D by Johannes Pachelbel. My talk concluded with a discussion of a new piece I have just completed for Harpsichordist Jane Chapman, due to be premièred in a lunchtime concert at the Turner Sims on Friday 10th March. Fugue-State, which is the final work completed as part of my PhD Studies, marks a return to many of the issues I investigated in One and Four Canons.

Ben’s talk concerned his 2015 work for two performers, entitled Construction in Metal. Ben’s presentation — subtitled ‘Authenticity, Performance and ‘Virtual’ Guitars’ — discussed how his piece explores and questions the cultural connotations of the guitar and its virtual counterpart in the commercially successful computer game, Guitar Hero. The piece, for guitarist and performer playing a Guitar Hero game controller, takes highly stereotypical physical and musical gestures from Rock music and assembles them in ways that problematizes the conventions of authenticity and agency in both the game and the conventional performance practice of the instrument. Ben’s talk finished with a brief discussion of how the race and gender of the performers of Construction in Metal could affect the interpretation of the work given the highly charged cultural connotations of the electric guitar.

The day finished with Dr Shlomowitz’s presentation, entitled Listening Out, which explored musical referentiality in some of his recent work, as well as more widely. Beginning with a brief introduction to some of the more contemporary twists in the age-old discussion of musical representation and musical abstraction, Dr Shlomowitz’s paper outlined what he called ‘listening in’ — a concentration on the materiality of musical sound — and ‘listening out’ — a type of listening that focuses on musical material’s relationship to the wider world. He then went on to outline how is own work relates, and negotiates between, these two archetypal poles. Playing two movements from his recent Popular Contexts, Volume 8: Five Soundscapes for a Contemporary Percussionist, Dr Shlomowitz explained not only how he thinks of his own music, but how contemporary composers can more broadly think about and define issues of musical reference, indexicallity and materiality.

Each of our talks were followed by a period of question from the members of the Open Score Lab, these questions were extremely insightful and stimulating. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the group the questions and suggestions led us to composers, artists and dancers we hadn’t encountered before, giving us much food for thought going forward with our own work. We all greatly enjoyed our day, and found the discussions creatively stimulating as well as thoroughly thought-provoking. We would like to thank both Professor James Saunders and the Open Score Lab for the invitation, and are looking forward to returning to Bath Spa soon to perform as part of the Ludomusicology conference being hosted there in April.