Southampton composers at the Ludomusicology 2017 Conference

Postgraduate  Music student Ben Jameson tells about a recent conference attended by Southampton composers.

The Ludomusicology Research Group is an organisation comprised of academics from various universities, dedicated to the study of game music. Founded in 2011, their 6th annual conference took place this April at Bath Spa University, and had a specific focus on the theme of ‘performance’. The University of Southampton music department was particularly strongly represented at this year’s event, which featured various contributions from our staff and postgraduate composers, including research papers, performances and a round table discussion.

The conference actually began with a contribution from a Southampton student, as PhD composer Blake Troise gave a fascinating paper on ‘the compositional idiolect of 1-bit music’. I found Blake to be an engaging speaker, who was able to explain the complexities of composing for low memory computer systems in a manner that was detailed, yet comprehensible to those of us who are less technically minded. The remainder of the first day saw further papers on topics ranging from the nature of diegesis in online gaming voice chat to the role of sound in virtual reality gaming environments (the latter given by Southampton film lecturer Dr Beth Carroll). I also made my own first contribution to the conference by presenting a paper on my piece Construction in Metal (for electric guitar and Guitar Hero controller), in which I discussed how I used video game hardware to investigate notions of authenticity in musical performance.

Blake Troise (aka ‘PROTODOME’) demonstrates how one-bit waveforms can be manipulated to simulate harmony and polyphony.
Blake Troise (aka ‘PROTODOME’) demonstrates how one-bit waveforms can be manipulated to simulate harmony and polyphony.

The second day of the conference saw the most substantial contributions from Southampton academics. Session 5 of the conference began with a roundtable (hosted by Bath Spa’s Professor James Saunders) in which Dr Benjamin Oliver, Blake and pianist Yshani Perinpanayagam informed us about their current ‘Piano Play: Power Up’ project. For this project Ben and Blake have each composed new pieces for piano and bespoke 1-bit synthesisers designed by Blake, which Yshani will play in several concerts over the coming weeks (don’t miss the Southampton performance in the 1pm lunchtime concert at the Turner Sims on the 8th May!). We were lucky enough to hear excellent performances of Ben’s Mr Turquoise Synth and Blake’s Roses are #FF0000, and to get an insight into the artistic and technical challenges of composing for this hardware.

The evening of the second day provided a further opportunity to hear work by Southampton composers, in a concert of game related pieces curated by Prof Saunders in coordination with Southampton PhD student Alex Glyde-Bates. This was Blake’s third and final contribution to the conference, as he presented FAMIFOOD, a compilation of chiptune pieces composed under his ‘PROTODOME’ alias. Several other Southampton composers were also involved, under the auspices of the new music collective ‘OUT-TAKE Ensemble’. Harry Matthews (Masters), Joe Manghan (PhD), Máté Szigeti (recent PhD graduate) and myself presented the world premiere of Harry’s please find a partner, a piece for three melodicas and electric guitar which incorporates competitive gameplay into its musical structure. I also played my Construction in Metal with Máté, who did a fantastic job of learning the very tricky Guitar Hero controller part. Bath Spa’s ‘Material’ Ensemble performed two fascinating pieces-Louis D’Heudieres’ Vox Pop and Oogoo Maia’s Synchrony (ably assisted by Joe and Harry for the latter)-before Southampton and Bath joined together for a performance of James Saunders’ all voices are heard, in which the performers attempt to achieve consensus by gradually modifying a musical statement until everyone is performing the same material. The concert also featured a performance of Prof Ricardo Climent’s (University of Manchester) s.laag, a piece composed using video game technology to present a virtual musical environment featuring bizarre bass clarinet sounds, unusual challenges and wacky humour.

Joe and Harry rehearse Oogoo Maia’s Synchrony with Oogoo, Cam Johnson and Louis D’Heudieres.

By the final day of the conference we had all finished contributing as presenters and performers, and were able to sit back and enjoy the remaining papers. These included Roger Moseley’s keynote, in which he gave an insight into the thought processes behind his recent book Keys to Play, and a paper by Richard Stephens and Nikos Stavropoulos on their use of game engines in acousmatic composition. These last papers rounded off a stimulating three days of discussion and music making, and I’d like to thank and congratulate the Ludomusicology Research Group for organising such a successful event. Congratulations are also due for their recently secured book deal with Intellect publishing, which will see the release of several monographs and edited collections on various aspects of game music. We’re also grateful to James Saunders for organising the concert, and to Prof James Newman and the technical staff at Bath Spa University for hosting and assisting us.