We have a wide range of resources and facilities to support your learning and ensure you receive the maximum benefit from studying this programme.
You have access to outstanding facilities in the new £16 million Bramall Music building, including five electroacoustic studios (all of them multichannel; the largest 24 channel), an isolation room for recording, a dedicated control room which can record sound from around the building, and an 18 seat computer cluster. The Dome room is home to the 32 channel Mini-BEAST system, regularly used for listening sessions, rehearsals, and concerts. The Elgar Concert Hall – which has extremely flexible acoustics and technologically advanced AV systems designed by renowned acoustician and architect Nicolas Edwards (Symphony Hall Birmingham, Symphony Centre Dallas, Royal Shakespeare Theatre) – is arguably the best and most adaptable space of its kind in any University in the UK. Like the entire building it is wired for audio over Ethernet, and multi-projector video presentation.
The internationally recognised BEAST system (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre; arguably the best system of its type in the world) regularly presents student works in concerts with up to 100 loudspeakers in Birmingham and abroad (e.g. Berlin, Copenhagen, Basel). Our postgraduate laptop ensemble, the Birmingham Ensemble for Electroacoustic Research (BEER) provides opportunities to explore advanced aspects of live electroacoustic performance such as controller integration, network music, and live coding.
You also have the opportunity to write works for the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (our ‘Ensemble in Association’) the Department’s New Music Ensemble, and for other workshops with visiting performers (e.g. the Hermes Ensemble, Darragh Morgan, Carla Rees, and Joby Burgess in recent years). Excellent equipment (computers, microphones, recorders) and library resources, and the opportunity to interact with distinguished guest artists in our COMPASS Forum seminar series fill out a first class offering.
You will study two core modules:
Information Skills and Resources in Music
This module helps you to identify and access appropriate bibliographical resources, archives, and other sources of relevant information; describe in detail the process of bibliographical research and justify it; and execute a critical survey of the existing literature on a research topic.
Introduction to Music Research
This module introduces you to contemporary issues, methods, techniques and debates in music, in such areas as source studies (manuscript, printed, electronic), historical performance practice, reception history, and genre studies.
You will also choose three optional modules as follows:
Issues in Contemporary Music
For this module you are required to attend the Music Department's COMPASS Forum series of seminars. This includes presentations by invited speakers on a variety of topics related to issues within the field of contemporary music. You will be required to write reports/critical responses for three of these presentations, and to give a short conference length presentation on your own research or a related topic. Additional information will come from a prescribed reading list consisting of key and secondary texts in the field, which will serve to inform your written work and presentations.
Introduction to Programming for Electroacoustics for Postgraduate Students
This course will explore the use of computers for the realtime and non-realtime creation of music and/ or sound installations, within a lecture/workshop environment. This will make use of the free and open source DSP and music language SuperCollider. Topics may include sound synthesis, realtime processing, interaction, the development of graphical interfaces, etc. Knowledge of computer programming and advanced maths is not a prerequisite.
At least one of:
Advanced Studies in Electroacoustic Composition
This module builds on your previous experience at Birmingham or elsewhere. It aims to expand your thinking and musical horizons through theoretical and practical work. The module includes listening, reading, programming, performance training and the use of a large range of audio software and hardware. The module contains six areas of study: sound generating, editing, mixing and processing techniques; source sound recording techniques (studio and field); approaches to spatialisation; diffusion techniques and the MiniBEAST and BEAST sound systems; advanced topics in programming for electroacoustics and digital signal processing; software critique; and repertoire studies.
Advanced Studies in Instrumental/Vocal Composition
The module contains four main areas of study: musical form (micro and macro); advanced studies in notation; repertoire studies; and relevant strands of advanced music theory. Topics covered will include proper editing and preparation of materials at a professional level, recent stylistic developments in contemporary music (e.g. post-spectralism, post-minimalism), and computer assisted composition techniques.
Plus, if you only choose to study one of the above modules, one of:
Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art
This module consists of a critical examination of topics in aesthetics and the philosophy of art. It considers subjects such as: art and the nature of aesthetic experience; beauty, ugliness and the sublime; symbolism and allegory; the aesthetics of modernism. At its core is an overview of the German aesthetic tradition, involving a close reading of foundational texts by Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel and their contemporaries in the early 19th century. It will also consider work by a range of subsequent authors, such as, for example, Walter Benjamin, John Dewey, Ernst Bloch, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Theodor Adorno and Martin Heidegger. Attention will be paid not only to the conceptual arguments put forward by the thinkers in question, but also to the ways in which their theoretical tenets have underpinned the interpretation and criticism of works of art, music and literature.
Contemporary Music Studies
This module studies the explosion of musical expression that characterises 20th-century and contemporary music, focusing on key movements (serialism, minimalism, etc) and concerns (tonality/atonality, aleatoric principles, etc). Starting from the musical ‘crisis’ of the early years of the 20th century, the course will address issues such as the separation of ‘art’ and ‘popular’ music, the impact of technology and the presumption of postmodernism at the start of the 21st century. The marked shift in aesthetics and music’s ‘function’ will also be discussed.
Sound in Society
This module provides an introduction to the field of Sound Studies, including both the conceptual framework as well as practical techniques. We will begin with an overview of the field and its formation in 2004 through a consideration of the work of Trevor Pinch, Karin Bijsterveld and R Murray Schafer. Subsequent weeks will cover topics such as: soundscapes; sound and the animal world; noise and silence in philosophy; the engineering of sound; sound and radio art; and synaesthesia research in cognitive psychology.
This module explores the rapidly developing field of laptop ensemble performance. The class will function as an ensemble group, working to develop and prepare repertoire for public concerts. Topics covered will include: techniques for improvisation; networked music performance; live coding; and composition for live electroacoustic ensemble. Works presented in concert will include student and group developed pieces, as well as ‘classics’ from the field. Students should have at least a rudimentary background in a computer music programming environment such as SuperCollider or Max/MSP, but the projects pursued will be selected according to the ensemble’s makeup each year.
Special Study in Music
You will undertake a special study of a particular field of your choice under the direction of the leader of your pathway, which will typically require attendance at an appropriate series of lectures or tutorials as well as independent reading and research. Topics for study might include: vocalists in the Baroque era; topics in music analysis; or topics in critical musicology.