Birmingham’s achievements in composition were specifically praised in the RAE 2008.
Since the founding of the Electroacoustic Music Studios in 1978 and the appointment of Jonty Harrison in 1980, electroacoustic composition and technology-focused work has assumed a growing importance in the profile of the Department. Harrison founded BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre) in 1982, since when it has performed in many parts of the UK and mainland Europe, most recently in the Inventionen Festival, Berlin in 2010. Composers associated with the Studios and BEAST have received prizes, performances, commissions and broadcasts, and several important works have been composed in the Studios, which are supported by a full-time Studio Manager. Over 25 former postgraduate students are now teaching in the university sector in the UK and abroad.
An award of a £500,000 via the Science Research Infrastructure Fund in 2003 enabled the refurbishment of the Studios and BEAST, which can now be configured with around 100 discrete channels. The appointment of Scott Wilson in 2004-05 led to the development of BEASTmulch, a new software control system for large loudspeaker systems, and a SuperCollider class library for large scale multichannel spatialisation; this was funded by a research grant from the AHRC, with Wilson as Principal Investigator and Harrison as Co-investigator. Dr Wilson’s arrival also led to an increasing interest in live and interactive composition and more engagement with programming, particularly involving the SuperCollider language. The Department hosted the first SuperCollider Symposium in 2006 (which has since become a regular international conference), and Dr. Wilson was lead editor of The SuperCollider Book, published by MIT Press, which also contains a chapter by one of our postgraduate students. A group of postgraduates, along with Professor Harrison, have developed BEASTtools, a suite of Max/MSP patches for multichannel processing. Spatialisation remains a primary research area for postgraduate composers and staff (Wilson and Harrison recently co-edited an issue of Organised Sound on the topic).
The Studio postgraduate community (likely to number some 25 students in 2011-12) is strong and mutually supportive, and benefits from an annual commission for an acousmatic work made possible with funds from an external donor via the University’s Circles of Influence campaign. In undergraduate programmes, too, composition (both acoustic and electroacoustic) is considered an important and consistent strand: it is taught from the first year and the annual COMPASS Prizes are awarded to the best pieces produced each year. The winning electroacoustic work is performed on the BEAST system, usually in The Series at the CBSO (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) Centre, alongside professional and postgraduate work.
The Department hopes to establish a new undergraduate programme in Music and Creative Music Technology from October 2012. This has been made possible largely through the exciting possibilities of the new Bramall Music Building which, as well as the flexible main auditorium and the Dome Rehearsal Room (in which we hope to install a semi-permanent 32-channel loudspeaker dome), will boast a large 24-channel composition studio, four further studios (two 8-channel, one stereo and a ‘dead’ room) and a 5.1 recording room, connected via a flexible digital infrastructure to various performance spaces with differing acoustics within the building (Auditorium, Dome Room, CEMPR rooms, ‘dead’ room and other electroacoustic studios).
The Department is now seeking to consolidate and complement our activities related to creative work using technological resources by appointing an early career researcher with skills in areas such as (but not limited to): sound analysis and synthesis; signal processing; audio spatialisation and spatial simulation; music computer informatics; experimental musical interface design; human-computer interaction for music; gestural control; tangible user interfaces; programming for audio, including experience with domain-specific computer music languages such as SuperCollider or Max/MSP; network audio; recording and production.