Music in Contemporary Cultures

Our work engages directly with musical life today, via composition and critical understanding. Our composers work in diverse media, from symphony orchestra to sound art; our scholars employ methodological approaches ranging from philosophy, through ethnography and gender studies, to psychology and neuroscience.

We are the home of BEAST (Birmingham Electro-Acoustic Sound Theatre), an internationally recognised system for sound diffusion in concert, which hosts regular festivals and other events devoted to electronic music and sound art. CrossCurrents is our biennial festival of new music. Complementing and also interacting with our composition and performance strands, we carry out research in traditional as well as electronic musics, with a special emphasis on dance music, which is studied from both empirical and theoretical perspectives.

Our people

  • Alexander Cannon examines musical creativity and migration in southern Vietnamese traditional music.
  • Christopher Haworth specialises in contemporary and historical electronic musics, which he researches using a mixture of historiographic, philosophical, and ethnographic methods—the latter including digital methods.
  • Luis-Manuel Garcia conducts ethnographic research in urban electronic dance music scenes, with a particular focus on affect, intimacy, stranger-sociability, dance, embodiment, sexuality, creative industries, and musical migration.
  • Michael Zev Gordon is a composer, principally of instrumental and vocal music, who has written for a wide variety of forces and genres, with a particular interest in exploring the relationship between the present and the past through composition.
  • Ryan Latimer is a composer, primarily of orchestral, choral and chamber music, who also collaborates regularly with practitioners from other disciplines, particularly dance and theatre.
  • Annie Mahtani is a composer of electroacoustic music specialising in acousmatic composition, environmental sound, multichannel composition and spatialisation.
  • Scott Wilson is a composer whose work spans both instrumental and electroacoustic means, with interests in large scale multichannel music, live coding, network music systems, and sonification.
  • Maria Witek’s research addresses the psychology, cognitive neuroscience and phenomenology of musical rhythm, body-movement and affect, using methods such as brain imaging, motion-capture and music analysis.

Key publications

  • Alexander M. Cannon, ‘Awakening the Soul with the Left Hand: Forming Vietnamese Diaspora through Traditional Music’, Ethnomusicology (forthcoming). 
  • Christopher Haworth (with Georgina Born), ‘From Microsound to Vaporwave: Internet-Mediated Musics, Online Methods, and Genre’ Music and Letters, 98/4 (2017), pp.601–47. 
  • Luis-Manuel Garcia, ‘Beats, Flesh, and Grain: Sonic Tactility and Affect in Electronic Dance Music’, Sound Studies, 1/1 (2016), pp. 59–76.
  • Michael Zev Gordon, Violin Concerto (2017): commissioned by BBC Radio 3, first performed by Carolin Widmann and BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo, at the Barbican, London, February 2017, published by Chester Music.
  • Ryan Latimer, Frigates and Folly for chorus and orchestra (2018): commissioned by the Crouch End Festival Chorus, first performed by the Crouch End Festival Chorus and BBC Concert Orchestra at the Barbican, London, October 2018, published by Composers Edition.
  • Annie Mahtani, 10 Soldiers, music for the production by the Rosie Day Dance Company (2019): commissioned by Birmingham Hippodrome, first performed at Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 May 2019. 
  • Scott Wilson, Dark Matter, for large orchestra, electronics and video (2018), first performed by the Esprit Orchestra, conducted by Alex Pauk, Koener Hall, Toronto, 15 April 2018.
  • M. A. G. Witek, ‘Filling In: Syncopation, Pleasure and Distributed Embodiment in Groove’, Music Analysis, 36/1, (2017), pp. 138–60.

Our researchers talk about their work:

The psychology of rhythm and the pleasure of groove - Maria Witek

Ethnomusicology and Southern Vietnam - Alexander Cannon

Electroacoustic music - Annie Mahtani