Global Opportunities

MUS2006 : Composing for Spaces and Places

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


To investigate the creative possibilities of making music for specific places, informed by critical reading, investigations of works made for particular places, and practical experiment. Musicians of all types will be encouraged to investigate ways in which the places music is performed in affects the music itself. Although there will be guided projects in which we experiment with music-making in different places and spaces, students will also be encouraged to investigate ways that space and place affect and inform non-experimental musics, too - the role of the architecture of St. Mark's in Venice on early Baroque music, for example, or music composed or devised to be played outdoors in the woods. One strand of the module addresses “environmental” issues in the broader sense, while the other examines, through theory and practice, ways in which music (and sound art) may be "site-specific"; in other words, how some musics are made for certain spaces, whereas other do not really "fit". Readings are introduced and discussed which outline key issues, including the relationship of humans to their environment, the Nature-Culture divide in its historical and philosophical context, specific historical ways in which musicians (and contemporary) sound artists have engaged with environment, and a critique of such projects in the light of contemporary environmental knowledge.

By the end of the module, students should have begun to develop their own environmental sound practice, which may take the form of live performance (note, the module is suitable for students whose primary interest is not necessarily “contemporary” music or sound art, and that projects which engage with “early” or “folk” musics would also be considered), installation, fixed-media work, or sonic sculpture. This will take the form of a portfolio in which at least one “major” project will be included, along with two “subsidiary” projects. Students will be in part evaluated on their ability to find appropriate and fitting forms of art work for the environmental spaces in which they work. Regardless of the preferred musical style or historical period for their main project, students should be able to demonstrate an understanding of the cultural and political grounds relevant to the understanding of the role of place, space, and environment in musical culture. Students will develop a knowledge and appreciation of some key artists working in this area, across a range of musical and artistic styles. Students should be able to demonstrate, by the end of the module, a good working knowledge of ways that sound, music, and space/place interact, and have an understanding of how this reflects certain ethical issues pertinent to music as a social practice, and the related ways that sound participates in our construction of and understanding of the environment in which we live.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module introduces students to ways in which the environments that music happens in can be part of the music, and how music can be something that established space. Concert performances of various types are some of the ways in which we experience live music, but are there kinds of musical practice specifically suited to a remote woodland, for example, or to our own sitting rooms at home? The module begins with an exploration of what the term "environment" can mean for a musician, and how these different meanings affect the kinds of musical and sonic art that specific environments afford. There will be a critical look at the various historic forms of music and sound production, both in public places and in “private” space. The history of “concert listening” will be looked into, as well as historical and contemporary alternatives. Practical workshops on sound and space will reinforce student learning, and lead on to students devising their own environment or place-specific musical and sound art works. Though there is an emphasis in many of the teaching sessions on “contemporary” artistic practice, students should note that this is not intended as a limit on the musical styles that can be included, and that their projects could include performances of “early” or “folk” musics that engage with the place and spatial/cultural aspects of the music (Gabrieli’s multiple ensemble works for St Mark’s, for example, or domestic music making of the 17th Century, or the spatial soundscape of a pub session, etc.). Students will submit a portfolio of practical work worth 70% of the module mark, an oral presentation & blog worth 20% of the module mark, and a performance of their major compositional work from the portfolio worth 10% of the module mark.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture83:0024:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading123:0036:00Reading/listening set each week – average time expected to be spent on this c. 3 hours
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops43:0012:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study136:0036:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study192:0092:00To include development of personal creative work, research, and reflection.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures introduce topics, including historical, ethical, political, and artistic perspectives on the subject.

Workshops provide guided practical engagement, with immediate feedback on student ideas and experiences.

Directed Research and Reading asks students to read, listen, and critically reflect on materials that extend the reach of what is possible in lecture or workshop situations, deepening their knowledge and appreciation.

Student-led group activity encourages greater independence of thinking, ability to negotiate with others, and the consolidation of thought and practice, as well as further extending skills introduced in workshops.

Independent study requires students to carry out their own research into developing their own artistic projects, to carry out artistic experiments (which may be in the form of collaborations as well as “solo” work) in the furtherance of their creativity and understanding, and to produce materials suitable for inclusion in their portfolios.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Oral Presentation102M1510 min. oral presentation on conceptual underpinning & practical methods.
Performance62A15Performance of major composition assessed subject to the submission and fulfilment of a contract between composer and performer(s)
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Portfolio2A70A collection of projects and documentation. One should be the “major” component and is worth 60% of the total portfolio mark.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The portfolio brings together projects and exercises which students have engaged in, but also should include a single “major” project, which carries 60% of the portfolio mark. This is an opportunity for students, having experimented with smaller projects, to focus on realising something more ambitious in which their own creativity and insight is demonstrated (lectures, workshops, student-led-projects, independent study). It will also include documentation on the compositional process (including an online blog).

The oral presentation gives the student an opportunity to contextualise their work into the broader cultural context within which they are working, and to relate their work to materials covered in lectures, seminars, and independent reading.

The performance of the major composition from the portfolio is intended to assess the suitability of the piece for performance/presentation within the chosen site.

Reading Lists