Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas

Studio brief

Music, Technology and Ideas invites you to consider music and associated arts – especially but not exclusively sound arts – in relation to the world of ideas and practices.

It encourages you to explore how and why we make music; how we conceive of it; how it might have originated; and how it relates to technologies, including instrument technologies, notations, and means of dissemination. We will consider how we perceive and receive music, and what its uses and effects are.

This studio aims to encompass a wide range of music- and sound-related disciplines and modes of work.  Although initially conceived with students of the BSc Music Technology and BSc Musical Instruments courses in mind, Music, Technology and Ideas (Studio 15) welcomes from all courses students who share any of these interests, and seeks ways of working in which the benefits of embracing a wide range of interests and backgrounds are explored and realised.

Several initial themes are proposed:

  • the creation and dissemination of music in the digital era
  • musical instrument design: form, acoustics and ergonomics
  • quantitative methods: capturing and analysing data
  • soundscapes of the air and mind
  • psychological aspects of sound and music
  • musical instrument histories: technical, social, cultural and political

After weeks 1 and 2, in which general and individual topics will be considered and discussed, we may cluster into groups according to themes and mode of work.  Shared or parallel activities, which may extend beyond week 7, may include: field recording trips, site visits, laboratory experimentation, archive visits, and training in particular research methods and techniques. 

Summer preparation:

Do three of the following:

  1. Voices and instruments: consider how voices (and vocal practices) and instruments (and instrumental practices) relate to one another in music.  Listen to some examples – the choice is yours, but be adventurous – and make some initial comparative notes for us to discuss.
  2. In the field: plan a short walk through varied sound environments, making brief notes of what you hear at several points.  On the return journey, make short (e.g. one-minute) recordings (it would be nice to have fancy equipment but it’s likely that your phone will do) at the same points (and others if you hear something interesting).  How do your initial observations and your recordings compare?
  3. Visualising and measuring sound: download a basic sonogram app, such as Spectral Pro Analyzer or Androspectro, to your phone; go for a walk though varied sound environments (keep an eye on the traffic as well as the spectrogram), or make a journey by bus, and observe keenly the varying intensities and densities of the sound spectrum displayed.  Try changing settings (e.g. frequency range, display colours) and see how the displays compare. 

Try the same exercise using a noise-level meter app, such as SPL Meter or Noise Level.

  1. Listen to this very short lecture: ‘The Arts and Humanities’, by Professor Georgina Born
  2. Sound and the visual: check Cornelius Cardew’s graphic score Treatise (Buffalo, NY: Gallery Upstairs, 1967); select two or three pages and perform them, preferably with friends. Then compare Treatise, performed by the Cardew Trio with Treatise, An Animated Analysis and Cornelius Cardew's Treatise - Realization (2001) by Shawn Feeney. What does the comparison tell you?
  3. Read Nicholas Cook, Music: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press,1998; revised edition 2000); or two of the recommended articles in the Reading List below.

First seven weeks of study

Week 1-7 

These will include both group sessions, in which we will consider aspects of our research field and appropriate methods of research, and a programme of exercises (in italics below) which will conduct you through planning and developing your own dissertation. Studio 15 will collaborate with Studio 3 in some sessions. This programme is indicative; it will be varied to suit the group.

  • Week 1: Introduction to the studio: our community and potentials; our programme of work.
    Voices and instruments: comparing their qualities; comparing the practices of music makers; introduction to analytical methods and tools.
    Preparation for proposing a dissertation topic.
  • Week 2: Sound in our environment: local sound-walk (Wapping to Spitalfields) followed by reflection and analysis.
    Library research and sources, including Zotero training with Library Staff.  Propose an initial dissertation topic.
  • Week 3: Music, invention, instruments and the visual: Leonardo da Vinci as musician and engineer; Leonardo’s Paragone.
    Developing a dissertation plan: studio 15 milestones and requirements.
  • Week 4: Experiments with instruments: Quantitative methods; capturing and analysing data.
    Amplifying your dissertation plan.
  • Week 5: Listening and hearing: Psychological aspects of sound and music.
    Submission of your dissertation plan (topic, rationale, methods, sources, initial time-plan).
  • Week 6: Presentation of your dissertation plan to the group.
  • Week 7: Refining your dissertation plan.

Lectures and seminars will be tailored to the interests of the group.
In week 14 there will be a dissertation conference in conjunction with Studio 3.

Reading list

  • Nicholas Cook, 'Music: A Very Short Introduction' (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998; revised edition 2000)
  • Richard Leppert, 'Seeing Music' in 'The Routledge Companion to Music and Visual Culture', ed. by Tim Shephard and Anne Leonard (New York and London: Routledge, 2014), pp. 7-12
  • Steven Feld, 'Acoustemology' in 'Keywords in sound', ed. by David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny (Durham [NC] and London: Duke University Press, 2015), pp. 12-21; and other chapters in the same book
  • Jean-Claude Risset and David L. Wessel, ‘Exploration of Timbre by Analysis and Synthesis’, in 'The Psychology of Music', ed. by Diana Deutsch, 2nd Edn. (Academic Press, 1999), pp. 113-169
  • Eric F. Clarke, 'Music, Space and Subjectivity' in 'Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience', ed. by Georgina Born (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 90-110
  • Alan Davison, 'Representing Music-Making' in 'The Routledge Companion to Music and Visual Culture', ed. by Tim Shephard and Anne Leonard (New York and London: Routledge, 2014), pp. 87-94
  • Tim Shephard, 'Leonardo and the Paragone' in 'The Routledge Companion to Music and Visual Culture', ed. by Tim Shephard and Anne Leonard (New York and London: Routledge, 2014), pp. 229-237
  • 'Printed Music: Music Printing as Art' in 'The Routledge Companion to Music and Visual Culture' (New York and London: Routledge, 2014), pp. 171-179
  • Sander van Maas (ed.), 'Thresholds of Listening: Sound, Technics, Space' (Harrogate: Combined Academic Publishers, 2015)
Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry


Tutor Lewis Jones

Dissertation Studios