RNCM PRiSM | February News 2024

15 February 2024

Recent & Upcoming Events, Nominations, Performances

ICE Ensemble and PRiSM | New York | 16 May 2024

RNCM PRiSM will join forces with the renowned International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in presenting six brand new works in New York in May 2024.

Curated by Professor Emily Howard (RNCM Professor of Composition and Director PRiSM), the programme features new works for ICE by Sam Salem (PRiSM Senior Lecturer in Composition), Robert Laidlow (Jesus College, Oxford and PRiSM Associate), Zakiya Leeming (PRiSM Artist and Producer in Residence), Bofan Ma (PRiSM Post-doctoral Research Associate), Megan Steinberg (PRiSM Lucy Hale Doctoral Researcher in association with Drake Music), and Howard herself.

The works utilise PRiSM’s wide range of experimental tools for generating music via artificial intelligence techniques, as well as new machine listening software for real-time musical gesture recognition and classification, developed by PRiSM researchers Dr Hongshuo Fan (PRiSM Research Software Engineer) and Professor David De Roure, University of Oxford computer scientist, mathematician, musician, and PRiSM’s Technical Director.

Professor Emily Howard elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Arts

Professor Emily Howard has recently been elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Arts.

The honour celebrates “eminent individuals from beyond the art world”, and it was announced following a recent General Assembly meeting at the Royal Academy (read the RA Press Release here).

The honour is in recognition of Howard’s distinctive, varied and wide-reaching music, which is “notable for its granular use of instrumental colour, powerful use of text and inventive connections with shapes and processes”. It is also to praise Howard’s work as Professor of Composition at the RNCM and as the founding director of RNCM PRiSM.

“Receiving the distinction of Honorary Fellow from the Royal Academy of Arts is a tremendous honour. This esteemed institution’s commitment to artist-led excellence in creativity resonates deeply with my own pursuit of pushing artistic boundaries and forging new connections. I am very grateful for this recognition and look forward to contributing to the rich legacy of creativity and innovation upheld by the Royal Academy.” — Professor Emily Howard

Simon Knighton and Robert Laidlow | RMA Tippett Composition Medal

PRiSM doctoral researcher Simon Knighton recently won the Royal Music Association’s prestigious Tippett Composition Medal for his piece ‘Sound Sculpture No.5‘. The piece was commissioned as part of Knighton’s Artistic Residency with nonclassical, emerging out of a PRiSM collaboration between Knighton and Professor Lasse Rempe (University of Liverpool) exploring dynamical systems and natural environments.

“I’m over the moon to receive this award and would like to thank everyone at the Royal Music Association for this great privilege. The piece was the result of a highly collaborative process with the performers, and I would like to acknowledge the wonderful openness and creativity of Gemma Bass, Amy Gray, Peggy Nolan and Carl Raven, without whom the piece wouldn’t have existed!” — Simon Knighton

Also Highly Commended for the Award was Silicon: Soul by Robert Laidlow, which was composed for PRiSM Future Music #4 during Laidlow’s doctoral research at PRiSM in association with BBC Philharmonic. The Jury praised the work for embodying “the spirit of compositional innovation by drawing upon AI generated materials” and with “exquisite orchestral textures that appear suspended in time, with excellent control of harmonic transformation”.

Emily Howard (2023): DEVIANCE | Music Video Released

Emily Howard’s recent work DEVIANCE (2023) for piano and multimedia – featuring sound design by Bofan Ma and video design by Erik Natanael Gustafsson – is now available to watch on YouTube. The work was commissioned by Zubin Kanga as part of Cyborg Soloists and featured on Kanga’s portrait album Cyborg Pianist on NMC Recordings, with the support of a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship and Royal Holloway, University of London.

Recently featured on BBC Radio 3 New Music Show, DEVIANCE fuses a number of meaningful artistic stimuli – geometry and the torus; neuroscience; artificial intelligence (AI); and multidisciplinary collaboration. It responds to an experiment about how the brain perceives surprise in music, and through collaborating with PD Dr Christiane Neuhaus (Universität Hamburg) using brain-scanning equipment developed by ANT Neuro.

Drawing upon raw EEG & ERP data associated with the brain waves of volunteers listening to Howard’s orchestral work Torus (2016), the material for the live piano part for DEVIANCE is merged with two intermittent deviant trajectories:

Visuals for Deviance designed by Erik Nataneal Gustafsson.

“Metaphor and mathematics meet raw brain data in the visuals for DEVIANCE. Simulated physical forces of EEG electrode readings and toroidal acceleration move millions of particles into organic neural shapes. Pathways emerge through data-warped space.” — Erik Natanael Gustafsson

“The sound design for DEVIANCE places centre stage a multi-layered sonic dialogue, juxtaposition, and – at times – competition between the brain and AI algorithms, constantly deriving and deviating from Howard’s meditative piano texture and Gustafsson’s data warped space.” — Bofan Ma

DEVIANCE’s intricate weave encapsulates a contemplation of deviance in its broadest context, from measuring divergence from norms within science to reverberations across societal hierarchies.

Megan Steinberg Curates: RNCM Disability Week 2024 (31 January - 2 February)

This year’s RNCM Disability Week, in memory of Lucy Hale and curated by Megan Steinberg, took place 31 January – 2 February. Visitors commented on the buzz in the building and the importance of programming disability-oriented events. The Neurodiversity Project umbrella installation in the cafe and Drake Music instrument demos on the concourse welcomed students, staff and visitors into a week celebrating diversity and representation.

Artists featured included, Amble Skuse, Kris Halpin, Steve Varden, Clarence Adoo, Morwenna Louttit-Vermaat, Maria Sappho, Billy Payne and RNCM students Maia Payne, Gema Lu Cai, Elio Gaviria and Will Sharland. Audiences and artists came from across the UK to take part in Disability Week, learn about new music and technologies through the lens of neurodiversity, disability and d/Deafness.

It also was a wonderful opportunity for artists, researchers, makers and advocates to meet each other and talk about the future of new music and disability.

Recent PRiSM Blogs

CoMA Manchester: 'Streaming Blue' Continued | By Ellen Sargen, Bofan Ma, and RNCM Composers

A dynamic part of the international Contemporary Music for All (CoMA) network, CoMA Manchester is a community-based new music group of all-ability instrumentalists and sound-makers. Since 2020, the group has successfully led a series of concerts, exhibitions, and public outreach events entitled ‘Streaming Blue’, musically connecting with the diverse local spaces in and around Greater Manchester.

The group worked closely with RNCM student composers Helena Zyskowska, Tanguy Pocquet du Haut-Jusse, and Alex Chapman last year to develop three new pieces as a continuation of this series, which culminated in a world-premiere event at the Chorlton Arts Festival in May 2023.

In this PRiSM Blog, Ellen Sargen (Artistic Director of CoMA Manchester & PRiSM Doctoral Researcher) and Bofan Ma (PRiSM Post-doctoral Research Associate & Chair of CoMA Manchester), alongside the students involved, share their collective journey with CoMA musicians into Manchester’s green & blue spaces.

Datasounds: When Music Meets AI | By AHRC Datasounds, Datasets and Datasense Research Network

This PRiSM Blog introduces the international Datasounds, Datasets and Datasense Research network through their recently released Documentary Film Datasounds: When Music Meets AI.

About the Network

Funded by the AHRC, the network aims to identify core questions that will drive forward the next phase in data-rich music research, focused in particular on creative music making. The increased availability of digital music data combined with new data science techniques are already opening new possibilities for making, studying and engaging with music. By bringing together researchers and practitioners from different disciplines and with a wide range of expertise, the network is enabling a better foundation for future research.

Performers, composers, and improvisers are contributing through embodied knowledge and practice-based methods; researchers in psychology bring insights about cognitive, affective and behavioural processes underpinning musical experience; and data scientists add analytical expertise as well as relevant theories, methods and techniques.

The network is led by Dr Oded Ben-Tal (Principal Investigator, Kingston University), and Dr Federico Reuben (Co-investigator, University of York), and features network partners Professor Emily Howard (RNCM PRiSM), Professor Robin Laney (Open University), Professor Nicola Dibben (University of Sheffield), Professor Elaine Chew (King’s College London), Professor Bob Sturm (Royal Institute of Technology, KTH).

Prototype Music | Saxophone & PRiSM Musical Gesture Recogniser (MGR) | By Robert Laidlow

Composer Eve Vickers rehearsing with saxophonist David Zucchi and Hongshuo Fan.

Prototype Music | Saxophone & PRiSM Musical Gesture Recogniser (MGR)

Earlier in 2023, PRiSM and the RNCM School of Composition presented two exciting and experimental new works for saxophone and electronics, joining forces with guest saxophonist David Zucchi to showcase new musical gesture recognition technology that PRiSM has been working on (featuring software development from PRiSM Research Software Engineer Dr Hongshuo Fan).

Led by Dr Robert Laidlow & Professor David De Roure, the project extrapolates from an earlier PRiSM collaboration with Professor George Lewis (Columbia University), exploring possibilities of the ‘machine’ listening to live musicians and thus determining when it will be playing specific musical ideas.

In this PRiSM blog, Laidlow reflects upon his experience leading on the project and working alongside two RNCM student composers, Songhao Yao and Eve Vickers, as well as how working with this emerging technology has opened up new avenues for future research and creative practices.