On Thursday 28th January 2016 my fellow MA student Michael Alloway and I attended the ‘Music, Composition and Interdisciplinarity: States of Play’ conference which was held at Oxford Brookes University. Hosted by Dr Tom Armstrong (University of Surrey) and Professor Paul Whitty (Oxford Brookes University), the event was both engaging and thought-provoking and will no doubt prepare us well to embark upon the Interdisciplinarity and Collaborative Process MA module of this term.
Following a welcome talk, the first panel session focused on leading and facilitating interdisciplinarity, and featured composer Peter Wiegold (Brunel University), Professor Rebecca Hoyle (University of Southampton) and Professor Paul Whitty. Ideas raised in this session included the tensions which may arise in interdisciplinary work and collaboration, the complex issues surrounding the rigidity of ‘the discipline’ as a concept, and whether in fact this rigidity is diminishing as interdisciplinary work becomes increasingly common. Dr Armstrong, the chair of the panel, suggested that interdisciplinarity is in fact a more natural approach to scholarly work than disciplinarity, resounding with initial anxieties expressed in the 19th Century by Friedrich Nietzsche, as the disciplines first began to take hold. Professor Hoyle, a mathematician whose current project focuses on striving to answer various research questions using interdisciplinary means, echoed this view. She claimed the lines which separate disciplines are unimportant, and to successfully answer a research question one must draw from whichever discipline is necessary.
Delegates were then invited to take part in a vocal theatre workshop led by composer Helen Chadwick. In a thoroughly enjoyable hour, we were taught snippets from some of Helen’s song theatre pieces and learnt about her work as director of the Helen Chadwick Song Theatre. After lunch, the second panel took to the floor which featured Susanna Eastburn (Chief Executive Sound and Music) and our own visiting lecturer, composer and artist Claudia Molitor. Similar ideas were expressed here which indicated the move towards interdisciplinarity as a normative process in the arts. Claudia noted how often an idea may naturally demand interdisciplinary processes without necessarily having set out as an interdisciplinary project, and pointed out that the distinctions between interdisciplinarity and collaboration must be considered. The keynote speech was given by Professor Cathy Lane (University of the Arts London, Director of CRISAP) who presented her recent work in sound art. Professor Lane’s research interests include how sound can relate to the past and memories, which is reflected in her work using the spoken word, while her practice has also been largely shaped by the women’s movement. Professor Lane was awarded her PhD in electroacoustic composition from City University.
The conference concluded with a plenary discussion, which both Michael and I agree to have provided much food for thought. We are grateful to Claudia for inviting us along and are excited to be part of the ‘interdisciplinarity’ network, though admittedly a highlight of the day was to discover that we are in fact not alone in our constant struggle to pronounce the key word.
Rachel Cunniffe, MA Music Student