Friday, November 04, 2011

The thoughts and experiences of Lauren Redhead

Lauren Redhead - the name is Viking and matches the mahogany shine in her hair - is a British composer and organist who, at this moment, is in the process of completing a PhD in musicology at Leeds University. She has developed quite a presence on the international conference scene and expresses her well-considered thoughts on her blog-type website.

Perhaps more than her compositions, of which I don't know enough at the moment to go into, really, it is her blog that I am fascinated by and which I want to share here. In her
post of 3.6.2011, Lauren deals with questions regarding compositional practice and research. The train of thought is eminently worth reading, especially as it is the only development of any thinking about compositional research that I have come across from the most relevant of practitioners: a composer. Lauren untangles often confused notions of relations between practice and research, offers links to interesting topics, as for instance an AHRC report on the status of writing in Practice-Led Research as well as on practice as a methodological part of research, or an article from the Guardian on why researchers might not want to become involved with people outside of institutions, and why this prerogative would turn their research into a hobby.

Other posts throw light on Lauren's compositional attitude and methods, a focus that can be read and enjoyed as explication of her (re)search. There is quite a bit on collaborative research, e.g.
her involvement in the adopt a composer program, or Green Angel, the “contemporary work of operatic Noh theatre” that she wrote with librettist Adam Strickson in 2009-2011. (See some vimeo bits here and here - there is a DVD of the full performance.)

Lauren Redhead, Green Angel, artistic research

Among the multitude of issues that Green Angel opened up to Lauren, and which she raises and tackles in her presentations and seminars (of which one is coming up on November 7 in Leeds), are:
  • dissemination of research to other researchers and the general public in conventional and unconventional ways (including practice-led means that may be currently more favored in the arts);  
  • how interdisciplinary dialogue generates new methods of communicating research with a focus on impact and on what researchers can offer each other from their own disciplines; 
  • expressing the research interests of both collaborative partners through practice, whilst also creating an artwork with an autonomous function outside of the research context of its creators; 
  • the possibility of integrating research interests of more than one party; 
  • how practice-led research allows for addressing types of knowledge that are different from traditionally written research; 
  • the effectiveness of practice-led research, and of collaboration as a way of facilitating this; 
  • considering practice not as an outcome of research but as the medium through which research is conducted, allowing for the consideration that practice itself (without a communicable research element) can be a separate outcome of practice-led research; 
  • the outcomes of the performance which are not related to the research.

Lots of food for thought, I'd say, especially for those who are struggling with compositional research. I see proposals from composers that wish to investigate the integration of technology into their work (to name just one typical example) meet with little questioning, perhaps because the research goals or the methods to measure the success with which they are to be met are easy to identify (with). On the other hand, I have witnessed members of assessment panels being puzzled over how to judge the research quality in terms of new knowledge, research method (vs. compositional method), etc. when it comes to someone who writes purely instrumental music in a traditional vein. As a composer and researcher who stands firmly with both feet in the field, Lauren Redhead can be inspiring to those who feel that they are swimming aimlessly in this area of concern.

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