Music & Sound

Inspiring creative expertise across the musical genres. Influential networks of internationally respected alumni and academics. Wonderful opportunities in composition, musicology, performance and sound recording. Voted top Music and Sound Recording department in the National Student Survey.

What we're researching

Science Through Art

Personal experiences often inspire artistic endeavours, but they can also inform an academic’s choice of research topic.

For Dr Milton Mermikides (composer, musician and lecturer in the Department of Music and Sound Recording) the personal, the artistic and the academic came together in his BloodLines project.

For this, he took daily blood-test results generated during his own treatment for leukaemia and translated them via digital creative technology into an electronic composition that forms an extraordinary autobiological work, with each second of music representing a day of treatment.

BloodLines grew out of Milton’s Hidden Music: Sonic Translations of the Biological World project, and also formed the pilot for The Chimera Network: Science Through Art.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Science In Culture scheme, The Chimera Network allows Milton to support an international research network of scientists, writers, choreographers, musicians and artists. Collaboration across these disciplines helps science and art to understand each other better, and encourages each to help the other communicate in new ways to new audiences.

Popular music: How does it do what it does to us?

Popular music was once in a peculiar position. This, after all, is the music that most people listen to, and value, and even use to form part of their identity, but it had traditionally been ignored by music academics.

Luckily, people like Professor Allan Moore began to recognise its importance as an area for research.

After initially focusing on popular music via the usual theoretical and analytical methods, he realised there were important questions still unanswered: How do popular songs create a sense of meaningfulness? What potential for interpretation does popular music offer? Is there more than just a learned association between the different types of sounds used in popular music and the emotions we are accustomed to feeling when we hear them?

In asking questions like these (in, for example, his award-winning book Song Means), Professor Moore is contributing intriguing thinking and fundamental knowledge that bridges a gap between the 'what?' and the 'so what?' in the study of popular music.

Mahler's world

It may be more than 100 years since Gustav Mahler died, but his complicated music continues to polarise opinion like few other bodies of orchestral and vocal work. Where some hear only confusing self-indulgence, others feel a clear emotional connection. Leonard Bernstein adored his symphonies. Yehudi Menuhin did not.

Dr Jeremy Barham of the School of Arts is bringing context to this long-standing musical schism.

As one of the world's leading experts on Mahler, he is able to analyse the composer's work in light of the prevailing philosophies, literature, cultural trends and political turmoil that influenced it.

Whether you love or hate Mahler's music, thanks to Dr Barham's research you have a much better basis for understanding why.

Psychoacoustic engineering: Modelling our perception of sound

Computers can measure various technical aspects of sound with great accuracy, but insights into the way people perceive sound are altogether more challenging.

The Institute of Sound Recording are pioneers in the field of psychoacoustic engineering, which studies and exploits the connections between the physical properties of sounds and the qualities people perceive when they hear them.

Drawing on fields including physics, digital signal processing, biology, psychology, computer science and statistical analysis, our researchers are increasing understanding of the complex subjectivity involved in audio perception, with the simple aim of making what you listen to sound better.

Thanks to our track record of innovation and expertise in this area, organisations such as Bang & Olufsen and the BBC enthusiastically collaborate with us to improve their ability to deliver a listening experience that is as simple, flexible and pleasurable as possible.

The gesture-controlled digital orchestra

Imagine musicians that could travel anywhere, play perfectly without a break, and give people of all abilities the chance to make music with an orchestra?

Dr Shelley Katz from the Department of Music and Sound Recording imagined it. Then he worked with experts in computing, electronic engineering, acoustics and psychology (among others) to make it happen.

The result is the Symphonova, the world’s first gesture-controlled high-end digital orchestra. The Symphonova allows professional conductors, composers and musicians to train and play with a fully responsive symphony orchestra, a privilege previously available only to a select few. And enthusiastic amateurs can join in too, simply by rhythmically tapping along.

Now all you need to create wonderful orchestral music is a room, a special baton and a little bit of passion.

A sound basis for art

Dr Matthew Sansom is a successful sound artist who works with specific locations, either through the installation of acoustic sculptures or the on-site recording and manipulation of ambient sounds.

With a background in improvised and experimental music as well as the music of the Sheffield club scene of the 1990s, Matthew is able to fuse expertise in sound and music with novel and unusual acoustic technologies as a practice-led researcher. As well as devising innovative techniques with audio-visual software to improvise soundscapes, Matthew has also created his own versions of the parabolic acoustic-amplifier dishes that were originally designed to listen for enemy aircraft before the perfection of radar. He has installed examples of these dishes as interactive public artworks in the Yorkshire countryside and an urban setting in Liverpool.

Matthew, who is also lecturer and Creative Music Technology programme director in the Department of Music and Sound Recording, has worked with colleagues from across the University on theMindBeat performance project, which uses sound, image and text to look at the nature of the collaborative process. He is a member of landscapequartet, a group of four sound artists and musicians conducting sonic investigations into the natural environment, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

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