Law and SARC post-graduate seminar

Law and SARC post-graduate seminar
Thomas Muizer and Robert Bental
31 March 2014
1-2 pm, School of Law, 27 University Square, Room 101

Improvisation, Emotion, and the Law
Thomas Muizer, PhD candidate, School of Law

Thomas Muinzer is a member of QUB’s Translating Improvisation Research Group (TIRG), and as such he both retains a personal interest in the concept of improvisation and has been able to benefit from the rich knowledge of those around him in TIRG. When he is not working on his PhD on climate law Thomas enjoys researching a variety of additional legal matters, including in particular burial law.  His 30 minute talk will draw upon his forthcoming
Oxford Journal of Legal Studies burial paper, ‘The Law of the Dead’. 

The talk will begin by introducing the audience to some of the basic elements that underpin law and lawmaking, inviting listeners to reflect upon the manner in which improvisation may (or indeed may not!) be at play within the law’s conventional practices and procedures.  Next, the notion of burial law will be discussed in order to give the audience a tangible example of law-in-action, and then a short role-play will be offered wherein audience members will be invited to step into the shoes of litigants disputing burial cases before the courts and the judges who must decide the cases.  The role-play will allow participants to get a personal ‘feel’ for the law, thereby helping them to gain insight into the ways in which improvisation may have the capacity to manifest within the legal process.

Tom’s talk will also make reference to ‘law and emotion’ studies, a youthful scholarly field that may hold interesting lessons that resonate with TIRG’s interests.  This burgeoning area of legal scholarship addresses both the extent to which emotion is present within aspects of legal practice and the associated extent to which such emotion may be desirable/undesirable.

Improvising Invention: Laws and Lies in Electroacoustic Music
Robert Bentall, PhD candidate, School of Creative Arts, Sonic Arts Research Centre

In this talk, I will attempt to wade through the sludge of metaphors in my work that encompass improvisation and law, with reference to some notable electroacoustic compositions, including my own. In the sonic arts community, it is paradigmatically perceived that fixed-media electroacoustic music has a set of implicit laws that govern how the music is supposed to sound, and that improvisation plays no part in its production. These laws may only be set in an imaginary stone, but many composers choose to follow them regardless, potentially due to the performance practice of the genre and the social codes contained within its dissemination. Such laws include the sounds contained in the works such as drone-based and granular sound objects, duration of works, and a lack of regular rhythmic activity. Throughout the last two years of my PhD, I have embarked upon my own attempts to write music that doesn’t strap itself in to this set of laws that have the capacity to act as an anti-invention mechanism. My recent work, such as Summer Anthem (2013), composed at the EMS in Sweden, focused on the sounds of eurodance chord progressions played on the mandolin. Another work, A Berry Bursts, turns the accepted function of the word remix on its head, by re-working a pop track into the domain of multi-channel sound art.

It seems unsurprising, then, that with the fixity of material in the genre comes a perceived lack of link to improvised practice. Despite this, works in the acousmatic genre are composed in a very improvised fashion. Many composers generate vast banks of sound materials from improvising on instruments and with computer-based sound processing tools. These materials are often quite likely to end up in the finished product. It is easy to detach these materials from the idea of being improvised due to the inherent association between improvisation and liveness. Furthermore, composers of fixed-media music are well documented in their poor documentation of their working methods. Demers (2010) highlights this by referring to these working methods as ‘trade secrets’ among composers. Recent research bids at the University of Sheffield have focused on the development of software to keep track of the thousands of decisions composers might make in the construction of an acousmatic work. On top of this, the performance practice contained within the medium, that of sound diffusion, is predominantly improvised: no scores are present, and due to the lack of access to loudspeaker orchestras that facilitate diffusion, composers are often left with a bare minimum, if any time, to rehearse their pieces by playing them over the system. Spatialization decisions are made ad hoc, but based on a good knowledge of how passages of material are likely to translate when moved around a space via the loudspeakers. Diffusion scores, often graphic in nature, have remained the only visual medium in which instructions for spatialization have been conveyed, and remain unpopular amongst composers, who prefer to focus on the aural feedback the space affords them.