Melbourne Conservatorium of Music - Theses

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    An Ontology of Noise: Electro-Acoustic Improvisation as Focal Practice
    Price, Samuel ( 2022)
    ‘Noise’ has played an increasingly prominent role in contemporary art making. Composers, popular musicians, and improvisers have long employed noise as both subversion and assertion of musical expression. Additionally, film makers and visual artists have adopted noisy practices to dissolve form, identity and meaning. Such aesthetic approaches to music and art making prompt us to question and re engage with our experience of the world in different ways. Additionally, the use of noise often involves the development of new ways of conceiving of and using technology associated within a given medium. This thesis interrogates the use and meaning of noise within the context of the author’s practice of improvising music with the drum kit and synthesis. It also examines the turn of this electro-acoustic practice toward the inclusion of a visual component. In doing so, the thesis questions the determinism of the technology employed within the practice through an ontological consideration of noise as vibratory, temporal phenomenon, and as source of indeterminacy. The investigation is initially parsed through Heideggerian perceptual and ontological categories, with a focus on the idea of ‘focal practices’. These ontological categories are then contrasted and advanced in light of Attali’s structuralist notions of noise with particular reference to his codes of ‘repeating’ and ‘composing’. The resulting insights and ideas are then employed in the critique of the practice-led research completed alongside the thesis, including the creation of installed, site specific, audio and audio / visual works. Throughout the thesis, the discussion advances the understanding of how ‘focal’ engagements with technology – those that seek to reduce its dehumanising potential – may allow for richer engagements between sound, noise, and place, and with human being-in-the-world more generally. To conclude, further possibilities and implications for arts practice, production, and reception are introduced.
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    Hushed Tones: Inaudible Music in Hollywood Docudramas 2005-2015
    Callaghan, Andrew Leslie ( 2022)
    This study investigates the effacement of music within Hollywood-produced docudramas of the early twenty-first century. It argues that inaudible film scores (concealed by filmmakers and ‘unheard’ by audiences) contribute to a rhetoric of fidelity and sobriety in these films. The scores’ effacement may be observed as an intention of the filmmakers and as features within a soundtrack, as well as within the traces of audience reception. This thesis proposes a framework to discuss the audibility of music in film, which informs the investigation of a series of docudramas—films based on real events—that were nominated for the top accolade at the Academy Awards between 2005 and 2015. While the effacement of film music has been loosely associated with realism in past scholarship, what that term might exactly mean was not explored in detail. As Hollywood-produced docudramas combine documentary claims with classical narrative forms, they offer a potentially rich sphere to seek and examine inaudibility. It can be argued that the cultures within these productions treat music as problematic and that established composers must contend with this issue. Detailed analyses of the film scores for Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight (2015), Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips (2013), and Ben Affleck’s Argo (2012) are presented. The examination of these scores’ cue placement, formal design, style, and functions reveals old and new practices intended to efface film music. Discussions dedicated to inaudibility are absent from recent literature. Musical effacement was initially theorised to dominate the scores of Hollywood’s golden age, however doubts about those theories and changes in academic focus have led to a period of neglect. Cognitive models of perception inform a revision of previous concepts, which also incorporates other critiques and takes recent film practices into account. The effect of attention upon film music functions suggests how traces of listening, such as reviews and fan texts about the films and their soundtracks, may also indicate a score’s relative audibility.
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    From the Yellow River to the Yarra River The Orchestral Works of Chu Wanghua, and their Performance
    Ferguson, John Neil ( 2022)
    The purpose of this research project is to raise awareness of the Melbourne-based Chinese composer, CHU Wanghua (b. 1941; sometimes known in Australia as William Chu) and to explore his orchestral compositions. The focus of the project is on conducting and performing Chu’s orchestral music, which is supported by a study of the composer’s musical influences and stylistic changes, ranging from early studies in China through to his postgraduate studies in Melbourne, as well as his later compositions up to 2019. The PhD comprises a folio of recorded performances conducted by the author (constituting 70% of the PhD project). The folio is accompanied by a dissertation documenting Chu’s life and musical education, and an appendix in which the orchestral works are discussed from a performance perspective that relates to the folio of recordings (constituting 30% of the PhD project). As part of the exploration of Chu’s musical evolution, the dissertation outlines his situation during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) and his role in composing the Yellow River Piano Concerto. The study also considers Chu’s use of Western instruments and compositional techniques, and the extent to which he has maintained a Chinese identity in his music throughout his long career.
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    Composition Folio
    Henry, Thomas Robert ( 2022)
    The thesis consists of a folio of works (Volume 1) and accompanying dissertation (Volume 2) together with audio recordings of each of the folio works. The dissertation is between 20,000 and 25,000 words while the recordings of the folio works has a total duration of 92 minutes. Audio recordings of each of the works is provided, comprising both live and studio recordings. The folio of works consists of chamber and orchestral works of acoustic forces, including (in size of instrumentation); a Second Piano Sonata, a Sonata for flute and piano, a Piano Trio, a quintet for flute/piccolo, Bb clarinet, violin, cello, piano and Chinese finger cymbals (Towards Patmos – after Holderlin) and a work for large orchestra (Visions from the interior – after Fred Williams). The dissertation examines an ongoing creative tension between tradition and modernity in the work of the candidate’s compositional practice, posing the overall question; can a contemporary composer combine historical techniques (including techniques of the 20th century) to create music that communicates to a 21st century audience? Within this overall enquiry, the three research questions are: 1. Can I develop a personal voice while using historically established techniques such as; serial pitch and rhythmic organisation, motivic development, contrapuntal devices and mirror techniques? 2. How does the use of techniques listed above interact with my individual harmonic language? 3. How do extra-musical ideas and influences impact on my musical technique and form? Reflecting on the evolution of the candidate’s practice during candidature, the dissertation (Volume 2) examines this creative tension, and related research questions, in relation to each of the folio works and draws the following conclusions. In response to questions 1 and 2, the candidate has concluded that his exploration of certain specific combinations of ‘historical techniques’ (Question 1), together with a conscious interaction of these techniques with his harmonic language (Question 2) form the key to his personal voice as a composer (Question 1). Within this conclusion, two clear insights emerge. The first is that in using a tone row and serial pitch processes, he increasingly explores new ways of generating and using such material in functionally tonal rather than atonal ways. The second insight is almost the reverse of the first: that when he combines contrapuntal processes with 20th century techniques, he has a strong tendency to create music of a harmonically and rhythmically challenging nature, with unstable textures. In response to question 3 (regarding the influence of extra-musical ideas and influences on the candidate’s musical technique and form) the candidate has concluded that his use of a ‘mirror/inversion’ technique to build overall form now appears to be only one of many available musical responses to the concept of dialectic. In particular, he has developed a broader approach which includes the concept of ‘overcoming struggle’ towards a more organic musical and human flow, as a flexible formal device.
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    Capturing Transience: Modelling Relationships Between Improvised Music Practice and Recording Processes
    McLean, Alistair James ( 2022)
    This research examines the relationship between improvised music practice and recording processes, and in doing so develops and tests new analytical models to better understand how improvised music practitioners undertake recording projects. Prior analytical models of music recording demonstrate multiple ways that recordings may be created and considered, but fail to take into account the diversity of practice in improvised music. By considering the varied nature of contemporary improvised music practise, these existing models are synthesised into a new Documentarian/Idealised model, which asks whether improvised music recordings are best considered as documents of performance events, discrete artistic objects, or a combination of both. Findings from interviews with improvised music practitioners are used to test and further develop the Documentarian/Idealised model, resulting in an expanded model better able to represent the diversity of practice found within improvising music recording projects, referred to as the Intention/Process model. Case studies of two improvised music recording projects are conducted as part of this research project, contributing ninety minutes of new improvised music recordings to be considered alongside the written thesis. These two projects reflect markedly different approaches to recording improvised music, and analysis of their creation examines the wide range of practice that occurs within improvised music recording situations. This research demonstrates that while improvised music recording practise is diverse, a number of commonalities are present, and that the intention and motivation of practitioners may be fluid and change during recording projects, as evidenced by a Multi-stage recording model for examining recording projects. In addition to providing multiple analytical models for use in further research, this study significantly informs both our understanding of how improvised music recording projects are undertaken and how they are perceived by practitioners of improvised music. It further contributes to the ontological understanding of improvised music recordings by arguing that improvisational music practice should not be viewed in opposition to composition or recording, but rather as a generative creative practice that can be utilised in tandem with other activities, and by showing that recordings of improvised music do not possess less improvisational qualities due to their fixed and reproduceable nature.
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    Accessible therapeutic music-making for stroke survivors with significant arm and hand weakness: A mixed-methods study
    Silveira, Tanya Marie ( 2022)
    This thesis with publication presents the results of the mixed methods study exploring a novel music therapy intervention for stroke survivors with significant weakness to their arm and hand. Using a mixed methods experimental design, with an explanatory sequential core, this randomised controlled trial sought to examine the holistic impact of a 4-week intervention protocol using functional electrical stimulation (FES) together with an iPad-based instrument (ThumbJam) on stroke survivors’ upper limb function and wellbeing outcomes. Recognising the need for more accessible approaches to music-making with this subset of stroke survivors, the intervention protocol was developed using collaborative processes drawing on knowledge from the disciplines of physiotherapy, occupational therapy and music therapy. After securing ethics clearances, recruitment commenced across five hospitals in Sydney, Australia, aiming to recruit a target sample of 40. Fourteen participants were recruited and randomised to receive usual treatment (n=8) or the daily FES+iPad-based music therapy intervention as an addition to usual treatment (n=6) for four weeks (20 sessions). Masked assessors administered the standardised measures of upper limb function and self-report wellbeing questionnaires at three time points (pre- and post- the intervention period, and at three months follow up). All participants were also interviewed at the post-intervention period regarding their perception of how their received treatment supported their overall recovery. The Motor Assessment Scale (MAS-UL) was the primary outcome for arm/hand function. The other measures of arm/hand function included the Manual Muscle Test (MMT-UL), 9-hole-peg test (9HPT) and grip dynamometry. The Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS-21), and the Stroke Self-efficacy Questionnaire (SSEQ) were used to measure wellbeing. As this study was underpowered, mean change scores, confidence intervals and effect sizes (Hedges’ g) were calculated and reported. The intervention group showed greater improvements than control on all upper limb measures, with between group differences on the MAS-UL change score of 2.08 (95% CI -2.08, 6.96; g = 0.5), 0.05 for the 9HPT (95% CI -0.13, 0.23; g = 0.32), 3.33 for the MMT-UL (95% CI -1.26, 7.93; g = 0.85), and 3.68 for grip dynamometer (95% CI -0.70, 8.07; g = 0.99). The intervention group also showed greater decreases in anxiety (between group difference: -1.83; 95% CI -7.63, 3.97; g = 0.37), but lesser reductions in depression (2.25; 95% CI -7.71, 12.21, g = 0.27). There were no notable differences between groups for stress and self-efficacy. Reflexive thematic analysis of the qualitative interview data revealed different reflections about the treatment received by each group, with intervention participant themes focusing on their perceived improvement in upper limb function and strength, as well as the motivating and relaxing aspects of musical engagement. These integrated findings suggest that FES+iPad-based music therapy has the potential to simultaneously improve post-stroke upper limb function and wellbeing. Therefore, this pilot study supports the need for future research that is adequately powered for efficacy testing.
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    The Performer/Curator: Expanding the Parameters of Artistic Expression and Creativity in a Concert
    Lallo, Joseph ( 2022)
    The focus of this research is the performer/curator, and the search to reimagine the presentation of the musical and extra-musical elements of a concert. Five live concerts, designed and presented using a range of conceptual methods, serve to provide insight into the creative processes of the performer/curator. An examination of the concert frame – the parameters within which a concert is organised and experienced – reveals the factors that most influence concert design and presentation. Identifying these factors gives performers a structured way of recognising their creative freedoms and identifying the aspects of the concert experience they can shape as part of their artistic expression and creativity. The process of using a meta-narrative to guide the curation of the concert frame is shown to expand the performer’s potential to create innovative and personal musical experiences and provides a coherent and unifying method to curate a concert.
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    Thinking About Syncing. Examining the impact of 21st century DJ technology on the production and performance of Electronic Dance Music
    Callander, Michael ( 2022)
    The introduction of synchronisation (sync) to the DJ’s professional toolkit in the early 2000s proved to be controversial and divisive. Until that point, DJs had been so focused on beatmatching – the manual process of tempo-setting and alignment of tracks – that many dismissed sync as ‘cheating’. Concern over technology-assisted creative output is not unique to Electronic Dance Music (EDM); David Hockney’s investigation into the use of optical aids by the Old Masters highlighted similar perspectives in visual art. As sync has simplified some of the mechanical aspects of DJing, DJs have shifted away from building sets by sequencing pre-recorded audio – often made by other music producers – towards an approach that incorporates improvisatory composition and production. This thesis, comprised of a creative folio of performance works and a contextual review of their execution, is the result of a practice-led enquiry into 21st century DJing, distinct from the tradition of selecting and playing records on turntables. For my major work, Real Time, Online, I utilised the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Ableton Live to arrange original works in real-time, and moved beyond audio to incorporate video synthesis and video mixing. For Locked Groove Mix 2, a developmental work, I arranged fifty-one loops, each representing only 1.8 seconds of original audio, in real-time as part of a long-form DJ performance. Through a process of reflective practice and critical review of technique and repertoire both pre- and post-sync, this thesis discusses how technology shapes and informs the realisation of a DJ set, highlighting how sync has catalysed a disconnect between the performer, their gestures, the source material and audiences, necessitating a rethink on how we demonstrate and recognise technical virtuosity in performance. It concludes by arguing that virtuosity in modern DJing is primarily a product of instrument configuration and pre-production, an amalgamation of formerly distinct production and performance techniques, and it identifies how sync’s affordances might inform future views on DJ practice and the presentation of EDM.
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    Melodic Excursions: The Brazilian cavaquinho’s global journey
    May, Adam John ( 2021)
    This research project explores the long and diverse history of the cavaquinho through a combination of practical performance and archival research. This four-string soprano guitar is a ubiquitous instrument in several musical cultures and its origins may be traced to Portugal where very similar instruments have been in use since the seventeenth century. The cavaquinho, and closely related instruments, spread across the globe along routes of migration and this study will focus on four key traditions, those of Brazil, Portugal, Indonesia, and Hawaii. These historical links will be investigated through recorded performances played on the modern Brazilian cavaquinho, together with written analysis of historical and performance contexts. A diverse portfolio of recordings showcases performance practices and repertoires from the nineteenth century, through to the flourishing tradition of the twentieth century and new and emerging contemporary genres. The Brazilian cavaquinho is the instrument through which I engage with these contrasting repertoires, drawing on the richness of the instrument’s technique and performance style. The recordings are not presented as historical recreations, but as extensions of the distinct evolving traditions through the application of contemporary practices. Collaborations with renowned international practitioners feature on many of the recordings, and the creative element of this thesis extends to original arrangements and compositions. Through a combination of performance recordings, research, analysis and original arrangements and compositions, this project demonstrates how the cavaquinho is the perfect vehicle to illuminate and reinvigorate historically linked traditions and styles.
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    'How I wonder what you are': Interpreting the child's early experiences of learning to play the cello
    MacArthur, Stephanie Louise Ryan ( 2022)
    This thesis investigates and interprets the lived experiences of 14 beginner cello students studied between the ages of 7 - 9 years of age as they encounter the instrument and one-to-one lessons. It examines how personal factors and relationships with others contribute to their musical skill development and influences longer-term future engagement. Studied from the children’s perspective, this research offers rare and novel insight into children’s deep and rich thought processes and actions in relation to their musical development and considers how these can shift over time to reflect the changing scope of their musical investment. Throughout the study, I worked with the children as the cello teacher, thereby occupying an insider’s position as the researcher. This opportunity enabled me to investigate how my reflexive responses to the children, evolving with their fluctuating idiosyncratic learning needs, impacted their ongoing musical engagement. To capture the student and teacher experiences, the research employed two qualitative research methodologies, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis and Participatory Action Research. This unique pairing of methodological approaches provided complementary data sets that, taken together, offer meaningful interwoven perspectives on instrumental music learning and teaching with implications for sustaining learner engagement and innovating teaching practice. The findings indicate that participants’ initial reasons for learning were motivated by a range of intrapersonal factors and interpersonal relationships, and when these were sustained and broadened, the children were more likely to invest in future engagement. Musical practice occurred as a six-phase process that was affected by the quality of children’s thought, actions, and response. Musical performance was experienced in four environments and perceived by the children as optimal when it was underpinned by positive emotional valence and feelings of competency. The investigation reveals that seven of the students experienced diverse learning needs that extended beyond individual difference and led to difficulty in skill acquisition. Key adults were vital to engagement, with parents playing a central role in supporting the children’s ability to persist with the range of challenges that presented during skill development. Further, a teacher-student dyad built on trust, rapport and adaptability importantly supported the children’s sense of emotional safety and creative freedom in learning. Teacher-learner shared enthusiasm for the cello and a collaborative approach to skill development was found to further galvanise children’s ongoing interest. Critically, from an early stage of learning, the children were found to experience significant transformational internal effects during their musical skill development. These were characterised by the interaction of the children’s imagination, curiosity, and emotional response, and were found to contribute to profound immersive experiences of creative musical play that generated intrinsic motivation for continued engagement. This investigation of children’s early experiences in musical development offers important new knowledge in how children perceive and interact with musical development, how their individual needs can be met through flexible teaching and learning processes, and one that advocates for children by recognising that their desires to be active agents in creative engagement and ongoing musicianship are present and require support from the very beginning of their learning.