February 2015 - Inaugural Lecture ‘Consilience as Compositional Approach?’

My Leverhulme Residency at the University of Liverpool’s Department of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) began officially on 3rd February 2015 when I gave an inaugural lecture entitled ‘Consilience as Compositional Approach?’ I first came across the word ‘consilience’ in Geoffrey Hill’s 2011 collection of poems Clavics and of course had to look it up! I always enjoy learning new words and the OED definition for ‘consilience’ is as follows: ‘Agreement between the approaches to a topic of different academic subjects, especially science and the humanities’. Clavics also led me directly to Edward O. Wilson’s book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge and I recommend both of these books.

I introduced my work by presenting musical examples alongside a commentary that aimed to illuminate some of the compositional methods I employ in the construction of my music and, in particular, the development of musical ideas and techniques largely resulting from the absorption of a wide range of extramusical influences. I concentrated on extramusical stimuli that have impacted several works over the last few years including concepts from mathematics and science, from the life and work of 19th-century mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace, and from the poetry of Geoffrey Hill and how they have influenced the composition of orchestral works Magnetite (2007), Calculus of the Nervous System (2011) and Axon (2013).

The lecture was deliberately similar to one I presented in November 2014 for the English Faculty at the École normale supérieure, Paris, entitled Calculus of the Nervous System: towards Consilience as Compositional Approach’. I believe that it is important to find ways of presenting the ideas behind my music to different audiences, and without using musical jargon (as far as possible). And since these orchestral works relate directly to the worlds of science, mathematics and poetry, I was keen to find a way to communicate my musical ideas to both scientific/mathematical researchers and English scholars with the same language. This in turn helps my future work: if I can communicate effectively, then audiences are likely to respond with helpful suggestions and different ways of listening to my music.

I was delighted that the lecture was well-attended, with several researchers from the DMS as well as from Physics, Chemistry and English present and it was an excellent opportunity to establish contact with a large number of people as well to explain some of the aims and objectives of the residency in person. I look forward to meetings with as many of these researchers as possible over the coming months; I’ll be interested to learn about their work and to establish and encourage ongoing dialogues.  

Return to Blog homepage