Those 300-word statements on Practice-as-Research for the RAE/REF – origins and stipulations – ‘academic butt-covering’ or more problematic?Posted: December 16, 2015
I wrote that my last blog post on the issue of composition and performance as research constituted final thoughts on the subject, at least for now, but one issue has been on my mind which I wanted to clarify for myself and others. This was to do with the ubiquitous 300-word statements included with many submissions to the RAE or REF. In the public debate on the subject, Camden Reeves (1h 38’14”) spoke of an ‘artificial privileging of certain types of composition over others’ and described (1h 40’55”) the 300-word statements as ‘ridiculous’, going on to say that ‘at a lot of universities, the 300 [word] statement was seen as the kind of research report’. Alexander Lingas (1h 43’12”) asked the panel whether ‘by having the 300-word statement, that it privileges certain type of things, so that by doing that, you end up encouraging particular types of things which actually, I have to say, are very congenial to the type of musicologically-informed performance, because that’s precisely the type of thing that 300-word statements is good for to say – why do you make those wacky decisions when you perform this music? – well, it’s because, in 300 words, and so it’s a type of academic butt-covering’.
Miguel Mera (1h 45’35”) claimed that ‘there was no requirement to complete 300 words with any submission . . . you didn’t have to’. But this was far from clear from the REF 2014 report, which contained the following comments:
In brief, the additional 300 words to make further evident the research imperatives and/or research process of an output (paragraph 71(b) of the ‘Panel criteria’) were used inconsistently and the question of the research imperative was not always well-articulated. (p. 16)
As in 2008 the best outputs in PaR were distinguished by clearly articulated research objectives. In a number of instances, the presentation of practice needed no more than a well-turned 300 word statement to point up the research inquiry and its findings, since the concerns outlined were then amply apparent within the practice itself (which was made available for assessment by a variety of means including DVD or CD recordings, photographic materials, scripts and scores, databases, etc.). (p. 99)
More generally, the 300 word statements too often displayed a misunderstanding of what was being asked for and provided evidence of impact from the research, or a descriptive account akin to a programme note, rather than making the case for practice as research. (p. 100)
Scott McLaughlin, in his report on the debate, noted Mera’s comments but added that ‘I get the sense that many Universities insisted on them’. In Paul Allain and Jen Harvie, The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Performance (London and New York: Routledge, 2014), we find the claim that
all submitted PaR has to be accompanied by a 300-word statement outlining the research imperatives and context, further supported by other forms of evidence. (p.234)
Similarly, in Michael Biggs and Henrik Karlsson, ‘Evaluating Quality in Artistic Research’, in Biggs and Karlsson (eds), The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts (London and New York: Routledge, 2011), in the context of submissions in art and design for RAE 2008, the authors write of ‘the additional requirement of a 300-word statement arguing for the significance and impact of each submission’ (p. 414). Robin Nelson, in his Practice as Research in the Arts: Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), refers to ‘a simple verbal articulation of the research inquiry – such as might be achieved in as few as 300 words’, which ‘proves useful in almost all cases’ (p. 11), not specifically mentioning the RAE/REF or a requirement, but likely written with this in mind.
So where did the idea come from that 300 words was a requirement? It was first presented in Section 3 of the RAE 2001 report on Publications, entitled ‘Panels’ Criteria and Working Methods’, and said specifically that:
3.58.8 Those submitting practice as research may include (in the ‘other relevant details’ field of form RA2) a succinct statement of not more than 300 words for each item in this category listed under RA2; for this purpose practice is defined as all outputs listed in paragraph 3.58.12 b) to e) below. These statements should make clear how the practice embodies research as defined in the RAE. They may, where appropriate, include an indication of the aims, methods, procedures, innovation, significance, and context of the practice. It should be noted that the submission of such statements is not a requirement; the Panel will not expect them when the status of the practice as research is self-evident.
The RAE 2008 guidelines on submissions contained the following text:
94. Brief, additional information may also be given in RA2 ‘other relevant details’ to identify relevant, factual circumstances concerning any output. It need not be supplied in every case. It may be, for example:
• to identify a keynote address to a conference
• to identify an invited conference paper especially where the perceived status of the conference is high
• to indicate the significance or impact of an applied research outcome
• to identify the research content or author’s contribution in edited works, translations, or co-authored works.
In the case of a non-text output, it may be used to give further information on the whereabouts of a work or to note that a photographic, electronic or other record exists. It may not be used to volunteer opinions about the relative quality of an output. See panel criteria statements for further guidance, including the word limit for this text, which, unless otherwise stated, will be 300 words.
The panel criteria for music within Panel O for RAE 2008 included the following:
Researchers should accordingly submit such evidence as they deem necessary to enable subpanel members to assess it within the following guidelines:
a. Research output: this may be submitted alone where it is deemed to constitute
sufficient evidence of the research in itself.
b. Statement: it is recommended that a statement of up to 300 words is submitted in the ‘Other relevant details’ field of RA2, in cases where the research imperatives and the research significance of an output (such as: an artefact, curation, digital format, installation, performance or event, screening, tape, textbook, translation or video) might further be made evident by a descriptive complement. The statement might include: a brief description of the project and its stage of development; a rationale outlining questions addressed; a summary of approaches/strategies undertaken in the work; a digest of further evidence (if any) to be found in sub-paragraph 13c below. As previously indicated, the 300-word statement should also be used to clarify the relative contributions of researchers working on a collaborative research project. The sub-panel will ignore any evaluative commentary on the perceived quality of the research.
Then for REF 2014, the statement of panel criteria and working methods included the following statement:
49. For non-text or practice-based outputs (including patents, software and standards documents), all subpanels welcome the submission of a description in
REF2 of the research process and research content, where this is not evident within the output (maximum 300 words), as described in ‘guidance on submissions’ (paragraph 127a). (p. 25)
Then for Panel D, with included music submissions, the following:
b. Information about the research process and/or content: Submitting units may include a statement of up to 300 words in cases where the research imperatives and research process of an output (such as an artefact, curation, database, digital format, installation, composition, performance or event, screening, tape, creative writing, database, textbook, translation or video) might further be made evident by descriptive and contextualising information. Where the location or medium of the output is essential to a proper understanding of the research being presented this should be explained in the 300 words. The sub-panels will ignore any additional material that includes evaluative commentary on the perceived quality of a research output (p. 87)
The 300-word limit was further reinforced on p. 99.
It is clear then that whilst the 300 words was not strictly a requirement, there was a very strong incentive to include them with most submissions. How many, reading the words from 2001, are going to view their submissions, or those of their department’s faculty members as having a ‘self-evident’ status as practice-as-research? How many reading the 2008 guidelines are going to go against what is ‘recommended’?
Nicholas Cook, who was on the Music Panel which worked towards producing the 2001 definitions, wrote about the process in his article ‘Performing Research: Some Institutional Perspectives’, in Mine Doğantan-Dack (ed), Artistic Practice as Research in Music: Theory, Criticism, Practice (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015) pp. 11-32. In the RAE 1996, the first such accepting performance submission, according to Cook:
Detailed criteria for the assessment of performance as research were not in place, and when the outcomes were announced there was a widespread perception that the assessment of performance submissions had been surprisingly generous. Given some unease on the part of 1996 panel members, and the expectation that this outcome would prompt a significant increase in performance submissions for the following exercise, a major priority for the 2001 Music Panel (which was convened well in advance of the submission date) was to set the assessment of performance as research on a more principled basis: this was necessary to provide the panel with clear and transparent procedures for its evaluation, to guide institutions’ decisions about what work to submit to the RAE, and to inform their future planning. This panel, which I chaired, for the first time included professional performers, though they were based in the academic sector. (p. 22)
The panel realised that simply mapping criteria from composition-as-research over to performance would be insufficient, not least because the former rested on nebulously defined notions of quality and there were new difficulties entailed in the acceptance of submissions of film and commercial music (the research qualities of the latter of which, I have argued elsewhere, appear to me more tenuous). Whether market success, recognition by peers, or ideals of originality were to be primary criteria all proved difficult in discussion, as Cook points out (pp. 22-3). This now quite notorious definition of research was adopted:
2.12. ‘Research’ for the purpose of the RAE is to be understood as original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding. It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce, industry, and to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances, artefacts including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products and processes, including design and construction. It excludes routine testing and routine analysis of materials, components and processes such as for the maintenance of national standards, as distinct from the development of new analytical techniques. It also excludes the development of teaching materials that do not embody original research.
As for performance, the following definition was adopted:
3.58.12 d. Performances: in accordance with the RAE definition of research, performance will be accepted as research where it applies or embodies new or substantially improved knowledge or insights, for instance in terms of interpretation, historical performance practice, or technical innovation. Performance is understood to include conducting and direction as well as instrumental or vocal execution; all forms of public output are eligible for submission, including publicly disseminated live or studio recordings, broadcasts, and public performances. In the case of broadcasts and public performances, institutions must be able to supply a recording (which need not be in the public domain). Reference may be made to such factors as the venue of the performance, the standing of broadcasting organizations or record companies involved in its dissemination, and prizes or other marks of recognition); relevant information should be provided in the ‘Other relevant details’ field of form RA2.
This is, I believe, a basically good definition, though it is difficult to define when interpretation does or does not embody ‘new or substantially improved knowledge or insights’ (I would say most good performances do), and I worry about ‘the standing of broadcasting organizations or record companies’ acting as a proxy for judging work in terms of its standing in economies of prestige or market utility. But this is not strictly relevant to the 2001 stipulation about 300-word statements given above, about which Cook says:
That last remark was aimed at composers working in established styles: we did not wish to inflict a burden of pointless documentation on institutions – or on ourselves, for that matter. (The perhaps intellectually shabby idea of ‘self evidence’ reflects the pragmatic approach to composition I described.) Nevertheless the invitation to submit succinct statements excited considerable opposition from the subject community, not all of it reasonable in our view. In the formal processes of consultation that preceded the finalisation of the criteria, certain respondents rejected our assumption that the content of performances or other forms of practice as research could be reduced to words, and accused us of intending to assess the succinct statements rather than the performances. Of course we never made any such assumptions or held any such intentions. The point is very simple, and I have already referred to it. Academic writings are self-documenting. That is the source of the conventions of good academic writing to which Candlin referred. But this is obviously not the case of performances: as Susan Hellauer (1997) says, ‘You can’t sing a footnote’. It follows that you can’t expect an assessor to be able to reconstruct from a performance the research process that has given rise to it. (Think of David Milson submitting a performance arising out of his AHRC Creative and Performing Arts Fellowship.) Once more, this is the point on which the other members of the UKCGE [UK Council for Graduate Education] study group were insisting, except that they were talking about a 40,000 word dissertation whereas we on the panel were talking about a 300 word statement. By inviting those submitting practice as research to provide such a statement, then, we were giving them the opportunity to ensure the assessor understood the research component. We were empowering them to set the terms on which they were to be assessed, and to present their work in the best possible light. (p. 25)
I disagree with Cook; a sensitive listener with some familiarity with the work in question and performance practice might very well be able at least to assess, if not necessarily reconstruct in every detail, the research process which has given rise to one of David Milsom’s performances. A 40 000 word dissertation would certainly elaborate the process to a high degree, if done well, but I am not really sure that a 300 word statement could – or rather, if some point can be elucidated in 300 words but not clearly heard from the performance without such guidance, I would question the extent to which it is embodied in that performance.
An article from 2003 by Peter Thompson (‘Practice as Research’, Studies in Theatre and Performance 22/3, pp. 159-180) gave further details on how this debate was conducted amongst those involved in drama and related disciplines, reproducing correspondence. Drama Professor Franc Chamberlain made the following observation:
To argue that the work itself is best disseminated by performing it seems reasonable to me (although I can imagine a number of counter-arguments), but I’m not convinced that this necessarily follows for research outcomes. Yet I’m not sure that anyone is really suggesting that we shouldn’t document the research outcomes in order to disseminate them – we’re only discussing which mode is most effective for evaluation. Perhaps the A4 (300 words) sheet, though no one would argue that it, in itself, is the dissemination of the research: that can happen in any way which the researchers consider appropriate for the community they wish to reach – if that’s a DVD or a book or a painting or a website, I have no problem.
[….] I don’t have to have been in Nigel Slater’s kitchen in order to follow a recipe – something which may well be an outcome of his PaR – I just use the recipe to make the food: and then I eat it! (p. 166)
I would be very concerned at the implications for musical or other performance if scores, or scripts were seen simply as ‘recipes’ which are to be followed, thus removing most creative input from the performer (or chef).
Performance Arts Professor Susan Melrose wrote the following:
On the broader question, there is significant history, elements of which can be chased up on the website of the UK Council for Graduate Education. The Performing Arts sector’s advice to the Quality Assurance Agency was quite specific, and ran along the lines of the appropriateness of a mixed-mode higher-degree submission, which might include the submission of an ‘artefact or performance’, together with an appropriately-weighted written component (the weighting to be determined by individual universities). The QAA itself concluded that mixed-mode submissions (in, for example, creative and performing arts) were appropriate, and published that view in the documents (available for inspection) which emerged after the consultation process.
From this perspective, then, ‘just the “doing” itself ’ has not been entertained in the sector with regard to higher-degree submissions, any more than it was entertained by the 2001 RAE Panel. That Panel brought judgement to bear upon practice (and its ‘succinct statement’ of 300 words) as research. (pp. 177-8)
It is clear from this that – at least to some involved in the process in 2001 – the written component was certainly seen as something necessary.
So the debate on the 300 words, which to all intents and purposes I think should be seen as a requirement, even if the letter of the guidelines does not strictly say this, continues. Whilst in agreement with McLaughlin’s response to Reeves’ point about how the requirement put at a disadvantage those musicians less verbally articulate amounts to ‘a particularly hollow form of special-pleading’ – as I myself have said, 300 words is not in itself that much of an imposition – otherwise I have a lot of sympathy with the positions outlined by Reeves and Lingas, and worry about two points in particular. One is whether reading 300-word statements becomes a substitute for listening carefully to work; I have been in a situation where I have been forced to ask which if any of those passing judgement on my 5-CD recording of Michael Finnissy’s five-and-a-half-hour The History of Photography in Sound – for which I also produced a near-300 page accompanying monograph – had actually spent the five-and-a-half hours listening to it just once. But also, as Reeves says, whether this essential stipulation ends up disproportionately favouring work which can be summed up in a snappy 300 words, perhaps peppered with plenty of vogueish buzzwords, and detailing aspects of obvious novelty, whereas work irreducible to such things (I would struggle to do such a thing with Arnold Schoenberg’s Fünf Orchesterstücke, op. 16, Pascal Dusapin’s Third String Quartet, or Reinhard Goebel’s recording of Ignaz Biber’s Rosenkranz-Sonaten, to give just a few examples) will end up being marginalised as a result. This outcome is worse than simply a few musicians having to do some ‘academic butt-covering’.
Musicological Observations 6: Various earlier blog pieces on composition and performance as researchPosted: December 13, 2015
I have published several earlier blogs on the issues of composition and performance as research, only one of which was however included within this ‘Musicological Observations’ series. Here are links to all of them for convenience’s sake.
And here is the article I wrote in response to John Croft’s original piece:
Following the various discussions which have proceeded from the debate at City University on ‘Can Composition and Performance be Research?’ on November 25th, 2015 – see responses here and here; and for various associated links, here), I have had a further few thoughts which I wanted to share here.
- The burden of ‘proving’ one’s work is research falls regularly upon practitioners, but not often upon musicologists, whose work frequently gains research credentials simply by resulting in a written output, especially if given an imprimatur of validity by being signed off by one or two people – often colleagues and friends for those working in narrow fields – as part of the process of peer review. I can think of many examples of written articles (not least in the field of new music) which I am told are ‘research’, which amount to rushed-out opinion pieces, for which I am unable to discern any sustained work done in preparation, i.e. any significant research at all. It is time for practitioners to turn the tables and ask those who produce such things why their work is research, just as those who produce written work do with practitioners.
- Composers and performers are not (necessarily) scholars, any more than scholars are composers or performers.
- This debate has been far too dominated by composers, but the reticence (or inability?) of many performers to contribute to it is a relevant factor. Performers do not have, and should not have, any more reason for complacency than any other practitioners, and should not expect that they can simply continue to do their own thing and never be expected to engage with wider academic discourses.
- Something almost entirely absent from this round of the debate has been teaching, and specifically undergraduate teaching. If one believes, as I do, that a university functions best when staff are engaged with both research and teaching, and the two feed off one another, then we need to ask about how certain research inclinations feed into teaching. Undergraduate degrees generally need to be quite broadly-based and provide a relatively wide range of offerings in the form of modules. Whilst some practitioners may certainly be engaged in research at a high level through their practice, this does not mean they are necessarily able to teach anything else which students may require, nor act as personal tutors towards students having to produce work in various domains.This is part of a wider argument against too-narrow specialisation, which is a significant issue with respect to practitioner-scholars who have never produced any written outputs. As those who have watched the filmed debate will know, I contest strongly that view which accords supremacy to written outputs over and above over media. In university departments where written outputs are only a small part of requirements for students, it makes sense to employ those who do not produce written work. But at present, this is rarely the case, and as such there is every reason to wish for practitioners to have to demonstrate some prowess in this field as well. Otherwise, would it not make most sense for them to be employed as composition or instrumental/vocal teachers rather than academics?
Demands for diversification on the part of academics tend to constitute a type of one-way traffic, and usually in favour of certain types of subjects. For example, many of those with a background in Western art music can and do teach popular music, sometimes very well, but the reverse is rare. It is time for practice-centered researchers and others whose research lies exclusively in less traditional domains themselves to have to learn the values of diversity, just as those with a background in Western art music have had to do. Otherwise (as I will argue in a forthcoming article for the Society of Music Analysis newsletter), we are simply undermining the highly skilled nature of the musicological profession, which has traditionally drawn fruitfully upon highly refined and sophisticated skills gained over an extended period before entering university, by asking the one group of scholars who (on the whole) need to demonstrate these to shift in favour of other sub-disciplines, with no parallel shift from others. It should be noted in this context that some of these shifts in musicological emphasis, prominent in the English-speaking world but less so elsewhere (to my knowledge). British musicology, like so many other outpourings of post-imperial British society, frequently exhibits a haughty attitude of superiority combined with relative ignorance with respect to many developments within its continental disciplinary counterparts (whilst bowing down deferentially in the face of its American cousin). For this and other reasons, these types of shifts should not go unchallenged.
In conclusion to this, it is all right for practitioners to have full academic positions, and not have to develop any wider skills, where there are sufficient staff that they do not need to do anything beyond teaching something relating to their own practice. However, this type of 100% research-based teaching is rarely available to scholars producing written work, so why should it be the case for practitioners?
- As discussed in my previous post, in the debate it was argued by Mera that in other artistic disciplines there is a clear divide between creative and professional practice. I have problems understanding on what basis this claim is made, or what the distinction is supposed to mean. Should we hive off any practice for which the practitioners are paid, as that makes it ‘professional’, and discount it from qualifying as creative practice as a result? This is not a facetious question; I could see an argument for extracting practitioners in academia from commercialised arenas, as this could be seen to compromise the scholarly and creative independence of their work (see also my earlier blog on whether commercial music can be research). I suspect this is not what was meant, however, by the comment from the REF 2014 report that ‘the sector still has difficulty distinguishing excellent professional practice from practice with a clear research dimension’. Considering how much debate there has been on the issue of how and when composition and performance might be research, are we to believe that all of those involved on REF panels have a clear set of definitions of these terms which would answer all these questions? If so, it would be good to hear these; if not, this raises serious questions about the basis upon which some individuals were empowered to pass judgement on the work of others.
- 300-word statements might seem innocuous, a simple aid for those judging large amounts of work, but I remain unconvinced that they do not become a substitute for grappling with that work. Having seen multiple external examiners at different institutions who hardly even bothered to look at the work provided to them, I by no means have faith in many academics to do their jobs scrupulously if they are not forced to. Much easier to make a judgement on the basis of a 300-word piece of spin than to discern specifics about an extended score, recording, or whatever. If people are not prepared or competent to judge the latter as research, they should not be on panels doing so.
[Addendum: I have written another piece giving the history of the 300-word statement here]
Video of Research Seminar on Composition and Performance as Research, and some wider responses to John Croft and othersPosted: December 9, 2015
Here is the video of the research seminar which took place on November 25th, 2015, on the subject of ‘Can Composition and Performance be Research?’, which featured a panel made up of Christopher Fox (Professor of Composition at Brunel University and editor of Tempo), myself (pianist and Head of Performance at City University), Miguel Mera (composer and Head of the Department of Music at City University), Annie Yim (pianist and DMA student at City University), and Camden Reeves (composer and Head of Music, University of Manchester). Christine Dysers (PhD student in Music at City University) was unable to be present due to illness, but a statement by here was read out by Sam MacKay (PhD student in Music at City University and organiser of the seminar). The session was chaired by Alexander Lingas (Undergraduate Programme Director and Reader in Music, City University). Greatest of thanks are also due to Bruno Mathez for making and editing the video.
A short article in response to the occasion has been posted at the City University Music Department has been posted by PhD student in music Roya Arab.
The panellists were responding to two key articles: John Croft’s ‘Composition is Not Research’, Tempo 69/272 (April 2015), pp. 6-11, and my own ‘Composition and Performance can be, and often have been, Research’, Tempo 70/275 (January 2016), pp. 60-70. As of this week, Camden Reeves’ article ‘Composition, Research and Pseudo-Science: A Response to John Croft’, Tempo 70/275 (January 2016), pp. 50-59, and Croft’s reply to Reeves and myself, ‘Composition, Research and Ways of Talking’, Tempo 70/275 (January 2016), pp. 71-77, have been published – these are not yet available via open access, but can be downloaded from Tempo for those with access to this.
Here I wanted to summarise the arguments I presented at the forum, and also respond to some of Croft’s response. Some of my thinking has moved on a little from the positions I outlined in my Tempo article (which I acknowledge may contain some inner contradictions or inconsistencies), but the majority of positions presented there are ones I continue to uphold.
The debate has been dominated by the issue of whether composition can be research, with much less attention given to performance; I would like to redress that balance. I believe that it is tacitly accepted that a musical composition is likely to qualify as some type of research much more than is the case for musical performances and recordings. This is reflected in the relative numbers of composers and performers employed in academic positions in universities. I have compiled some approximate figures for the situation as it exists in autumn 2015, in large measure using data derived from departments’ own websites. These figures are slightly modified and checked from those given at the seminar – if anyone notices any other omissions or major errors, do let me know and I will make the appropriate corrections.
There are 53 departments offering various types of music or music-related degree [Edit: Some other departments could also be included, which I will add when editing this post at some point in the near future], excluding the ten UK conservatoires, in which the status of composition and performance is of a different nature. These are as follows:
Russell Group (19): King’s College and Queen Mary, University of London; Birmingham; Bristol; Cambridge; Durham; Leeds; Liverpool; Manchester; Newcastle; Nottingham; Oxford; Sheffield; Southampton; York; Cardiff; Edinburgh; Glasgow; Queen’s University, Belfast.
Mid-ranking Institutions (‘Other’) (13): Royal Holloway and Goldsmiths Colleges, and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; City University; Brunel; Hull; Keele; Open University; Salford; Surrey; Sussex; Bangor; Aberdeen
Post-1992 Institutions (received university status after 1992) (21): West London; East London; London Metropolitan; Westminster; Middlesex; Kingston; Anglia Ruskin; Bath Spa; Brighton; Canterbury Christ Church; Chichester; De Montfort; Falmouth; Hertfordshire; Huddersfield; Liverpool Hope; Oxford Brookes; Winchester; Wolverhampton; Edinburgh Napier; Ulster
I have looked only at composers and performers employed in academic positions (i.e. integrated into the academic career structure from Lecturer to Professor) at these institutions. On the basis of research outputs, I have counted those composers and/or performers who have also produced a fair number of written outputs as being ‘0.5’s for the purposes of counting. I have counted only university (not college) appointments at Oxford and Cambridge. By this method, I arrive at the following figures:
Total Staff: 691
Composers: 198 (28.7%)
Performers: 76 (11%)
Practitioners: 274 (39.7%)
Total Staff: 318
Composers: 89.5 (28.1%)
Performers: 21 (6.6%)
Practitioners: 110.5 (34.7%)
Total Staff: 160
Composers: 45.5 (28.4%)
Performers: 13 (8.1%)
Practitioners: 58.5 (36.5%)
Total Staff: 213
Composers: 63 (29.6%)
Performers: 42 (19.7%)
Practitioners: 105 (49.3%)
Thus there is a ratio of around 4.3:1 of composers to performers at Russell Group institutions, 3.5:1 at mid-ranking institutions, but 3:2 for post-1992 institutions. Performance is clearly less regularly valued as an academic field of study in the more prestige institutions, compared to composition (where the representation is very similar across the sector).
There is a highly sophisticated debate (and concomitant outputs) on practice-as-research in fields such as theatre and dance (my own former institution, Dartington College of Arts, was at the forefront of this). The apparently clear distinction between ‘creative’ and ‘professional’ practice mentioned by Mera in the seminar is however far from clear-cut; it is widely debated and problematized in critical literature, rarely defined clearly, and some departments elide the distinction by using concepts such as ‘Creative Professional Practice’. In comparison to all of this, the debate in music has been rather elementary. Composition has been an accepted academic field for a long time, like fine art and drama; but changes in the RAE/REF in the mid-1990s, allowing the submission of practice-based outputs, forced a re-thinking of this. It is in this context that more fundamental questions about the status of composition and performance in academia have come to the fore, as they have had to consider the types of issues and paradigms developed in other practice-centered disciplines.
I believe that practically all composition and performance are research in some sense; in the case of musical performance the following would be some of the types of research questions that any performer has to answer in order to play a piece of music:
- Which tempi should be used for various large-scale sections of the score in question?
- How much flexibility should be employed within these broad tempi?
- On a smaller scale, what forms of stylisation and elasticity would be most appropriate for playing various types of rhythms?
- Through various combinations of accentuation, articulation and rhythm, to what extent, and where, should one tend towards continuity of line, or more angular approaches?
- In polyphonic or contrapuntal textures, to what extent should one be aiming to project a singular voice which is foregrounded above others, or a greater degree of dynamic equilibrium between parts
- Should one aim for a singular prominent climactic point within a movement, or can there be several of roughly equal prominence?
I could continue with many more; what is important is that by articulating them in this fashion I am not simply making explicit what might as well remain implicit in the acts of musical preparation and performance, but also underlining the fact of their being choices in various respects, not necessarily something which all performers acknowledge (inwardly or outwardly) or act upon. ‘Gigging’ performers, or those who value primarily ‘intuitive’ approaches, might be amongst those less likely to be concerned about the possibilities of rational choices in the process of preparing a performance or recording.
But even if most practice is a type of research, there remain different levels of which such research is conducted – though this is equally true of written work. The question of ‘is X research?’ is banal and inconsequential; what matters is how we determine equivalence of quality between different manifestations of research. We should be wary of over-rating either practice-based or written work which entails a fraction of the thought, prior skills, time and rigour of the most intensive types of research, and ensure a critical research culture exists amongst practitioners if musical institutions are to be more than dressed-up low level conservatoires.
The possibilities for peer review of work whose output is in the form of practice have not been sufficiently explored, and I propose we need a ‘space’, equivalent to a journal, for reviewing and then either publishing (where outputs can be placed online), or simply detailing and drawing attention to (where outputs are copyrighted elsewhere) creative work. I would welcome any communications from others who might be interested in trying to set such a thing up.
Various participants in the seminar appeared to assume that I did not believe that practice could be research unless accompanied by a written component. This is by no means my belief; rather I have questioned whether some relatively unreflective practice should be considered equivalent to more traditional forms of research, but would again emphasise that these questions also apply to some types of written output. Mera pointed out my comments on popular and cultural studies, in which fields I find great variety of quality, and suggested this is true of much work on contemporary music too: I would wholeheartedly agree, and have argued as much on this blog, as well as in various book reviews and review-articles which have appeared recently (as in my extended study of critical reception of Brian Ferneyhough, in which I have given a harsh view of hagiographical writing).
I wish to add a few comments on some points made by Croft in his response to my article. There are many problems with this response and ways in which I believe he misrepresents various of the figures he critiques, but I will limit myself here to his responses to my article. Croft writes the following:
The distinction at work here, loosely put, is between discovery and invention. Before my critics leap on this statement with accusations of essentialism or definition-mania, let me repeat that an attempt to characterise something is not an essentialising move – it is, however, an attempt to get at a fundamental difference between two types of activity: describing and presenting; making and finding out; or, in Aristotelian terms, poiēsis and epistēmē. It’s hardly a new idea, and deserves more than the breezy dismissal it receives, both from Reeves and from Ian Pace in his response. Einstein was not just ‘making something’. He was describing the world. A composer, on the other hand, is making an addition to the world that is not primarily descriptive. (And no, not like a smartphone or a blancmange.)
Smartphones and blancmanges aside (why are they so fundamentally different to musical composition in terms of their relationship to description?), I do not accept that either Reeves’ response or my own entail a ‘breezy dismissal’; in my own case I dispute how clear-cut is the dichotomy presented by Croft. He goes on to locate cases within literature on practice-as-research which themselves frame the concept of research so as to include creative practice, with which I would agree. The following is the definition of research supplied by the REF:
1. For the purposes of the REF, research is defined as a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared.
2. It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce, industry, and to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances, artefacts including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products and processes, including design and construction. It excludes routine testing and routine analysis of materials, components and processes such as for the maintenance of national standards, as distinct from the development of new analytical techniques. It also excludes the development of teaching materials that do not embody original research.
3. It includes research that is published, disseminated or made publicly available in the form of assessable research outputs, and confidential reports (as defined at paragraph 115 in Part 3, Section 2). (p. 48)
I do not know why Croft is resistant to this type of highly inclusive definition, though suspect (as indicated in my Tempo article) that this reflects an analytical/positivist philosophical bent rather than the more synthetic and idealistic attitude which I find more enlightening. Research does not merely describe the world, but can create new forms of perception and experience, such as are fundamental to artistic creation. One does not have to be a postmodern relativist (I am certainly not) to see that research can shape rather than merely identify reality. Composition does not come from nowhere, and all music is produced and heard in relation to other music and sonic phenomena; to treat musical creation independently of reference (whether or not willed by the composer) is in my view simplistic. Croft goes on to conclude:
This is not the place to launch a critique of STS [Science and Technology Studies], but I do think practice-as-research is in trouble if it depends on a view of science that confuses ideas and things so profoundly. However, Pace seems to espouse a version of this view in his suggestion that, if Einstein had not come up with relativity, someone else might have come up with an ‘entirely different paradigm’ instead. Most physicists would find this idea absurd. (p. 75)
The above relies on a flagrant misquotation; in my Tempo article I wrote the following:
It is by no means necessarily true that, as Croft says ‘if Einstein had not existed, someone else would have come up with Relativity’; someone might have come up with a quite different, but equally influential paradigm. (p. 68)
Nowhere here or elsewhere in the article do I use the phrase ‘entirely different paradigm’. The point is that ‘Relativity’ is not itself the phenomena being identified, but a scientific model use to give shape to external phenomena. I will leave it to others to debate whether this was the only possible model which could have been used, or for that matter whether this model will always remain undisputed in the future.
Croft also writes:
Pace, at one point, agrees that composition is ‘not intrinsically research’, but that it might entail various activities that are research. If this is his view, we do not disagree; this is exactly what I said in my original article. But at another point he states that ‘research’ is just a word for what composers have always been doing, except for the additional requirement of supporting text. One interpretation of this might be that composition is research, and the text simply points out how – but this would contradict the earlier statement that composition is not intrinsically research. Another would be that composition is not research until turned into research by the text. This certainly doesn’t square with our usual use of the word ‘research’. You could, in principle, do scientific, literary or historical research without writing anything down. Moreover, if documentation can turn non-research into research, this undermines the ‘material thinking’ justification for practice-as-research: if we take this line seriously, then compositional knowledge-how would not be amenable to translation into knowledge-that. This is a far cry from Pace’s insistence on ‘explicit articulation to facilitate integration into academic structures’. (p. 76)
Pace seems to think that without such an accompanying text, composing becomes merely a matter of composers composing ‘in the way they always have done’. This points, perhaps, to a tendency to dismiss any idea of a domain of irreducible non-conceptual thought as some kind of romantic fantasy of ineffability. I have no problem with ‘opening a window’ on the compositional process, but when this is anything but superficial, it is often poetic and rarely in the language of aims and objectives; nor is it a matter of ‘making explicit’ for the purposes of ‘integration’, as Pace puts it. Amenability to such language does not turn something into research, as we have seen; but in any case, much of what makes music meaningful is generally resistant to such ‘integration’. (p. 77)
Here is what I wrote:
Croft’s basic formulation that composition is not intrinsically research is one I accept in this naked form, and I would say the same about performance. But both are outputs, which can entail a good deal of research. A new type of blancmange or smartphone may not themselves be intrinsically research either (nor, as Lauren Redhead vitally points out, is writing), but few would have a problem seeing them as valid research-based outputs. (p. 64)
All I am arguing there is that an output is not itself research but the product of research. Croft could as easily read the above as saying that writing is not research, and dismiss all attempts to produce written articles and books, as he uses it to suggest that I am supporting his position. Another passage to which he refers is:
Unlike Croft, I believe that composition-as-research, and performance-as-research (and performance-based research) are real activities; the terms themselves are just new ways to describe what has gone on earlier, with the addition of a demand for explicit articulation to facilitate integration into academic structures. (p. 70)
This needs to be read in the context of these previous statements:
Ultimately his [Croft’s] model of research seems to require a particular type of conceptually based knowledge which can be communicated verbally, which I find too narrow. (p. 64)
What is being asked, not unfairly, of a composer employed in a research-intensive university is that at the least they verbally articulate the questions, issues, aims and objectives, and stages of compositional activity, to open a window onto the process and offer the potential of use to others. As a performer I am happy to do this (and wish more performers would do so) and I do not see why it should be a problem for composers too (the argument that this is unnecessary, as all of this can be communicated solely through the work itself, is one I find too utopian). (p. 67)
Nor does musical practice become research simply by virtue of being accompanied by a programme note, which funding and other committees can look at while ignoring the practical work. (p. 69)
I am a bit more reticent about the second of these statements now than when I wrote the article. The point here was a pragmatic one, which might be somewhat at odds with the sentiments elsewhere. Documenting process can surely do no harm, and indeed do a lot of good in terms of clarifying and facilitating the dissemination of research, but on the other hand one should not necessarily privilege written outputs in this respect, as I said in the talk. But this does not contradict my basic view that practice can be research independently of any written element, in strong distinction to the position Croft (and at first Mera) appear to attribute to me. Documentation does not make something research, it just helps a little with making research more accessible. 300-word statements hardly seem a huge price to pay, though I remain somewhat in two minds about this point. [Addendum: see my later post about the 300-word statements and their history]
I also wrote:
Composers may wish to be paid a salary to compose or perform in the way they always have done, but perhaps they would then be better employed on a teaching contract for composition with the recognition and remuneration for their composition or performance coming from elsewhere. (p. 67)
All I am saying here is that composers should not automatically assume they are high-level academics, any more than should those who write articles and book chapters. It hardly seems so unfair that they are held to research standards just like other types of academics.
Croft takes further exception to my arguments here:
Pace’s suggestion that composition is somehow a less demanding activity for an academic to undertake, and that it needs the words to make up the difference, hardly warrants a response and has no bearing on the question at hand. (pp. 76-7)
I have some doubts as to whether some composition- and performance- based PhDs, especially those not even requiring a written component, are really equivalent in terms of effort, depth and rigour with the more conventional types. (p. 69)
This is the same point as I made about composers expecting to have to put in no extra effort when working in universities. But Croft neglects my qualifier ‘some’. I have certainly seen some other PhDs which are absolutely on a par with more conventional types, just believe these are not always typical.
I end with my fundamental point: trying to provide very exclusive definitions of ‘research’ is fruitless; what is needed is to find equitable ways of assessing composition, performance, written and other types of outputs in ways which do not put any work at a disadvantage simply because of the form of the output.