The Blog of Ian Pace, pianist, musicologist, political animal. A place for thoughts, reflections, links, both trivial and not so trivial. Main website is at http://www.ianpace.com . Contact e-mail email@example.com.
Over the course of the last 5-6 years, I have been progressively researching many aspects of music in higher education (HE) in the UK, including its history and development, the rise and fall of certain types of courses and their recruitment, staff-student ratios across departments, student satisfaction, curricular issues, the presence of practitioners in faculties, and so on. Some of this is based upon data provided by the Higher Education Standards Authority (HESA) which is permitted for internal use within institutions only, so I cannot give details of that here except where I have been specifically authorised for in other publicly-available writings. Other such research is based upon plenty of information in the public domain (including quite simply information about faculties, courses, etc., which universities are legally obliged to publish on their websites), also that from other organisations dealing with university admissions and so on, and historic data from various yearbooks which detail courses available (old editions of the British Music Yearbook and British Music Education Yearbook are especially useful in this respect, as are some wider university guides), not to mention numerous individual histories of specific universities and wider historical writing on HE in general.
Scholarly writing on music in higher education is overwhelmingly dominated by that from a pedagogical/educationalist perspective; this is vital, but so is historical writing and that based upon data showing the current state of the sector at any one time. Amongst the relatively few published resources I would cite are Noel Long, Music in English Education: Grammar School, University and Conservatoire (London: Faber and Faber, 1959); the reports Making Musicians: A Report to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1965) and Training Musicians: A Report to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation on the training of professional musicians (London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1978); an important data set in ‘University Music Departments’, in Arthur Jacobs (ed.), Music Education Handbook: A Directory of Music Education in Britain with Reference Articles and Tables (London & New York: Bowker, 1976), pp. 86-102; Dorothy Taylor, Music Now: A Guide to Recent Developments and Current Opportunities in Music Education (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1979); another worthwhile data set in ‘UK Music Degree Courses: A Complete Guide’, The Musical Times, vol. 136 no. 1830 (1995), 417-24; Helena Gaunt and Ioulia Papageorgi, ‘Music in universities and conservatoires’, in Susan Hallam and Andrea Creech (eds.), Music Education in the 21st Century in the United Kingdom: Achievements, analysis and aspirations (London: Institute of Education, 2010); Edward Breen, Thurston Dart and the New Faculty of Music at King’s College London: A 50th anniversary biography (London: King’s College London, 2015); Gareth Dylan Smith, ‘Popular Music in Higher Education’, in Ioulia Papageorgi and Graham Welch (eds.), Advanced Musical Practice: Investigations in Higher Education Learning (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. 33-48, and several essays in Björn Heile, Eva Moreda Rodríguez and Jane Stanley (eds.), Higher Education in Music in the Twenty-First Century (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2019). Other resources are primarily journalistic (as are some of the above) or in the form of reports produced by some educational or policy institutions. I have no doubt that there is considerable scope for wider historical and institutional research into music in higher education, both in the UK and globally, not just into how it is taught, but quite simply what is taught and where?
This is a key moment for the UK music HE sector. While overall numbers of students have not fallen in the last 10 years and have actually risen slightly, there has been a major decline in the academic study of music, as compared to more practically-focused training. The blurring of boundaries between the two is more far advanced in the UK than in any European country of which I am aware (where, in general, a university degree is about studying musicology), and this has both positives and negatives. Undoubtedly the wider decline in music provision at primary and secondary level is a factor as explored in the report Music Education: State of the Nation, compiled in 2019 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the University of Sussex . What this all means for the future of university study of music in particular, and quite simply what university departments can do to survive, are key questions. In the period since 1945, there were only ever a small few closures of departments – St. Andrew’s (1988); Leicester (1991); Aberystwyth (1992); and temporarily Aberdeen (1992) (reopening in the early 2000s) – but since 2004 there have been a numerous others where departments have closed or all undergraduate programmes have been suspended – Reading (2004); Exeter (2004); Roehampton (2010); East Anglia (2011); Lancaster (2015); Essex (2016); Abertay Dundee (2019); Cumbria (2022); and Wolverhampton (2022). Other departments such as Keele, Brunel and Kingston have considerably modified their offerings, away from musicology and away from classical music.
However, in the period since 1992 in particular there have also been numerous new departments and courses which have opened, in particular since the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act, which enabled former polytechnics and colleges of higher education to apply for full university status. The growth in music courses in this part of the sector has concentrated on popular/commercial music, music technology and more recently musical theatre. Other relevant developments include the effective trebling of tuition fees to £9K per annum effective from 2012, in conjunction with other cuts to teaching budgets in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which meant that students were saddled with much greater debt than ever before, and the removal of caps on undergraduate recruitment from 2015-16, creating more ferocious competition between departments. The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union effective from January 2020 has caused increased fees for EU students, the impact of which on recruitment is still in an early stage (also complicated by the pandemic). Also recently, and in particular following the 2017 Higher Education and Research Act, which amongst other things established the Office for Students (OfS), which took over some of the responsibilities of the then-abolished Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The architect of this act, Lord Johnson (formerly Jo Johnson, brother of the former Prime Minister), who was Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation from 2015 to 2018, made clear very recently his aim that the OfS would encourage the growth of ‘alternative education providers’ (paralleling the growth of academies and free schools at primary/secondary level) which stand outside of the more directly state-regulated sector. As such, some private music providers have been able to obtain university status and/or access to student loans. The growth of these institutions has also in some ways undercut the rest of the sector, subject to fewer checks and balances, not required to share information about recruitment, progression, and so on, often offering 2-year degrees, having little if any research dimension, and in general no more than at most token academic content. The results of the growth of private higher education providers has been surveyed very critically in a US context in an article by economics professor Dennis A. Ahlburg (‘Skunks in an English Woodland: Should England embrace for-profit Higher Education’?, Political Quarterly, vol. 90, no. 2), and I believe we would do well to digest this critique in the UK.
In this and subsequent blogs, like anyone else I am not immune to the possibility of human error in my data, but will generally try and correct any errors I or others find. Furthermore, as individuals come and go from departments, my data may become out-of-date or some may already be (these lists were compiled initially in February 2023). As such, I do invite others either to contact me privately or post on here with constructive information in this respect. I also recognise that some of the issues affecting Scotland are somewhat different to those in the rest of the United Kingdom, as Scotland continues to offer free tuition to all Scottish students.
Types of Music Departments in the UK
Here and elsewhere, the primary focus of my research is on undergraduate provision. There are universities which offer some post-graduate taught courses in or related to music, but do not have a music department (such as Reading or University College London, both of which offer music education). In another blog I will detail existing post-graduate taught courses, but in general those departments upon which I focus have full music departments and offer degrees for undergraduates.
I divide higher education providers for music into six fundamental categories:
(a) Russell Group: those members of the organisation founded in 1994, currently comprising 24 universities which offer music degrees. At the time of writing there are 18 of these: Birmingham; Bristol, Cambridge; Cardiff; Durham; Edinburgh; Glasgow; King’s College, University of London; Leeds; Liverpool; Manchester; Newcastle; Nottingham; Oxford; Queen’s University Belfast; Sheffield; Southampton; York.
(b) Mid-Ranking: those full universities which are neither Russell Group nor post-1992 (see below), 15 of which offer full music degrees: Aberdeen; Bangor; Brunel; City, University of London; Goldsmiths College, University of London; Hull; Keele; Kent; Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts (LIPA); Royal Holloway, University of London; Open University; Salford; Surrey; Sussex; Ulster. There are three others which skirt the boundaries of this category: Reading (which had a music department until 2004), which offers a degree in Primary Education and Music; Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, which offers one degree in Sound Design and Production; and SOAS, which ran a sole music degree, with tiny numbers, until 2020 or 2021, but now offers only joint degrees with music.
(c) Post-1992: institutions which were polytechnics or colleges of higher education, or occasionally another name before 1992, but which now (or following mergers with other institutions) have full university status. 66 of these offer music degrees: Anglia Ruskin; Bath Spa; Bedfordshire; Birmingham City (though the music department here largely comprises the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire); Bishop Grosseteste; Bolton; Bournemouth; Brighton; Buckinghamshire New; Canterbury Christ Church; Central Lancashire; Chester; Chichester; University Centre Colchester; Coventry; University of the Creative Arts; De Montfort; Derby; East London; Edge Hill; Edinburgh Napier; Falmouth; Gloucestershire; Glyndŵr, Greenwich, University Centre Grimsby; Hertfordshire; Highlands and Islands; Huddersfield; Kingston; Leeds Arts; Leeds Beckett; Lincoln; Liverpool Hope; Liverpool John Moores; London Metropolitan; London South Bank; University of the Arts London; Manchester Metropolitan; UCEN Manchester; Middlesex; Northampton; Northumbria; Nottingham Trent; Oxford Brookes; Plymouth; Plymouth Marjon; Arts University Plymouth; Portsmouth; Ravensbourne; University Centre Rotherham; Southampton Solent; Staffordshire; Sunderland; Teesside; University Centre at the Heart of Yorkshire; South Wales (largely encompassed by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama); Wales Trinity Saint David; West London; West of England; West of Scotland; Westminster; Winchester; Worcester; York St John; University Centre at the Heart of Yorkshire.
(d) Others (Colleges of Higher Education, etc.): those other institutions offering degree-level courses. 8 of these offer full courses: Greater Brighton Metropolitan College (Brighton MET); Burnley College; South Gloucestershire and Stroud College; Lincoln College; Loughborough College; Middlesbrough College; Newcastle College University Centre; Rose Bruford College; West Suffolk College. A further 12 offer solely ‘Top-Up’ courses, equivalent to the final year of an undergraduate degree, enabling students to upgrade an existing qualification to become a degree: Bedford College Group; University Centre Calderdale College; Cardiff and Vale College; New College Durham; Hereford College of Arts; Hull College; City of Liverpool College University Centre; Morley College; City College Plymouth; Sheffield College; East Sussex College.
(e) Conservatoires: institutions with a greater focus on performance and 1-1 tuition, but offer full music degree courses, of which there are 9: Royal College of Music (RCM); Royal Academy of Music (RAM); Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD); Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance; Leeds Conservatoire; Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM); Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (RBC); Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS); Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD).
(f) Private Providers. Here I list the 9 providers offering undergraduate degree courses via UCAS: Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM); British and Irish Modern Music Institute University (BIMM); Futureworks, Manchester; Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP); Liverpool Media Academy (LMA); London College of Creative Media (LCCM); Point Blank Music School; SAE Institute; Waterbear College of Music. Some of these are more akin to franchises than simple physical institutions – BIMM, Point Blank and SAE have branches in various localities and in other countries. Some others which might be listed here, such as the dBS Institute, are almost wholly directed by other universities (in this case Falmouth), so I do not classify them as independent providers, though I am aware that some of the categorisations are open to challenge.
Categories (a)-(c) and (e) are those for which most information is available, and so form the basis of my study. Notwithstanding some blurring of the differentation between universities and conservatoires/practical training schools mentioned earlier, differences still remain (and conservatoires require certain provisions to be able to call themselves as such), not least in terms of the nature of the staffing base, as I will detail below.
The use of some such categories is certainly open to question in terms of how much they reveal. There is no necessary reason to believe that research-intensive universities deliver any better teaching than others, and so the Russell Group should not be seen as an equivalent of the US Ivy League. Furthermore, 1992 is now three decades ago, and the trajectory of various institutions can be more significant than their provenance. At the time of writing, in terms of the nature of their offers, faculties, research record, etc., it would be difficult without prior knowledge to know in exactly which category the likes of Huddersfield, Keele, Kent or Oxford Brookes, for example, belong. Nonetheless, the categories do still have some wider purchase – at a conference in London on Higher Education in Autumn 2022 which I attended, a representative from the organisation Unifrog, who help students with making application choices, revealed that by some considerable measure the most frequent search criterion used by applicants was whether an institution is a member of the Russell Group or not. There is also a real distinction between the Russell Group and many of the post-92s in terms of the role that research plays – only 25 out of the 66 post-1992 institutions listed above were submitted for the 2021 Research Excellence Framework, and none of the Colleges of HE or private providers (though most of the conservatoires were).
Using data derived from HESA figures, which I received permission to use in one of the Times Higher articles I published last year, the following is the breakdown of numbers of students in different parts of the sector who were admitted in the 2020-21 academic year, excluding those who entered Colleges of HE and private providers for which data is either unavailable or incomplete:
Russell Group: 1778 students (25.1% of university students, 19.9% of those in whole sector) Mid-Ranking: 775 students (10.9% of university students, 8.7% of those in whole sector) Post-1992: 4534 students: (64% of university students; 50.7% of those in whole sector) Conservatoires: 1853 students (20.7% of whole sector).
2020-21, which was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, may seem an unrepresentative year, but I can aver that figures for the previous few years were not significantly different in terms of the distribution or overall numbers.
Thus claims that the Russell Group would ‘hoover up’ the majority of students following the lifting of caps have proved unfounded. By far the largest numbers are those in post-1992 institutions, which for the most part offer degrees which do not coincide with what may be preconceptions of what a music degree entails. These are primarily vocationally-oriented degrees in music technology, commercial music, musical theatre, but not generally of the level of intensity of those in conservatoires. Data on employment prospects, and as such the relationship between such vocational offerings and actual vocations available, is unclear, as the current means of reporting this enables many institutions to give single figures for all creative and performing arts, which can be skewered because of the role of courses in Design, which are dominant in the creative arts and for which many jobs are available in various parts of industry (see also David Kernohan, ‘What are creative arts courses?’, Wonkhe Explainer, 14 December 2022). The future of many such music courses in light of intentions made clear by some politicians, and the 2019 Augur Review, to end ‘low-earning degrees’, as various creative/performing arts degrees do not tend to score well on this measure.
Many protagonists on music in higher education with a public profile, including myself, come from Russell Group or mid-ranking institutions. The type of sector they and their colleagues (and research collaborators) tend to see on a daily basis is not representative of that experienced by the majority of students, which should always be taken into account when aiming for broader conclusions.
The following data is compiled from the websites of universities, with extra details added where made available through colleagues working there. Some of the staff websites are more user-friendly than others, and some individual staff pages are not ‘live’, or have not been updated to account for changes in personnel. As such, there will inevitably be some degree of approximation, and of course staff will continue to change. Nonetheless, this data should give a reasonable snapshot of the situation at the time of writing.
I count here salaried academic staff in the departments in question, as far as I have been able to establish about their status (again, there may be some errors). I have not included visiting/associate/hourly-paid lecturers, other freelance staff, emeritus professors, research fellows, or technical staff. For this reason, for now I have limited this list to categories (a)-(c) above; at other types of institutions (especially conservatoires) are largely staffed by hourly-paid faculty. In some full universities this can also be the case, where there is a significant divide between research and research expertise and the demands of teaching, with a lot of teaching undertaken by hourly-paid staff or doctoral students. But this list gives an indication of which staff are given the most valued types of positions (for better or worse) at present. The relationship between salaried and hourly-paid staff may change or need to change in music as a result of greater integration of practitioners, and (as argued in some of my THE pieces) the need both to value their contributions and status more, as well as working to better integrate them into the values and practices of university education.
The categorisation is based primarily upon the areas of research or wider expertise made clear with respect to the staff in question, where these are clear. It should be borne in mind that some staff teach in part or whole in areas other than those of their primary research. Some categories are a bit blurred; in the UK the distinction between ‘historians’ and ‘theorists’ is nothing like as clear as in the US, and many (including myself) straddle both categories. For the most part the study of musical aesthetics is undertaken by those in the categories of history and analysis. Music technology is also a broad category, relating to a range of activities. Here I have added particular categories for those whose work is focused on composition and technology, or sound art and technology.
It is rarely the case that part-time salaried staff are indicated as such on university websites; in the absence of comprehensive data on this aspect, further approximation has to be assumed. Also, it is often unclear whether some staff have temporary or permanent contracts. Where I am aware, I have not counted temporary staff (as they are usually covering for permanent staff on sabbatical or research leave), but again there may be more approximations as a result.
Totals: 79 Historical 58 Composition/Sonic Arts 27 Theory/Analysis 24.5 Ethnomusicology 24 Performance 23.5 Pop/Jazz 19.5 Tech/Science 18 Music Psychology 8.5 Music Business/Management/Industry 6.5 Music for Screen/Film/Media 5.5 Education 5.5 Philosophy/Aesthetics (and some others in History or Analysis who engage with this) 2.5 Sound/Sound Studies 2 Acoustics 2 Gaming 1.5 Recording/Production 1.5 Musical Theatre 1 Music Sociology 1 Critical Musicology 1 Performance Practice 0.5 Music and Religion
(where a faculty member belongs in two categories, I add 0.5 to the total for each. For Historical/Analysis/Aesthetics, I have divided into 0.5 Historical, 0.5 Analysis, as these are the bigger categories. For the likes of Performance/Tech/Composition, I have added 0.5 to the first two, as these tend to be the most significant.).
Totals: 31.5 Composition 25.5 Tech/Electronics/Production/Recording 24 Performance 23 Historical 16 Ethnomusicology 13.5 Pop/Jazz 4.5 Musical Theatre (possibly more through Surrey) 2 Aesthetics 2 Community 1.5 Theory/Analysis 1.5 Music Psychology 1.5 Music Education 1 Instruments 0.5 Opera
Anglia Ruskin: 2 Musical Theatre; 8 Music Therapy; 4 Tech/Audio; 1 Composition; 1 Composition/Performance. Bath Spa: 1 Historical/Ethnomusicology; 2 Composition; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Jazz; 1 Musical Theatre; 1 Ethnomusicology. Bedfordshire: No salaried music staff are made clear via the website. Birmingham City: not included since the staff are largely employed by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Bishop Grosseteste: 1 Historical; 1 Performance. Bolton: 1 Screen/Composition. Bournemouth: 5 Tech/Audio; 1 Composition/Tech. Brighton: 1 Aesthetics (not just music); 4 Composition/Sound Art; 1 Pop/Sociology. Buckinghamshire: 1 Performance/Sociology; 1 Tech/Composition; 1 Composition/Sound Art; 1 Sound/Media; 1 Engineering/Production; 1 Pop/Performance/Production; 1 Audio/Sound; 1 Management; 1 Recording/Production Canterbury Christ Church: 2 Historical/Performance; 5 Composition/Sonic Art; 1 Performance/Tech. Central Lancashire: 1 Business/Industry; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Pop; 2 Musical Theatre; 1 Performance. Chester: 1 Popular Performance; 1 Composition; 1 Tech/Production; 2 Pop; 1 Journalism; 1 Musical Theatre. Chichester: 4 Performance; 5 Musical Theatre; 1 Orchestral. (Many Associate Lecturers and instrumental/vocal tutors). Colchester: 1 Popular Performance; 1 Screen; 1 Screen/Performance; 1 Education; 1 Musical Theatre. Coventry: 1 Composition; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Performance; 1 Pop; 1 Game Audio. Creative Arts: 1 Historical; 1 Composition/Screen; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Journalism. De Montfort: 1 Composition; 7 Composition/Tech; 1 Performance/Tech; 1 Audio. Derby: 2 Pop/Tech; 2 Production. East London: 4 Composition; 1 Songwriting/Production; 1 Production/Sound Design; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Performance. Edge Hill: 3 Production; 3 Musical Theatre. Edinburgh Napier: 1 Media/Pop/Cultural Studies; 3 Composition; 3 Performance; 1 Composition/Pop Performance; 1 Pop; 1 Education. Falmouth: 3 Composition; 1 Composition/Tech; 2 Musical Theatre; 3 Pop; 3 Tech/Audio; 5 Performance. Gloucestershire: 1 Composition; 3 Business; 2 Production; 1 Performance; 1 Pop. Glyndŵr: 1 Performance; 1 Tech/Production. (There may be a few more here). Greenwich: the Dance/Musical Theatre degree is offered via Bird College – staff do not appear to be on academic contracts. A few Sound Design staff appear to contribute to a wider course. Grimsby: Unclear from website. Hertfordshire: Unclear from website. Highlands and Islands: 2 Business; 2 Pop; 2 Composition; 5 Performance; 1 Education. Huddersfield: 1 Historical; 4 Composition; 3 Composition/Tech; 3 Performance; 4 Tech/Sound Production; 1 Pop; 1 Screen. Kingston: 1 Composition; 3 Composition/Performance/Tech; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Pop/Performance; 1 Education. Leeds Art: 5 Popular Performance; 1 Performance; 1 Tech/Production. Leeds Beckett: 2 Screen/Video; 8 Composition/Performance/Tech (one of these Songwriting); 9 Tech/Sound Production; 2 Performance/Production; 3 Performance; 2 Business; 2 Other. Lincoln: 1 Ethnomusicology; 1 Pop/Sound Design; 2 Composition; 2 Performance. Liverpool Hope: 2 Production; 1 Performance; 1 Pop. Liverpool John Moores: 1 Pop; 1 Ethnomusicology; 1 Music and Literature. London Metropolitan: 3 Tech/Production. London South Bank: 2 Sound Design. University of the Arts London: 1 Composition/Sound Art/Historical Performance; 4 Composition/Sound Art. Manchester Metropolitan: 1 Gaming; 3 Sound Design; 1 Composition/Recording. UCEN Manchester: None listed. Middlesex: 3 Composition; 1 Composition/Historical; 4 Management/Industry/Business; 5 Pop; 1 Jazz Composition/Performance; 1 Tech. Northampton: 5 Pop; 2 Pop/Production. Northumbria: 2 Historical; 1 Performance/Instruments; 1 Pop. Nottingham Trent: 1 Performance. Oxford Brookes: 3 Historical; 1 Pop; 1 Sound; 1 Screen; 1 Composition. Plymouth: 1 Education; 1 Psychology; 1 Musical Theatre; 1 Composition/Computing. Plymouth Marjon: no dedicated salared music staff listed on website. Arts University Plymouth: 2 Sound Art/Tech. Portsmouth: 1 Tech/Audio; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Music/Theatre/Other; 1 Musical Theatre. Ravensbourne: 3 Sound Design/Recording/Audio; 1 Musical Theatre Composition/Performance; 1 Performance/Composition. University Centre Rotherham: Not clear from website. Southampton Solent: 4 Popular Performance; 1 Pop; 1 Art/Music; 2 Composition (1 songwriting, 1 sound); 1 Management; 1 Performance/Sound; 1 Performance; 1 Sound/Tech; 1 Production. South Wales: not included since the staff are largely employed by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Staffordshire: 2 Tech/Engineering; 2 Sound Design; 2 Composition/Tech. (This list may not be complete as the website is very patchy). Sunderland: 1 Composition/Performance; 1 Composition/Sound Art; 1 Performance. Teesside: 3 Tech/Production. University Centre at the Heart of Yorkshire: Not clear from website. Wales Trinity Saint David: 3 Tech. West London: 1 Historical; 3 Tech; 1 Pop; 1 Pop/Tech/Recording; 3 Musical Theatre; 4 Performance (one non-Western); 2 Performance/Recording; 2 Production/Recording; 2 Composition; 1 Songwriting/Recording; 1 Sound/Sociology; 2 Management; 1 Screen. West of England: 7 Tech/Audio. West of Scotland: 2 Performance; 3 Pop Studies; 3 Composition; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Tech. Westminster: 1 Performance/Composition/Tech; 2 Performance; 1 Performance/Industry; 1 Composition; 1 Tech/Production; 1 Music/Film. (May be others – website information patchy). Winchester: 3 Musical Theatre; 1 Tech/Production. Worcester: all academic staff for Musical Theatre here appear to be Theatre staff without specific music expertise. York St John: 3 Production; 2 Community; 2 Composition; 2 Performance; 1 Historical/Various
Totals(excluding Bedfordshire, Birmingham City (conservatoire), Grimsby, Hertfordshire, Plymouth Marjon, University Centre Rotherham, South Wales (conservatoire), University Centre at the Heart of Yorkshire): 87.5 Tech/Electronics/Production/Recording 80 Composition 74 Performance 37.5 Pop/Jazz 25.5 Musical Theatre 17.5 Historical 16.5 Management/Business/Industry 13 Screen/Film/Media/Gaming 9.5 Sound Design 8 Music Therapy 5 Music Education 3.5 Ethnomusicology 3.5 Sound/Sound Studies 1.5 Music Sociology 1 Music Psychology 1 Aesthetics 1 Music Journalism 0.5 Instruments
+ 9.5 Other
Colleges of HE, etc.
Here I only include those institutions which offer full degrees, rather than just top-up ones.
Brighton MET: 2 Recording/Production Burnley College: unclear from website South Gloucestershire and Stroud College: 1 Musical Theatre Lincoln College: unclear from website Loughborough College: unclear from website Middlesborough College: 1 Recording/Production Newcastle College University Centre: 1 Music unspecified; 1 Production Rose Bruford: 1 Sound; 1 Performance West Suffolk College: unclear from website
Totals (though information too patchy): 4 Recording/Production 1 Performance 1 Musical Theatre 1 Sound 1 Music unspecified
I am not listing here faculties at conservatoires, because of the great difficulty in establishing which faculty members count as research/academic staff and which not. Terms such as ‘Professor of Violin’ does not necessarily have the same meaning as a Professor in a university (and certainly would not necessarily imply a research position such as would require them to be submitted to the REF). I am also not including private providers since the precise status of staff is also not clear.
As mentioned above, many institutions also employ a considerable number of hourly-paid or visiting lecturers; at some these may be responsible for a large percentage of the teaching. But these have a different type of status (considerably more precarious), are often impossible to count, and are almost never research staff. This is just a list of salaried academic staff.
Grand Totals 169.5 Composition/Sonic Art 134 Tech/Electronics/Production/Recording 122 Performance 119.5 Historical Musicology 74.5 Pop/Jazz 44 Ethnomusicology 32 Musical Theatre (possibly more) 27 Theory/Analysis 23 Music Business/Management/Industry 21.5 Music for Screen/Film/Media/Gaming 20.5 Music Psychology 12 Music Education 9.5 Sound Design 8 Music Therapy 6 Music Philosophy/Aesthetics 5.5 Sound/Sound Studies 2.5 Music Sociology 2.5 Performance Practice/Instruments 2 Acoustics 2 Community Music 1 Critical Musicology 1 Music unspecified 0.5 Music and Religion 0.5 Opera Studies
The categories above are sure to be seen as problematic by some. The grouping together of music technology, electronics, production and recording might be argued to conflate a range of quite distinct activities, and some of the work in ‘Electronics’ in particular might be better grouped with composition. Similarly the ‘Historical Musicology’ not only spans a period of over a millennium, encompassing often radically different types of work, but also the work of some involved in this (including myself) overlaps with theory/analysis and aesthetics, while there are a small number whose work on popular musics or sound studies can be historical in nature. ‘Performance’ is also a broad category, involving performers in a range of different genres requiring different skills and expectations; the same is true of ‘Composition’. It also needs to be noted that a lot of individual and group performance teaching is undertaken by hourly-paid lecturers, usually specialists on a particular instrument/voice. But all categorisations inevitably involve some degree of simplification, and I think this one should help to understand and interpret the broader picture.
So, first of all I wish to consider from this the numbers of those academics whose work is centered around scholarly investigation of music (which we can broadly call ‘musicology’, even though some subsets of this, including music sociology, some ethnomusicology, or music education, may have more in common with other disciplinary fields than musicology), compared to those involved more often in practical music-making or other practical activity. I am including pop/jazz and film/screen/media/gaming within scholarly investigation, where the academics are not clearly indicated as composers in these fields (though this may lead to some minor inaccuracies), and similarly sound/sound studies, but sound design, musical theatre, music therapy and tech/science/electronics/production/recording are all classified as practical activities (even though some of these may include a detached and critically self-reflective component). Then the totals are as follows:
Russell Group: 202.5 scholarly (65.5%); 104.5 practical (33.8%); 2 other (0.6%). Mid-Ranking: 62.5 scholarly (48.8%); 61.5 practical (48%); 4 other (3%). Post-92: 101.5 scholarly (26.3%); 275 practical (71.2%); 9.5 other (2.4%). Colleges of HE, etc: 2 scholarly (25%); 6 practical (75%).
TOTALS: 368.5 scholarly (44.3%); 447 practical (53.8%); 15.5 other (4%).
The picture is clear – the Russell Group have a stronger tendency towards scholarly investigation, though still a sizeable component of practical activity; the two things are roughly matched in Mid-Ranking institutions; and there is a very strong tendency towards practical activity in Post-92 institutions and Colleges of HE, etc. Nonetheless, of the latter group, Bolton, Bournemouth, Derby, East London, Edge Hill, Glyndŵr, Greenwich, Leeds Art, London Met, London South Bank, University of the Arts London, Nottingham Trent, Arts University Plymouth, Ravensbourne, Staffordshire, Sunderland, Teesside, Wales Trinity St David, West of England, Winchester, Worcester have no obvious scholarly representation on the faculty, while the scholarly component at Buckinghamshire New, Central Lancashire, Chichester, De Montfort, Kingston, Lincoln, Liverpool Hope, Manchester Met, Portsmouth, Westminster and York St John is very small. Even amongst those institutions submitting to the REF in 2021 (Anglia Ruskin, Bath Spa, Canterbury Christ Church, Central Lancashire, Chester, Chichester, Coventry, De Montfort, East London, Edinburgh Napier, Huddersfield, Kingston, Leeds Art, Leeds Beckett, Lincoln, Liverpool Hope, Middlesex, Oxford Brookes, Plymouth, Portsmouth, West London, Winchester, Worcester and York St John) the majority of submissions were practice-based.
Representation of scholars is also thin at Brunel, Kent, LIPA, Sussex, Ulster amongst Mid-Ranking institutions, in the case of Sussex in particular a significant shift from their earlier profile. There are no Russell Group institutions with no practitioners, but this category is dominated by composers. Across the sector as a whole, there are more practitioners than scholars, but the margin is not huge.
There can surely be few subjects in which the gap between the Russell Group and the Post-92 institutions is so strong. It is hard to imagine a good deal of Russell Group lecturers teaching in the Post-92s, and vice versa. Only a small minority of Post-92 university music departments resemble the more traditional types, with a focus upon critical scholarly inquiry. Over three decades after the 1992 Education Act, the distinction between what were once universities and polytechnics is still very strong. Only with the advent of the Russell Group (arguably in response to the 1992 Act, to preserve differentials) comes the category of the Mid-Ranking, and in many ways these institutions face the biggest questions of disciplinary and institutional identity, and whether the students they aim to recruit are those likely otherwise to choose Russell Group, or alternatively Post-92, Colleges of HE, or private institutions. The profiles of Royal Holloway on one hand, or Kent on the other, differ very significantly.
The Post-92 institutions have a huge bias towards music of now, with little representation of music of previous centuries (including scholars working on historical popular music, jazz or technology) or other world traditions. There is however often a chasm between the dominant focus on commercial music in their courses and curricula and the relatively few staff with a significant commercial profile, at least in terms of composition and performance. For those institutions submitting to the REF this may relate to the relative difficulty of framing a good deal of commercial music (or mainstream classical, jazz, community music) as ‘research’, as I argued here. In music, the types of iconoclastic or avant-garde work which are most ‘REF-friendly’ (in the case of composition often very systematic work, or which uses brand new instruments or technology, or unusual techniques) can be at odds with those more familiar and popular types which can attract students, perhaps more so than in some other artistic disciplines, with such a strong chasm between the avant-garde and the popular in music.
Historical musicology and ethnomusicology are absent from the salaried faculties of most post-92 institutions. Wider approaches from the humanities or social sciences are not really represented either; these areas are undoubtedly concentrated in Russell Group institutions. In the Mid-Ranking sector, Aberdeen, Goldsmiths, the Open University, Royal Holloway and Surrey have fair representations of historical work, while City, Holloway and SOAS have a significant focus upon ethnomusicology. Musical theatre courses, again concentrated in the post-92 sector, rely heavily upon associate/visiting lecturers.
Amongst academics with a historical focus, there is a strong concentration upon the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Early music, meaning the whole Western repertoire of the pre-baroque (roughly pre-1600) period, is quite well represented in the RG, with 5 lecturers at Oxford, and 14 across the other institutions; at 3 mid-ranking (Bangor, the Open University and Royal Holloway); and 3 in the post-92 sector (Birmingham City, Northumbria, and Oxford Brookes).
More widely, the sector has more academics in the field of contemporary composition and sonic art than in any other category. Only a relative few of these could be said to be commercial composers, and even amongst the rest there is a general bias towards ‘new music’. As noted in my first blog post on new music published last year, this situation has been critiqued by various people, most notably musicologist Nicholas Cook, who argues that the representation of new music is out of all proportion to student interest in it. This almost certainly relates to the demands of the REF mentioned above, but it is a strange situation when students are considerably more likely to be taught by those with some expertise in a niche area of new music than one with expertise in Bach, Beethoven or bebop jazz. I will return to the area of new music in academia in the ‘New Music’ blog series.
There are various other conclusions which might be drawn from this data, including relating to the career prospects of academics in certain disciplinary fields. I will leave those for others to consider, and in future blog posts in this series will consider degree courses and curricula, as well as more on the historical development of the sector.
It’s curious that Bull and others complain about my calling this ‘Stalinist’. What drove me to the Zhdanov/Stalin comparison was the populist anti-elitism, the idea that ‘the people’s art’ is good and ‘the elite’s art’ is bad. The means of achieving that are different; for the Soviet variant, the artist has a particular role in serving the people but remains a specialist. The idea that everybody is equally artistic and that even training is suspect seems more akin to the Cultural Revolution. What it is decidedly not is democratic.
Eva Moreda Rodriguez
I initially thought the main issue with Duffy’s article was its conceptual vagueness. I didn’t doubt for a second – and still don’t – that Duffy has good intentions and formidable energy, and that many people derive lots of enjoyment from taking part in the Fun Palaces initiative. My initial comment on the article was aimed at asking for clarification: what exactly is different about Fun Palaces (and similar initiatives), when most arts organizations in the country are doing outreach in one way or another? I felt this was not clearly articulated in Duffy’s original article, but it is crucial if she and Fun Palaces’ supporters want to present what they do as something innovative that can bring about change.
In her blog post, Anna Bull provides some clarification. Now, I understand that Bull is not talking on behalf of Stella Duffy and of Fun Palaces, so her answer does not exactly address what I was asking, but it is a very welcome contribution nevertheless.
I would like to reiterate that I regard many of the community-led approaches that Bull describes as admirable, and I am sure they are doing inestimable work in terms of giving access to the arts (both in product and process) to people who would not have got involved otherwise.
Still, I am slightly troubled by the either/or divide implied in Bull’s response: outreach initiatives from publicly funded arts organizations (bad) versus community-led initiatives (good). Although as I mentioned before, Bull does not represent Stella Duffy, Fun Palaces or the “everyday creativity” movement, incidentally, this either/or mentality was also present in Duffy’s original article, and it is even more obvious in two of her articles about Fun Palaces I have discovered since:
And yet, it seems to me the reality is more complex than that, and I wonder whether the “everyday creativity” community (broadly understood) acknowledges this systematically. Here’s a couple of examples and situations I can think of:
-*Some* of the individual events described on the Fun Palaces website sound very similar to *some* of the events organized by arts and education institutions (e.g. museums, universities, etc.). Would a random person off the street walking into one of these events without knowing anything about their genesis be able to tell the difference? Would they feel automatically empowered by the former and disempowered by the latter?
-Some arts institutions work very closely with individuals or groups from the community when delivering their outreach programmes, e.g. Scottish Opera with communities in the Highlands and Islands, so clearly some events are difficult to classify as either/or.
I was one of the contributors to Ian Pace’s collection of responses to Stella Duffy’s article in the Guardian. You mention me by name in your response to Ian here. You say two things about what I said. First, you attribute to me the concern that ‘cultural democracy’ (I’ll come back to this term shortly) will ‘produce an awful lot of bad art, and no good art’. Secondly, you attribute to me (as well as Björn Heile) ‘the assumption that democratising culture leads to abandoning aesthetic judgement’.
I’m afraid both of these attributions are wrong. I was not expressing the concern that ‘cultural democracy’ will produce a lot of bad art and no good art. I was not assuming that ‘democratising culture’ leads to abandoning aesthetic judgement.
Here is the whole of the response of mine which Ian Pace shared:
The argument for democracy in politics is not that it leads to things being done better, but that it’s part of the goal of politics that everyone should be a part of it. Similarly, there’s no reason to think democracy in art will lead to better art; and it’s not obviously a goal of art itself that everyone should be a part of it – even if that’s something we all might want for other (most obviously political) reasons. What this piece presents is a political goal presented as an artistic goal. The problem is that that then begins to look like a rather sinister politics, even, since it drills art, of all things, into conformity with politics.
Perhaps it will help to bring out the point of this if I explain where I’m coming from. I’m a philosopher, so my business is to question fundamental assumptions. This doesn’t inevitably mean casting doubt on those assumptions: it often means asking what their real justification is.
In this spirit, philosophers ask what justifies democracy in political systems. I think there is no plausible justification of democracy in political systems as the most effective method for bringing about some independently defined set of benefits: we don’t actually know how effective it is, and we don’t know that no other system would be more effective. The most plausible justification of democracy in politics is not, therefore, that it’s an effective means of bringing about some independently conceived end, but that everyone’s being part of government is part of the end which any political system must aim at. That was the point of the first sentence in my response.
Now let us ask: what would justify ‘democracy’ in art? (I’ll come back to the very idea in a moment.) Again, and for the same reasons, it’s not plausible that the justification, if there is one, is that it’s the most effective means of bringing about some artistic goal: we don’t know how effective it would be, and we don’t know that no other system would be more effective. But this time we don’t have the other kind of justification to fall back on. While it is plausibly part of the goal of politics to produce a system in which everyone is part of government, it is not plausibly the goal of art itself that everyone should be involved in it. It’s not that this would not be a good thing: we would all love everyone to be involved in art. But it’s not plausibly the business of art itself to produce that result.
That was the point of the second sentence, which your first attribution gets quite seriously wrong. I’m not saying anything at all about the likelihood of ‘cultural democracy’ producing bad art, or less good art, or anything: I’m simply talking about what the justification for ‘cultural democracy’ might be, and whether everyone’s being involved is plausibly a goal of art itself, rather than a political goal which we might all share.
My third sentence involved an interpretation of Stella Duffy’s piece. It seemed to me that it was presenting the involvement of everyone as a goal of art itself. Indeed, it seemed to be advocating a political policy – support of certain kinds of artistic project – which had at its core the idea that it is a goal of art itself that everyone should be involved in it. This seemed to me to be sinister, because it involves advocating a politics which favours a certain kind of art.
The objection here is not, as you seem to suggest, that ‘democratising culture’ leads to abandoning aesthetic judgement. On the contrary, the objection is that a certain kind of aesthetic judgement is incorporated into politics. The objection is that the policy is an attack on artistic freedom.
So much for what I meant. I’m disappointed that what I said was misunderstood first time round, but hope it is now clear.
In my response, I did not question the key terms ‘cultural democracy’ and ‘democratising culture’. But I do think these terms are questionable. It is quite unclear that the proposals of this movement involve anything which would ordinarily be called a democratic process. In fact, Stella Duffy’s piece seems to advocate populism, rather than democracy. And populism is entirely compatible with quite undemocratic systems (think of Julius Caesar and Napoleon, as well as some of the more sinister regimes of the 20th Century).
My own view is that the recommendations of the KCL report have nothing to do with democracy at all. (This is perhaps indicated by the fact that the term ‘cultural democracy’ seems to need constant repetition as a short-hand for ‘promoting cultural capabilities for everyone’.) The core idea is what in other terms might be called a ‘bottom-up’, as opposed to ‘top-down’, approach to including people in art.
On this approach in general I have nothing very interesting to say. In common with many others (I can’t speak for them, but I imagine this includes all of those whose responses Ian Pace collected), I would want as many people to be involved in the arts as possible. And like them (I’m sure), I want different genres and different traditions of art to be respected, and excellence valued and promoted wherever it is to be found. I don’t have the empirical expertise to comment on this, but it seems to me quite plausible that this will be achieved by pursuing a bottom-up approach – though this need not involve abandoning a top-down one.
But none of this requires adopting populism about art itself, or attempting to denigrate serious art on the grounds that it is ‘elitist’. This latter thing is what is pernicious and divisive, and this latter thing is what I (like others of those whose responses Ian Pace collected, I’m sure) was objecting to.
I do hope this important debate can be pursued further in ways which keep the different goals and issues separate and clear. Let’s do what we can to involve people, and to respect different genres and traditions and value excellence everywhere. But let’s not do it by attacking particular kinds of art for political reasons.
Anna Bull writes the following:
Several commentators make comparisons between a shift towards ‘everyday creativity’ and arts policies under fascist regimes. They draw on historical examples from the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany relating to the problem of addressing elitism in the arts via democratisation, and include an accusation that this kind of policy shift would be ‘Stalinist’. While I think using historical examples to make a comparison can be helpful, it’s noticeable that these comments leap straight to fascism rather than considering any other, less extreme, examples, such as the Greater London Authority’s leftist cultural policy in the 1980s. This leap is the equivalent of suggesting that any form of economic redistribution leads to communism.By contrast, Stella Duffy gives the example of Fun Palaces, an organisation that has minimal central organisation and takes very different forms in local areas. Some Fun Palaces might draw on ‘elite’ forms of art such as literature while others might make space for more participatory forms. Rather than fascism, this is an example of extreme localism, its opposite.
The debate about Duffy’s article was provoked by one individual’s noting of what they felt were the Stalinist implications of Duffy’s arguments. Several of those involved in the ensuing debate, including myself, are scholars whose work deals in part with the situation of music under fascist, communist (and capitalist) societies. The passage in Duffy’s article which some found disturbing was the following:
Those of us working in culture talk a lot about the arts ecology, but in any ecology some parts must die for new ones to thrive. It might be time to let go of some of our outdated practices. Our commitment to “excellence and quality” as defined by mainstream, metropolitan-based thinking many decades ago, might need to shift to a new version of “excellence and quality”, one defined by a new generation of makers and creators – and this time from every part of society.
If we want cultural democracy, genuine culture for all, elitism must make way for creativity and community-led culture.
Attacks upon elitism and elites, not to mention excellence and quality, do have a long and very undistinguished history, whether in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, or for that matter amongst contemporary right-wing populist politicians. The Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde has traced the central role of attacks on elites in his books Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007) and Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Populism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), drawing upon a range of other political scholars who have arrived at similar conclusions. The resonances with the language of Andrei Zhdanov in the late years of Stalin’s Russia, but also similar rhetoric from right and left in China and Germany (and elsewhere), were quite obvious to me – I have read sentences like the last one as quotations from many dictators and demagogues. I remember clearly the time of Ken Livingstone’s control of the Greater London Council (about which I have also read a certain amount since it was abolished in 1986): certainly there was a move on his part to distribute cultural funding to a more diverse range of groups than hitherto, which was welcome, but I do not recall anything like such shocking comments. Most of the contributors to the original set of responses would support some redistribution and decentralisation of cultural funding (some, including myself, are explicit about this), but this is quite different to a full-on attack on elites in the name of ‘community’. This is why I do not find Bull’s parallel with an equation of economic redistribution with communism to be valid. If Duffy had written something like ‘If we want a larger demographic to be able to participate in the arts, then we must look at distributing funding more widely than amongst the traditional elites’, then it might have been. I would also add that the opposition she presents between fascism and localism is also highly questionable: many fascist parties and politicians have sought their base in relatively small local communities, and expressed disdain for city life, with all it entails in terms of greater plurality of peoples and cultures. Fascism, at least as theorised by some, entails a degree of low-level organisation, supporters on the ground in local communities, in distinction to the top-down model of other types of dictatorships and autocracies.
Bull goes on to write:
Pace comments that ‘one should be wary of viewing ‘community’ as necessarily a wholly benevolent or benign thing’; communities can create divisions and barriers as well as overcoming them. In this, Pace is correct, but he could have gone on to say that currently, the arts contribute to reinforcement of the ‘echo chamber’ of white middle-class opinion and worldview. By contrast, writers such as Bev Skeggs have shown how different cultures and ways of life exist in the UK that are not reflected or even necessarily acknowledged by those who make policy. Working class cultures can be very different to middle class culture, but the latter is much more visible, and is therefore taken to be the unspoken norm. Cultural policy is, therefore, already reinforcing existing historic divisions of class and race, for example by giving money to those forms of arts that organise themselves in the ways which are recognised by the state. In our report we discuss the example of BAME arts and cultural participation groups, which tend to operate on a local and short-term basis, for example coming together to organise an annual mela then disbanding till the next year. These, as well as ‘community-facing’ South Asian arts practices, as Jasjit Singh describes them, are not visible to funders such as Arts Council England. As a result, they don’t garner funding in the same way as groups that have the resources, knowledge, and interest in organising in ways that are recognised by the state. Cultural policy has to recognise that existing arrangements for how culture is organised prioritise certain groups and certain forms of art over others.
This paragraph uses various ideas and concepts in a very vague and ill-defined manner. What exactly is this ‘white middle-class opinion and worldview’, and how is it ‘reinforced’ by the arts at present? Is this equally true of the work of a new translation of Baudelaire, a cycle of ars subtilior motets, an exhibition of the paintings of Hokusai, a production by Théâtre du Soleil, or the performance art of Valie Export and Marina Abramović? Nor do I know what ‘working class cultures’ are, though I can think of many artists from working-class backgrounds. One example would be the composer Brian Ferneyhough.
None of the above examples would have played much of a role in the white lower middle class milieu in which I grew up.
A statement like ‘Working class cultures can be very different to middle class culture’ is bland and meaningless without some definition of what these cultures entail, in the sense of cultural production, which is what is relevant in this context. I am not really prepared to accept either such ‘cultures’ can be apperceived other than as wholly heterogeneous entities which might have a large degree of overlap. Where I would make a distinction is between some culture designed for a more educated reader/listener/spectator/etc., compared to that for which no such education is required. It is undoubtedly true in much of the world that access to education, and the quality of that education, varies immensely depending upon social class, regionality, and so on. But I see that as an issue of inequality of provision rather than a problem with education per se. The world would be a much lesser place without such ‘educated culture’, and as such the priority should be to make such education as widely available as possible.
Bull also writes:
Pace goes on to suggest that both the market and community-based art (by which I assume he means the everyday creativity we describe in the report) is ‘unlikely’ to produce ‘a critical art, which can deal with uncomfortable and unsettling phenomena, represent non-populist and minority perspectives, and look beyond the existing world (and existing societies) towards what might be, not just what has been.’ He is wrong to say that the market or everyday creativity cannot produce critical art; for example, Anahid Kassabian’s (2016) writing on African American women making their own web series shows these women expressing a critical consciousness (including new ways of using sound in film) through grassroots cultural production. This example shows how critique may be occurring in ways that are not recognised, or even known about, by white middle-class culture.
[Kassabian, A., 2016. “You mean I can make a tv show?”: Web series, assertive music, and African-American women producers, in: Hawkins, S. (Ed.), The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Music and Gender. Ashgate]
My exact words were:
I believe it is vital that there can also be a critical art, which can deal with uncomfortable and unsettling phenomena, represent non-populist and minority perspectives, and look beyond the existing world (and existing societies) towards what might be, not just what has been. A space needs to be made for this in ways which are unlikely through the vagaries of the market, or for that matter through some types of community art projects.
Bull equates something’s being ‘unlikely’ to a claim that something ‘cannot’ happen; I made no such claim. But I have seen much less evidence of what I consider to be critical art having been produced under commercial or community-based conditions – at least in the sense that community is presented by Duffy. In some sense, any group of artists working together is a community; whether or not they inhabit a particular local community on a daily basis is immaterial.
But I had a look at Kassabian’s article, which I had not previously read. The passage to which I imagine Bull refers is the following:
With fewer resources to work with, especially in terms of funding, but very strong talent pools from which to draw, many of these artists [African American women] decided to use approaches that are much more assertive and attention-grabbing than mainstream film and television scoring practices. For example, in each of their debut episodes, Unwritten Rules and Black Actress turn to the musical sound of a record scratch, as is heard prevalently in rap tracks to mark an important shift in consciousness. […..]
The specific sound that caught my ear, as it were, in the first episodes of both Unwritten Rules and Black Actress was the record scratch. The scratch is an important, powerful sound – first, it went from being a dreaded sound, the sound of a mistake, to being a significant musical means of expression over the past 30-plus years, and in particular, because of its roots in hip-hop, it has specifically African American roots and associations. Second, despite its musicality, it retains the overlay of error or dread. And, finally, it is a sound that is almost never heard in audiovisual texts, except perhaps as a sound event inside the narrative world; indeed, it is very rare in uses such as these, where the characters do *not* hear the sound that the perceivers/audience do. The scratch is used (in both cases – see below as a unit of aural meaning, placed on a soundtrack as if it is dramatic scoring. without any other music to contextualise it; this is a radical aural moment.
The following is the episode of Unwritten Rules in question.
The rules for television sound have historically been quite realist, which is not to say that the original sounds are used in some semblance of the rules of Dogme 95 films, but rather that they aspire to “seeming” quite like real sounds, without abandoning their ability to draw attention towards or away from particular events or objects through sound choices. Instead, these sounds assert themselves quite vividly in the soundworld of the episodes. It is highly unlikely that anyone watching and listening to either of these episodes will fail to notice the scratches or the tinkle.
I was astonished to read this (not least the suggestion that non-diegetic sound is such a new thing in TV); I remember hearing record scratches used regularly in various media from some time in the 1980s, yet Kassabian is presenting it as some type of innovation. The most prominent and widely-disseminated use of this sound may be in the series Ally McBeal, which ran from 1997 to 2002. The use of sound in this series has received scholarly consideration as well, in Julie Brown’s article ‘Ally McBeal’s Postmodern Soundtrack’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 126 (2001), pp. 275-303. Already at the time of publication Brown noted that ‘This gag is now everywhere on TV’ (p. 286), so it was very far from being a significant innovation when Unwritten Rules was produced eleven years later. Other scholars have considered the scratch and its various cultural meanings; examples include Jason Middleton and Roger Beebe, ‘The racial politics of hybridity and ‘neo-eclecticism’ in contemporary popular music, Popular Music 21/2 (2000), pp. 159-172, or Kjetil Falkenberg Hansen, Marco Fabiani and Robert Bresin, ‘Analysis of the Acoustics and Playing Strategies of Turntable Scratching’, Acta Acustica united with Acustica 97/2 (March/April 2011), pp. 303-314, one of various writings on scratching with which Hansen has been involved (including a 2010 doctoral dissertation on ‘The acoustics and performance of DJ scratching’). Even the more traditionally-inclined scholar Joseph Auner relates conscious use of the scratch, as used by Portishead, to a wider history of ‘scratchy’ recordings in his ‘Making Old Machines Speak: Images of Technology in Recent Music’, ECHO 2/2 (Fall 2000).
It is not clear whether Kassabian is aware of these writings; certainly none of them appear in her bibliography. A failure to consider an extensive history of such a technique does undermine some of her claims.
For radical use of sound with moving images, I would suggest that the following examples go much much further:
Shirley Clarke, Bridges Go Round (1958)
Pramod Pati, Explorer (1968)
Peter Kubelka, Pause! (1977)
Zhang Peili, 30 x 30 (1988)
Carolee Schneemann, Infinity Kisses – The Movie (2008)
Emeka Ogboh, [dis]connect II (c. 2013)
To return to Bull’s point, certainly there have been some striking examples of radical cultural work produced at the behest of private capital or from some artistic communities. But the possibilities for producing a sustained body of work in this manner, especially where expenses become considerable, are frequently limited when other requirements of finance, not least in terms of labour costs, are involved. It is true that, for example, experimental film has flourished more in the developed world than, say, in the African continent (though there are some striking examples of such work). To therefore portray radical approaches to film making as a primarily ‘white’ conceit is very short-sighted; world cinema would be greatly enhanced if it were possible for a greater number of film makers in African countries to benefit from the types of institutional support, distribution, and so on which are more common elsewhere, allowing the freedom to take approaches to film which may not generate major commercial dividends.
The money has to come from somewhere, and all things told, I do believe that a system involving progressive taxation and redistribution on artistic projects, for all the issues of institutional control involved, provide a more flexible environment for innovation and critical work than are possible by leaving things to private capital. I realise that the latter option is not what Duffy is advocating, but rather than subsidy of this type should be concentrated upon community-based projects which are open to all rather than through more traditional channels branded ‘elitist’. As I have said, I am in agreement with the principle of a wider distribution of resources, including to a greater number of smaller or non-metropolitan projects. But it would never be possible to fund everything, and so some choices have to be made. I am deeply concerned by a situation in which any aesthetic criteria, no matter how difficult these may be to conceive fairly, are jettisoned simply in favour of the demographic of the participants.
In her last paragraph, Bull writes:
Arts Council England has made a progressive move with its ‘Creative Case for Diversity’ which requires the process of creating culture to involve a diverse range of people as well as expecting the audiences and performers to be diverse.
I am also surprised by the concept that performers do not ‘create’ culture.