Resonance as a model for composition practice and pedagogy

Pedagogical development project

Lead researcher Associate Professor Juliana Hodkinson
Research assistant Fredrik Degrér

The project explores a topic-led approach to teaching, learning and practising composition. The given topic of resonance acts both as creative metaphor or trope, and as an interdisciplinary toolbox for integrating different approaches to working with sound compositionally. The kind of compositional practices to be explored ranges across stylistic, aesthetic and artistic fields, embracing scored music, electronic works, sound art, installation, participatory works, and hybrid formats.

Resonance has connections to subject areas such as acoustics and psychoacoustics, harmonics and tuning systems, phenomenology, aesthetics, the interplay of live and amplified sound, audience and peer reception, inclusionary value judgements, everyday expressions, and more (Auyogard & Torgue 2005: 99-112). Resonance also plays a central role in some current philosophical commentary on music, including vibrationology (Bennett 2010, Grosz 2008), and most recently the political implications of what Robin James has identified as the ‘sonic episteme’ (James 2019). Further, resonance has been recognised as a powerful concept within sociology, signalling patterns of shared agency.

Resonance is chosen here as a model for thinking of the creative process as both response and input to a field. Its take-up in the social sciences as a trope for social interaction and mutual influence offers a way of thinking that can be fruitful for music composition as a subject in search of models of relevance that are different from traditional models centred on the subject of the composer, the object of the work and the merely interpretational model of performance in relation to composition. The concept of resonance implies a fundamental pleasure of sound and freedom of flow in many directions – this is central to its proposal here as a uniting and holistic metaphor, in contrast to a tendency towards dissonance and exclusionary value judgments that has often been associated with art-music over the past century and more. But resonance is not only to be regarded as synonymous with harmonious consonance; rather, it is a relation that may include noise, interference and friction.

Composition is a field with very few pedagogical resources, often taught either within inherited structures of the European Meisterlehre, or within academic structures drawing on musicology and text-based approaches. The emphasis on resonance in the context of this research project leans on the term’s social dimension – affective resonance – to emphasise the role of peer-to-peer and student-led learning in composition, and to open an otherwise narrowly populated professional field to greater social and artistic diversity (Mühlhoff 2015, Hodkinson 2020).

The project revolves around the following main clusters of research questions:

  • How is composition taught today? How does the institutional definition of the subject to be taught (e.g. ‘classical’, ‘electronic’, ‘notated’, ‘experimental’, ‘multimedia’, ‘conceptual’ composition) shape teaching methods?
  • How does the student-teacher relationship develop during composition teaching? How are students’ artistic inputs and rejuvenations of the subject balanced with teachers’ delivery of techniques tested by experience? How is creative agency distributed in the teaching/learning context?
  • How do students and teachers make sense of the learning/teaching process? What forms of artistic development are attributable to studying/teaching composition?
  • To what extent does composition as an educational subject include non-western concepts of art and music?