Emily Peasgood is the next researcher to take on our ‘3 questions…’ interview. Emily is a PhD student in the School of Music and Performing Arts, and is a composer and sound artist. Here, Emily addresses some of the issues that often affect practice research PhD students, namely how to frame their work and understand and express their methods and methodologies:

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CPBRA: Can you briefly outline your research interests and their context in, or link with, your practice? And how does research inform your practice, and how does your practice inform your research?

EP: Prior to becoming a researcher I felt that integrating research into my practice would not be possible, and may even hinder the creative process through being “too cerebral”. For the same reason I had previously avoided listening to, or studying, the works of other composers less they subconsciously influence my practice. However, in the early stages of integrating research and practice I realised that this was something I had always done. When I have a nugget of an idea I relish the process of finding out more and linking pathways that were swimming in the ether of my brain, but which I struggled to express. The research process crystallises what I am trying to say in my work and I refer to it as development research. In this way the research is freeing, opening up the creative process to endless possibilities I would have previously been unable to coherently express, or may have even been unaware of prior to their new-founded clarity. As I work with multi-layered concepts, I feel my work would be vacuous and one-dimensional without a strong concept at the core, and disagree with ‘art for art’s sake’ (Wilcox, 1953) as a motivation for creating. Research expands my practice. While the practice dictates the necessity to research, I have never created a work to “demonstrate” theory. It is the idea that leads, and the research broadens the possibilities. When composing, there are endless possibilities; which note shall I choose, and for how long, and most importantly, why? Numerous paths branch and emerge from both the act of composition and research. I also view the process of composing as research, informed by heuristic knowledge. The practice is an enactment of this knowledge and the development research. As a composer of experimental music for community choirs, my practice is influenced by, but not bound within, my experiences in working with amateur singers, and is therefore intuitively responsive to the technical and aesthetic “needs” of those who will perform my work. Therefore, research is not only conducted as part of the development process but also as a performative process.

When I composed LIFTED my development process demanded research into the music that traditionally accompanied lift passengers, aka “elevator music”, and explored Muzak, stimulus progression and psychological reaction to specific tempi in public environments. I am currently working on a piece of music that explores views of migration and have so far explored the music’s of migrants who will perform the work, and methods of teaching and leading a group of non-English speaking singers without the requirement of a translator. I have a digital “art bank” where ideas yet to be realised are saved. The idea generates a need to research and develop, but is always bound in the enactment of practice.

CPBRA: What do you think practice, and your discipline in particular, has to offer the research contexts of universities? Do you think that this influences the way that you create or document your work, or decide to create new works?

EP: As a newcomer to practice research I have experienced academics stating that my approach is not a paradigm or methodology. I have also experienced fellow researchers stating their work as “practice research” when they are utilising a mixed-method approach that includes some practice as part of their methodology. Their demand for qualitative or quantitative “data” to “justify” the value of their work demonstrates a lack of conviction, and confusion towards, the practice research approach; confusion I felt when I first encountered practice research. Put simply, I felt: “is this really research?” and “is it enough?”

At a recent conference presentation I discussed this viewpoint and the practice as research approach with conference delegates, following which I engaged delegates in practice through teaching elements of a work I then presented with video documentation. After, several delegates approached me and expressed that they were initially confused with the practice research approach but through taking part understood. Aesthetic perception, in my opinion, can only be portrayed through practice. I am reminded of Hasemen (2008, p. 150) who states: […] the symbolic data, the expressive forms of research work performatively. It not only expresses the research, but in that expression becomes the research itself”. The practice as research approach enables practice-based researchers to “stand aside from the assumptions of qualitative research and gain the clear air they need to clarify the conceptual architecture and protocols […] in its own terms” (Barrett & Bolt, 2012, p. 156). As each of my works are multi-layered, they have the ability to convey many ideas, always evolving, that are subjectively experienced and accessible to all audiences. This subjectivity is one of music’s greatest qualities and I view practice research as the method that is demanded through my research, a method that allows me to convey the complexity of creative works that can only be expressed on their own terms, in the language of music. The language extends beyond academia into conveying meaning to larger audiences. This may be viewed as threat to academics that do not understand the approach as within academia, numbers and words are often viewed as privileged over other forms of knowing (Nelson, 2013). Within my practice as an inclusive community choir leader, the practice research approach is even more apt, as practice research brings people into the research process (Finley, 2008; Levy, 2014) enabling authenticity in my research.

The university context has not changed how I work but has broadened it. Due to the realisation that I always incorporated research into my practice, it has felt a strong fit. I have documented my works thoroughly for some time, through audio, video, photographic documentation and the collation of performances and publicity, largely due to funding stipulations, so this element hasn’t changed.

Emily Peasgood (born 1981 in Grimsby, Lincolnshire) is an experimental composer, sound artist, musical director and researcher who is currently undertaking a PhD in composing experimental music for community choirs at Canterbury Christ Church University. She trained at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama and City University. Her practice originally focused on creating choral responses to artworks and exhibitions at Turner Contemporary to explore how the unity of visual art and sound influences public perceptions of artworks. Her practice currently focuses on connection between people and environments through curating musical “experiences” in non-traditional performance contexts. Her most recent work, LIFTED (2016), for live choir and beat boxer to perform in public lifts, explores connection between lift passengers and the lift environment through the inner-dialogue of passengers who stand together, alone, in the confined life environment, and the lift “Muzak” that accompanies them on their journey. Emily is best known for creating public art that is performed by community choirs, musicians and sign language interpreters. She has created commissioned works for POW Thanet International Women’s Week/Pie Factory Music (BIRDS, 2016), Turner Contemporary/Jeremy Deller (Three pop arrangements for ‘English Magic’ featuring steel band and choir, 2014) and Lone Twin ‘Artists Taking The Lead’ for London 2012 Cultural Olympiad/Parabola (Collective Spirit, The Boat Project for brass band and choir, 2012). Additionally, she has received support from Arts Council England and Turner Contemporary to create experimental works LIFTED (2016), and Landscapes a song cycle for choir, flute, piano and poet, inspired by the works of JMW Turner and Helen Frankenthaler (2014).

LIFTED documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJaJ8Lq_-bo

Visit Emily’s website: www.empeasgood.com

View Emily’s works in the British Music Collection: http://britishmusiccollection.org.uk/composer/emily-peasgood

Visit Emily’s Facebook Artist Page: https://www.facebook.com/emilypeasgood

Connect with Emily on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/publicemilie