Symposium Keynote

Simon Emmerson

Composing for Flutes & Electronics

2.30 pm Saturday 5 December 2020


In this talk I want to present a case study which highlights relationships– of performer to composer, human to machine, mechanical instrument to electronic process, timbre to melody … all in the service of the musical listening. To understand and develop these relationships is artistic research. The Kingma flutes performed by Carla Rees were the starting point, more precisely their sound and capabilities. I summarise what I believe live electronics has added to my works over the years – what I call the ‘poetics of live electronics’ – most especially metaphors of real world objects and processes. After initial observations following Carla’s performance of an earlier work of mine (Spirit of ’76), the studio recording is the first site of the research followed by listening and analysis. For me the studio can be a focus of research for live performance, testing ideas and electronic processes. It is also a place of intensive interaction with the performer – what she says is (nearly) as important as what she does. My new work is almost always written for the performer first – not for some abstract notion of ‘the music’. I sent Carla sounds and sketches for comment throughout the composition process. My (re)search slowly becomes focused on a single task – to relate vertical to horizontal – multiphonics to melodic modes or scales. The multiphonics are systematically analysed and transcribed and through combinations form timbres and scales. The live electronics is largely based on an 8-channel surround sound system designed to immerse the listener in different parts of the spectral development created by the four instruments. Listening based judgement combines with systematic approaches to patterning to generate the final score of Solo Flute Quartet


Simon Emmerson studied at Cambridge University and City University London. Composer and writer on electronic music since the early 1970s, he is now Professor of Music, Technology and Innovation at De Montfort University, Leicester. He founded the electroacoustic music studio at City University London in 1975 where he remained until 2004. He was founder Secretary of the Electro-Acoustic Music Association of Great Britain (EMAS) in 1979 as well as later Board member of Sonic Arts Network (to 2004) and Sound and Music (2008-2013). He was Edgard Varese Visiting Professor at TU, Berlin (2009-10) and Visiting Professor and Composer at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (Perth) in November 2016. Recent commissions include: GRM (Paris), Inventionen (Berlin), Sond-Arte Ensemble (Lisbon), BEAST (Birmingham) and for soloists Darragh Morgan (violin), Philip Mead (piano), Carla Rees (flute) and Heather Roche (clarinet). Recordings: Continuum, Sargasso. Writings include: The Language of Electroacoustic Music (1986), Living Electronic Music (2007), The Routledge Research Companion to Electronic Music (2018), coeditor Expanding the Horizon of Electroacoustic Music Analysis (CUP, 2016). Keynotes include: ACMC 2011 (Auckland), ICMC 2011 (Huddersfield), Music Science Technology 2012 (São Paulo), WOCMAT 2012 (Taiwan), Alternative Histories of Electronic Music 2016 (London).