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  • Ian Pace


John Croft's article ‘Composition is not Research’ challenges a conception and ideal of compositional work in academia which has grown in prominence over several decades in the UK. As a performer-scholar, who also writes non-performance-related scholarship, I welcome this challenge, share some of Croft's reservations about the ways in which these conceptions often manifest themselves, and also have concerns about the rushed integration of practitioners into academia and the implications for more traditional forms of scholarship. However, I find many of Croft's formulations and assumptions too narrow, and instead argue that a good deal of the process of composition and performance does constitute research – grappling with difficult questions, exploring solutions, and producing creative work which embodies these solutions and from which others can draw much of value.

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1 Croft, John, ‘Composition is not Research’, TEMPO, Vol. 69, No. 272 (2015), pp. 611.

2 Lauren Redhead, ‘Is Composition Research?’ (17 January 2012), at (accessed 6 September 2015), whilst making some important points, relies on partisan attempts to close down debate with statements like ‘claiming that composition is not research can be seen as merely a technique of dividing researchers and distracting attention away from the fact that research might not be what the REF would have us all believe that it is’. Solidarity amongst composers to protect their own corner is unlikely to convince sceptics with less of a vested interest, especially considering the lack of a clearly articulated alternative definition of research in this article.

3 One of the few essays considering this phenomenon and its implications in this context, in this case focusing upon the Australian situation, is Schippers, Huib, ‘The Marriage of Art and Academia: Challenges and Opportunities for Music Research in Practice-based Environments’, Dutch Journal of Music Theory, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2007), pp. 3440.

4 REF 2014 Panel Overview Reports: Main Panel D at (accessed 6 September 2015), pp. 94–6.

5 See Hazel Smith and Roger T. Dean, ‘Introduction’, in Practice-Led Research, Research-Led Practice in the Creative Arts, ed. Hazel Smith and Roger T. Dean (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), pp. 25–8 and John Adams, Jane Bacon and Lizzie Thynne, ‘Peer Review and Criteria: A Discussion’, in Practice-as-Research in Performance and Screen, ed. Ludivine Allegue, Simon Jones, Baz Kershaw and Angela Piccini (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 98–110 for an outline of some of the issues and problems here. Thynne points out that funding bodies assessing practice-as-research are not required to look at the actual work, only at accompanying reports. It is clear that review and assessment processes designed for written work need re-calibrating in order to deal with practice-as-research. The solution presented by Schippers, reasonably forsaking evidence of ticket sales or circulation (which as he says ‘would probably make Kylie Minogue the greatest musicologist in Australia’), but offering instead ‘presentations in prestigious venues or by organisations’, because ‘they suggest some form of peer review’ (‘The Marriage of Art and Academia’, p. 37) is immensely problematic because of the wealth of factors involved in economies of prestige, many of them far from transparent or accountable.

6 Intelligent thoughts on practice-based PhDs and their assessment can however be found in John Freeman, Blood, Sweat & Theory: Research through Practice in Performance (Oxfordshire: Libri, 2010), pp. 35–43, 233–9; and Robin Nelson, ‘Supervision, Documentation and Other Aspects of Praxis’, in Practice as Research in the Arts: Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances, ed. Robin Nelson (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), pp. 71–92.

7 Frayling, Christopher, ‘Research in Art and Design’, Royal College of Art Research Papers 1/1 (1993–94), p. 5. Swedish theatre scholar Yvla Gislén provided a map in 2006 for the emergence of ‘research in the artistic realm’ in various countries, beginning in Finland in the 1980s–90s and Australia in 1987, followed by the USA in the 1990s and EU in the late 1990s, with its emergence in the UK around 1997. This map is reproduced in Baz Kershaw, ‘Practice as Research through Performance’, in Practice-Led Research, Research-Led Practice, p. 106. Kershaw himself notes that practice was not explicitly part of the criteria for the RAE in the UK until 1996, when practice-as researchers were asked for the first time for a ‘succinct statement of research content’ and ‘supporting documentation’ (ibid. p. 111). The most recent definition of research employed by the REF can be found in REF 2014: Assessment framework and guidance on submissions, at (accessed 24 September 2015), p. 48.

8 Music does not feature at all in Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt, eds, Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010), despite featuring a range of major case studies in other creative and performing arts, and mostly appears in passing in Nelson, Practice as Research in the Arts, though there are a few notable observations about some different views of composition and performance in this respect (pp. 7–8); the major example cited by Nelson is John Irving's research into Mozart performance on the basis of physical interaction with the Hass clavichord (p. 10). This rather paltry attention is however symptomatic of a wider isolation of music from other collective work in creative arts research. One case study by Yves Knockaert in Freeman, Blood, Sweat & Theory, pp. 200–211, deals with a highly imaginative audiovisual Lied project examined in terms of gender, voice, space and image, whilst another, pp. 240–61, on the work of Johannes Birringer, deals with both sound and visuality. Andrew R. Brown and Andrew Sorensen, in ‘Integrating Creative Practice and Research in the Digital Media Arts’, in Smith and Dean, Practice-Led Research, Research-Led Practice, pp. 153–65, discuss their use of digital media in order to establish a practice surrounding visual and audio-visual exhibitions, drawing upon experience of computer music and music-related software. There is also a short relevant section by Henry Spiller, ‘University Gamelan Ensembles as Research’, in Shannon Rose Riley and Lynette Hunter, Mapping Landscapes for Performance as Research: Scholarly Acts and Creative Cartographies (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 171–8.

9 Henry Daniel, ‘Transnet: A Canadian-Based Cased Study on Practice-as-Research, or Rethinking Dance in a Knowledge-Based Society’, in Allegue et al, Practice-as-Research, pp. 148–62.

10 Dianne Reid, ‘Cutting Choreography: Back and Forth between 12 Stages and 27 Seconds’, in Barrett and Bolt, Practice as Research, pp. 47–63.

11 Jane Goodall, ‘Nightmares in the Engine Room’, in Smith and Dean, Practice-Led Research, Research-Led Practice, pp. 200–7. This example in particular deals with Croft's objections to how research methods are inimical to the creative process. It might however be better described as research-led practice rather than practice-as-research.

12 Mine Doğantan-Dack, ed., Artistic Practice as Research in Music: Theory, Criticism, Practice (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015). Among the more substantial contributions to this volume are Anthony Gritten's rather abstract ‘Determination and Negotiation in Artistic Practice as Research in Music’, pp. 73–90, dealing with the process of establishing Artistic Practice as Research (APaR) as a respectable academic subdiscipline, entailing a turn away from ‘pure’ research, delineating different manifestations to this, including some undertaken outside of academic institutions, whilst urging that the distinction between practice and research be maintained though its practitioners should relax (not always so easy in institutions, especially those with small performing arts components, in which practice-as-research has still to gain acceptance from various strata of management); and Jane W. Davidson, ‘Practice-based Music Research: Lessons from a Researcher's Personal History’, pp. 93–106, tracing the author's own work, from a background in music psychology, through study of the body in performance, then ‘talk-aloud’ approaches in which musicians are encouraged to verbalise their mental processes, to opera directing.

13 Dutch Journal of Music Theory, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2007). Notable essays here include Marcel Cobussen, ‘The Trojan Horse: Epistemological Explorations Concerning Practice-based Research’, pp. 18–33, which considers both fundamental incompatibilities between music and language and also the idea that music can embody other types of knowledge than concrete ideas, including that of a corporeal nature as found in performance; and on similar issues Tom Eide Osa, ‘Knowledge in Musical Performance: Seeing Something as Something’, pp. 51–7, also focusing upon non-verbal knowledge; Various other essays are more pragmatic and relatively straightforward, relating to the use of instruments and techniques.

14 Swedish Journal of Musicology, Vol. 95 (2013). In this volume, the questions raised by Cobussen and Osa are explored further in Erik Wallrup, ‘With Unease as Predicament: On Knowledge and Knowing in Artistic Research on Music’, pp. 25–40, and Cecilia K. Hultberg, ‘Artistic Processes in Music Performance: A Research Area Calling for Inter-Disciplinary Collaboration’, pp. 79–95. On the distinctions between Anglosphere practice-as-research and continental European artistic research, see Darla Crispin, ‘Artistic Research and Music Scholarship: Musings and Models from a Continental European Perspective’, in Doğantan-Dack, Artistic Practice as Research in Music, pp. 53–72, and Luk Vaes's response to John Croft, ‘When composition is not research’ (5 June 2015), at (accessed 6 September 2015).

15 See Redhead, ‘Is Composition Research?’

16 Piers Hellawell, ‘Treating Composers as Researchers is Bonkers’, Standpoint (May 2014) at (accessed 6 September 2015).

17 Hellawell even goes so far as to say that ‘it feels very much as if composers face a stiff interview – in what for some is a foreign language – before they may sit down to the dinner, despite being encouraged nonetheless to empty their pockets once the bill arrives’. One might imagine from this that composers are paying to work in academia, not being paid for doing so.

18 This point is emphasised by Brown and Sorensen, in ‘Integrating Creative Practice and Research in the Digital Media Arts’, p. 153, as well as Cobussen, ‘The Trojan Horse’, Osa, ‘Knowledge in Musical Performance’, Wallrup, ‘On Knowledge and Knowing in Artistic Research on Music’, and Hultberg, ‘Artistic Processes in Music Performance’.

19 This is discussed in Clements, Andrew, ‘Brian Ferneyhough’, Music and Musicians, 26/3 (1977), pp. 36–9; Brian Ferneyhough, ‘Interview with Andrew Clements’ (1977), in Ferneyhough, Collected Writings, edited James Boros and Richard Toop (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995), pp. 204–16; and Harvey, Jonathan, ‘Brian Ferneyhough’, The Musical Times, 120/1639 (1979), pp. 723–8.

20 Michael Naimark, drawing upon the ideas of Nam June Paik, cites Beethoven, and specifically the Ninth Symphony, as an example of where ‘art does not really start to get going until an area of practice is established’ (in this case earlier by Haydn), as a form of ‘last-word’ art which is impossible without critical engagement with prior practice. See Naimark cited in Simon Biggs, ‘New Media: The ‘First Word’ in Art?’, in Smith and Dean, Practice-Led Research, Research-Led Practice, p. 79.

21 One of the most extreme manifestations of this explicitly questioning approach to performance can be found in the work of Stephen Emmerson and Angela Turner in Around a Rondo, featuring extensive dissection of choices in interpreting Mozart's Rondo in A minor, K 511, presenting the findings of such research on a DVD-ROM, discussed in Schippers, ‘The Marriage of Art and Academia’, p. 36.

22 See for example Richard J. Evans, ‘The Myth of Germany's Missing Revolution’, in Rethinking German History: Nineteenth-Century Germany and the Origins of the Third Reich (London: HarperCollins, 1987), pp. 93–122.

23 See Gareth Stedman Jones, ‘Rethinking Chartism’, in Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History 1832–1982 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 90–178.

24 For another good example, see Graeme Sullivan's account of Cézanne's attempt to break with conventional practice in order to embody a dynamic world, incorporating multiple perspectives, framed as an attempt to address complex theoretical questions in order to arrive at an artistic output which itself entails new knowledge and ideas, in ‘Making Space: The Purpose and Place of Practice-led Research’, in Smith and Dean, Practice-Led Research, Research-Led Practice, pp. 41–3.

25 Discussion on ‘Survival of the Fittest? Promoting Dance, Drama and Music through UK Higher Education’, Institute of Musical Research, London, Saturday 28 February 2015. I was unable to attend this, but am grateful to Roddy Hawkins for letting me see his notes from the occasion.

26 Smith and Dean, ‘Introduction’, pp. 3, 6–7. Smith and Dean argue for the vital role for the creative arts of knowledge which is neither verbal nor numerical, in which context should be viewed artistic work as research; this is entirely consistent with the types of research which have made up a large percentage of REF submissions in music and other performing arts.

27 Walter Benjamin, The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire, translated Howard Eiland, Edmund Jephcott, Rodney Livingstone and Harry Zohn (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Roland Barthes, S/Z: An Essay, translated Richard Miller, with preface by Richard Howard (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc, 1991).

28 For detailed considerations of the huge differences between Hauer and Schoenberg's approaches, see Dixie Lynn Harvey, ‘The Theoretical Treatises of Josef Matthias Hauer’, (PhD Dissertation, North Texas State University, 1980), pp. 21–37 and Deborah H. How, ‘Arnold Schoenberg's Prelude from the Suite for Piano, Op. 25: From Composition with Twelve Tones to the Twelve-Tone Method’, (PhD Dissertation, University of Southern California, 2009), pp. 45–9, 58–65, 125–223; on Golyshev, see Detlef Gojowy, ‘Jefim Golyscheff – der unbequeme Vorläufer’, Melos/Neue Zeitschrft fur Musik, May 1975, pp. 188–192, Frühe Zwölftonmusik in Rußland (1912–1915)’, Beiträge zur Musikwissenschaft 32/1 (1990), pp. 1724; and Neue sowjetische Musik der 20er Jahre (Regensburg: Laaber, 1980), pp. 102–3; and my ‘Yefim Golyshev, Arnold Schoenberg, and the Origins of Twelve-Tone Music’ (2 September 2014), at (accessed 6/9/15).

29 A defence of auto-ethnography can be found in Freeman, Blood, Sweat & Theory, pp. 181–4, which acknowledges the type of danger I mention above, which has been addressed earlier, with some suggestions for avoidance of narcissism and self-indulgence, in Amanda Coffey, The Ethnographic Self: Fieldwork and the Representation of Identity (London: Sage, 1999) and Holt, Nicholas L., ‘Representation, Legitimation, and Autoethnography: An Autoethnographic writing story’, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 2/1, Article 2 (2003), at https:// (accessed 6 September 2015).

30 Draper, Paul and Harrison, Scott, in ‘Through the Eye of a Needle: the Emergence of a Practice-Led Research Doctorate in Music’, British Journal of Music Education, 28/1 (2011), pp. 87102, make a strong case for practice-as-research in the Australian DMA; this is quite different to a lot of other programmes of this name, though, because of the requirement of a minimum of five years professional experience and frequently a formal research qualification. Other performance-based DMAs I have encountered have frequently involved just a loosely-linked recital and thesis more appropriate for a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

31 For an examination of how various supposedly multicultural, new musicological, and popular and film music studies work entails a retreat from engagement with multilingual sources (especially ironic in the case of that accompanied by rhetoric of difference, ‘others’ and multiculturalism), see my ‘Multicultural Musicology for Monolingual Academics?’ (22 April 2015), at (accessed 6 September 2015).

32 As Andrew R. Brown and Andrew Sorensen put it well, ‘There is a general way in which research is a part of many activities. In this general way, research refers to the act of finding out about something and is involved in learning about a topic, extending a skill, solving a problem and so on. In particular, almost all creative practice involves this general type of research, and often lots of it’ (‘Integrating Creative Practice and Research’, p. 153).

33 See Lee Miller and Joanne ‘Bob’ Whalley, ‘Partly Cloudy, Chance of Rain’, in Freeman, Blood, Sweat & Theory, pp. 218–31 on this project. For an account of its examination, see Kershaw, ‘Practice as Research through Performance’, pp. 108–13.

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