The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

Continuing with this series, James Saunders has published his interviews with Laurence Crane and Philip Jeck:

Laurence Crane

When I first encountered Laurence’s music, my interest was in extreme miniaturisation, and his exquisitely constructed, poised compositions made a deep impact on me, both through their own beauty and the way it made me readdress the assumptions I had grown to have about the way music could (should?) be. It has been interesting to see the way in which his music has changed since then: principally the soundworld has expanded in some pieces, often looking away from pitch to define material. The focus and reduction is still apparent though, with a carefully selected palette of sounds distilled from the objects used to make them. Laurence’s material is resolutely abstract, and despite the superficial references to a classical tradition, his harmony has little sense of teleology. Tonal constructions are hinted at, but mutated through a studied use of unbalanced and extended repetitions. His approach to titling is important too: descriptions of the ensemble, as with Feldman, form a large proportion of his catalogue, as do names (which make passing references to the music’s original performers). The Skempton connection can also be heard through his general preference for miniatures and movements. Although more recent work has explored longer spans, much of Crane’s music deals with economy.

The interview was conducted by telephone on 14 June 2007. Read the interview in full.

Philip Jeck

While improvisation forms a component of Philip Jeck’s music, he considers it as much arranging given his use of records as material. His work in performance, recording, and installation is linked by the equipment he uses, but is in other ways very different. In his performances, making decisions about the deployment of material can be altered by the inconsistent response of his aging record players and well-played records, necessitating the readjustment of ideas when something unexpected occurs. The installation work uses domestic time switches to control grouped banks of players set with a prepared tone arm tied to create loops, or the use of locked grooves. Over time, these too degrade and produce slippage: the time switches drift chaotically out of phase, and the arm and groove preparations become worn. Here the equipment defines the detail of the resultant music, taking its own course within Jeck’s prescribed boundaries. Both these approaches contrast with his recorded work, surprisingly created by mostly cutting and pasting minidisc recordings of live performances. The opportunity to audit the results of this process allows for more precision, although he notes the importance of surprise here as well, with a dislocation between his memory of a performance and its newfound context as sample informing his decisions. It is perhaps no surprise that collage is a common theme through all this work, given his material is derived from locked physical objects in which sound resides. It is testament to his skill at manipulating them though that subverts the music’s construction in the sounding result.

The interview was conducted by telephone on 13 June 2007. Read the interview in full.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicAll the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicPosted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

James Saunders is publishing a series of interviews from The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music via his website. The 14 interviews that feature in the companion will be posted gradually over the coming weeks, starting with Christian Wolff:

Introduction provided by James Saunders:

Christian Wolff’s work addresses the way musicians interact with each other, and with material. In much of his work the contingency of the relationships he prescribes between people leads to a vibrant provisionality in the resultant music. In pieces like Looking North from the Prose Collection (1968-71), or the fourth part of Burdocks (1970-1) performers are, in differing ways, asked to attempt to synchronize their actions with those of others. The performance energy set up by these simple constraints can only be achieved by players listening and responding to each other in this manner: any attempt to capture this activity through more conventional forms of notation would be pointless. It is no surprise that Wolff has worked for a long time as an improviser: the spontaneity in his notated work draws on this experience whilst at the same time formalizing it. Performers are sometimes asked to make decisions during performance. Whilst these are not necessarily improvisatory actions, there is a freedom of movement granted through his use optionality: time brackets, multiple transpositions of the same material, or the gravitational pull of heterophony. The result is a social music, in which participation is a rich and rewarding experience. In his recent work, it has been interesting to see how he has revisited the varied strategies employed over the course of his career, whether contingent or more determinate. There is a compendium-like summary of ideas in these pieces, whereby disparate fragments are presented together to form longer spans, such as with the hour-long Long Piano (Peace March 11) (2004-5) or the piece for three orchestras Ordinary Matter (2001). This admission of personal history is unusual amongst composers, for whom the pressure to move forwards is constant, and it is indicative of the inclusive approach to his work.

Find the full interview here.

About the Editor: James Saunders is a composer, with an interest in modularity and series. He performs in the duo Parkinson Saunders, and with Apartment House. He is Head of the Centre for Musical Research at Bath Spa University, currently working on the composition and performance practice of text notation, and directs the ensemble Material.

Contemporary African Politics

Posted by Michael Drapper, Marketing Executive

Today, as Nigeria goes to the polls for its fifth quadrennial general elections since the 1999 return to democracy, it is clear that the country, and Africa as a whole, is in a period of rapid change. Now, as in Nigeria, some two-thirds of countries on the continent have embarked on comprehensive democratic transitions, in diverse forms, with varying degrees of maturation. Crucially, there is broad recognition among African elites that participatory and democratic processes are standards or benchmarks for judging them, as shown by the establishment of the African Union, the New Partnership for African Development, and the African Peer Review Mechanism. The improved political climate reflects important economic and social changes as well. Since the mid-1990s, economic growth in the majority of African countries has been strong, surpassing 5% per year in fifteen countries on the continent. For a number of these, higher growth has been accompanied by diversification of their economies and exports.

Africans actors deserve the credit for much of the observable change. Western aid agencies, Chinese mining companies and UN peacekeepers have played their part, but the continent’s main driver of change appears to be its own people. Across the continent a palpable sense of hope abounds from rural to urban communities and across the generations. The ability of governments to play a mediatory role between global capitalism and the domestic, intra-state arena is being transformed, as states exhibit increasing capacities and resources as well as different levels of social and political motivation. While it is true that most African states are responding to the external pressures of the International Financial Institutions, their governments still bear responsibility for promoting an approach to development and on this they appear to be doing a little better, especially in economic management and striking peace deals.

Whether what we are witnessing is a third liberation of the continent – the first from colonialism, the second from autocratic indigenous rule, and now something far different – remains to be seen. Understanding the evolving reality is the central aim of Ashgate’s new Contemporary African Politics series. This series seeks original approaches to furthering our understanding of the ensuing changes in contemporary Africa. It will look at the full range and variety of African politics in the 21st century, covering the changing nature of African society, gender issues, security, economic prosperity and poverty, to the development of relations between African states, external organisations and between leaders and the people they would govern. The series aims to publish work by senior scholars as well as the best new researchers.

If you have a proposal you would like to submit for consideration, please email Rob Sorsby, Senior Commissioning Editor, at For more information on submitting a proposal, please visit

Ethnicity democracy and citizenship in africaReinventing development

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The history of intelligence and ‘intellectual disability’ – a guest post from C.F. Goodey

Posted by David Cota, Senior Marketing Coordinator

Enjoy this guest post from C.F. Goodey, author of A History of Intelligence and ‘Intellectual Disability’. Goodey’s book was chosen by our editors as having played a significant part in the building and reputation of our History publishing programme.

The conceptual history of learning disability (in North America it tends to be called “intellectual” or “developmental” disability) was not long ago a greenfield site. No one had thought there was anything to examine. There were books about the large Victorian institutions where people were incarcerated, but by its very existence this kind of historical research simply reinforced the concept as if it were just a matter of scientific fact what their psychological make-up was. Why should we take that for granted? Would a current list of its characteristics match those of several centuries ago? Go back far enough, and were there even any such people?

A History of Intelligence and Intellectual DisabilityI also wanted to see how this conceptual instability reflected back on our ideas about a specifically human intelligence. After all, intelligence is the main currency in which academic life trades. But history shows it to be as dodgy as money itself. Governments liberally fund “cognitive” geneticists to do pretend science with woolly concepts that have no place in a laboratory. And although a lot of fancy sociologists might agree up with me to a point, I wonder how far they think of their own intelligence as merely relative, and whether they aren’t trying to have their cake and eat it. In the history of ideas, deconstruction has to lead to reconstruction (of the past), which can therefore provide a much firmer basis for scepticism about present-day concepts in the human sciences.

My researches led me to the conclusion – a provisional one as ever, and a radical one I suppose – that these are status concepts and nothing else. The story about a subjective human intelligence and its opposite is usually thought of as starting with psychology as a formal discipline, in the mid-nineteenth century. Earlier, it has been traced at a remote philosophical level. But what was actually running around in people’s heads when they needed to massage their self-respect? I wanted to know how the idea of intelligence and the way in which it casts its own particular out-group emerged from the previous and different ways people had represented their status to themselves and to each other.

From around 1200 to 1700 you represented your social status in terms of honour, and your religious status in terms of God-given grace. Modern concepts of intelligence in the human and psychological sciences (and therefore the concept of intellectual disability) emerged more or less directly from these. The word “idiot” once meant any landless or lay person; and the church catechism, designed to exclude “reprobates”, turned into the IQ test, with a seamlessness easily traceable in the history of literacy of education. My research also led me to reconceive and rewrite the appropriate aspects of medical history.

I had two eureka moments. I had always been fascinated by the role of honour and grace in the Spanish Golden Age drama of Lope and Calderon. Why would people kill or die for the sake of what appear to us to be chimeras? It is easy enough to point out that these were examples of what the historian R.G.Collingwood called “absolute presuppositions”. But historians often choose to forget that he saw these as also involving an interaction with the present. Get to the bottom of past presuppositions, he said, and it may expose a current one. It was easy for me to think, in lazy constructionist fashion, that the concept of human intelligence is chimerical like that of honour or grace. But what I then realised was that in my mass of seemingly unconnected research notes from primary sources lay a clearly traceable, concrete historical development from those two presuppositions to our own. Was I just finding a pattern that I wanted to find? Time will tell.

The second eureka moment of reconstruction involved the classics. Another knee-jerk of mine had been to start with Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics. It soon became clear that, read in context, these thinkers display no concept of a specifically human intelligence or indeed of intellectual disability as we would understand it. That was the easy part. What kept me awake at night was why in that case Aristotle would have said “Man is a rational animal”. Everyone in the middle ages claimed he did, and it was a principle that would eventually feed into the idea of a specifically human intelligence. Everything else about the primary sources was shouting at me that he couldn’t have said it. Yet commentators ancient and modern, including the Lexicon, even give a precise reference. My discovery that in this bit of text he was talking about something else entirely – about logical systems, not about psychology – and of several contemporary sources to back this up, was a major milestone in mapping out for me the foreignness of the past.

A couple of researchers have taken up my overall theme, though I suspect or perhaps merely hope that that it will take thirty or forty years for the ideas to penetrate. In the meantime, I keep putting out accessible materials for the general public and practitioners, and with some colleagues I run a WordPress site I keep applying for funds to do workshops with the public and to produce graphic and web-based materials – so far unsuccessfully, so if there is anyone reading this out there who might want to help ….

At the other end of the spectrum there were some humdrum aspects to my work that I also enjoyed – for example, my obsessive approach to self-help marketing. I wrote a standard blurb so that it wouldn’t look like spam, and sent posts to a couple of thousand relevant faculty members in universities across the world. Spending three summer weeks doing that was a relief for my brain – like frenziedly cleaning the house from top to bottom. The book, despite being a monster hardback, sold out its first print run in two years.

Anyone else out there who is thinking of putting a substantial amount of their research life into one large volume may encounter a few oddities. Some things you may not anticipate, including your own reactions to reviewers. Reviews, it turns out, do not divide into good and bad, they divide into (a) reviewers who have read your book and (b) those who haven’t, and/or (a) those who have understood it and (b) those who haven’t. After all your efforts, you will have no problem appreciating (a) over (b). This holds irrespective of the value they attach to your work. All my reviews were positive except one, but I wasn’t particularly pleased with several of the “good” ones as they were of type (b). The one mainly bad review ended up with intentional sarcasm: “Goodey has bitten off more than he can chew.” The moment I read that, I punched the air and went “Yesssss”. Of course I had bitten off more than I could chew. That is what real research is – any pathbreaking piece of work will be a very, very large bleeding chunk that drips all over the shop. I felt more justified by that one comment than by any review which praised it.

The other unexpected effect comes when you get quoted. It is quite normal for people just to stick your name in an article or book of their own at random, especially with Harvard referencing which is the most cock-eyed way of trying to contribute to human knowledge ever devised. What you may not be prepared for is how often people who cite you and who have read your book will interpret it as saying diametrically the opposite of what you actually said. Is it your own fault, for not having expressed yourself clearly enough? Perhaps, but don’t worry about it, because your prose style can be as clear as a pane of glass and they will still quote you as saying what they wanted you to say (received wisdom) rather than what you actually did say (which turns the world upside down). Put it down to human nature – there’s nothing else you could have done. Perhaps our geneticist friends can discover the reason.

If I were writing the book now, I would start by time-travelling to the future post-publication point where I realised what its logical consequences were and which I had failed to mention. Then I would go back and incorporate these in my writing plan. Absurd, of course. The lesson is: go for it. My screensaver during this period was a quotation from Napoleon. Asked if he attributed his victories to superior strategy, he claimed never to make any plans: “On s’engage, et puis, on voit.” Roughly speaking (military historians can correct me if necessary) he meant: What you have to do first is get stuck in – then take a look around.


Go to our History Editors’ Choices page for a full list of History titles that were selected by our editors.

A tour of Spanish Rome

Originally posted on Life at the BSR:

DSC_0605xxx Flagellation of Christ by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1516–24

Earlier this month, the staff and award-holders of the BSR were extremely fortunate to have been given a guided tour of the sites of sixteenth-century Spanish Rome in the company of BSR former award-holder, and expert on High Renaissance art and architecture in Rome, Dr Piers Baker-Bates (Rome Scholar 2002-3).

DSC_0593 xx Saint James by Jacopo Sansovino in Santa Maria di Monserrato, 1520

As we set off for Piazza Navona early in the morning, the heavy rain dampened no one’s enthusiasm and appetite to learn about the sites and commissions of Spanish power in Rome. Our first site of interest for the morning was San Giacomo degli Spagnoli. Behind an unassuming façade — which we learnt was really the back of the church — San Giacomo from the late-fifteenth century became the centre of the Spanish presence in Rome, functioning both as a place…

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Achsah Guibbory’s return to John Donne

Posted by Beth Whalley, Marketing Executive

It is, Achsah Guibbory says, an exciting time in Donne Studies. In the last decade, a great number of publications focusing on the English poet have materialised, with much critical attention paid to the production of new scholarly editions of Donne for the twenty-first century.

Ashgate has contributed significantly to this influx of contemporary Donne scholarship, notably with the publication of Frances Cruickshank’s Verse and Poetics in George Herbert and John Donne (2010), and Bodies, Politics and Transformations: John Donne’s Metempsychosis by Siobhán Collins (2013).

Returning to John DonneThe newest addition to this list is Returning to John Donne (2015), by Achsah Guibbory.  The book includes an original, substantive introduction and new essays on the Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, the Songs and Sonnets, and the subject of Donne and toleration. It also showcases Guibbory’s most influential previously published work on Donne, with corrections, updates and scholarly reflections.

Guibbory’s work is and always has been historicist; she aims to locate Donne’s writings within various historical and cultural contexts. Nevertheless, the essays selected for this volume (those that she considers to be her most important) are united by an overarching concern to define what is distinctive and original about Donne. She writes:

‘Donne also feels very present, because his writing is so energetic, so alive, and he writes about what continues to matter: our yearning for love and intimacy, our desire to believe in – and feel connected with – something great and better than ourselves … his writing is intimate and direct, addressing the listening reader in a way that makes you feel he is speaking directly to you.’

Though his death was a full 384 years ago on the 31st March, Donne clearly continues to speak to and resonate with readers today.

Achsah Guibbory is a plenary speaker at the Reconsidering Donne conference in Oxford, 23-24th March 2015, with a paper entitled Not all Donne: The Significance of Donne’s Libertine Poetry. More information about her book Returning to John Donne, including contents and ordering information, is available on the Ashgate website.