Case Study: Arts and Humanities Network Awards

Dr Graeme Wilson & Professor Raymond MacDonald received an RSE Arts and Humanities Network award in December 2014 for their project Concurrent. 

Graeme Wilson is a Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, developing research on improvisation and on music-making for well-being. He has published psychological research extensively and presented widely on this work at academic, practitioner and public events. A saxophonist and music educator, his playing features on many CD releases and his commissioned works have been performed internationally.

Raymond MacDonald is Professor of Music Psychology and Improvisation at Edinburgh University and lectures and runs workshops internationally. He has published over 70 peer reviewed papers and book chapters and co-edited five texts. He is also a saxophonist and composer and has released over 60 CDs and toured and broadcast worldwide.

Photo credit: Graeme Wilson and Raymond MacDonald

Can you describe your project?

Concurrent is a network of key researchers who share approaches and theoretical insights, apply psychological understandings to collaborative performance and consider how performers construct meanings at the forefront of contemporary improvisation. Public events and online dissemination engage a wide range of creative improvisers, academics and audiences interested in transcending disciplines.

Did the RSE Network award contribute to the success of your research project? If yes, how did it help?

Our ongoing research project on Meanings of Interaction Among Musical Improvisers benefited considerably from Concurrent. We were able to test the conceptual model for musical improvisation emerging from that study with interdisciplinary improvising groups to consider how applicable this model was in other performing fields, and therefore how universal or specific the processes involved were. The award has enabled research trips and dedicated time for us to explore implications of our psychological research for our practice-led research as saxophonists, with the resultant development of new improvised work recorded and released on CD to critical acclaim.

What would you have done if you did not receive RSE funding?

If we had not received RSE funding we would have tried to identify alternative funding sources; however, we were not aware of other funding schemes with the same degree of openness to cross-disciplinary thinking and experimentation. If some of the work had been able to take place outwith the context of the network, it would have been hard to generate the same buzz about the work.

What was your favourite part of the funded project?

The public events in Edinburgh and Liverpool were a particular highlight; the ferment of ideas on display and the enthusiasm of audience responses were overwhelming. Concurrent#3 at Tate Liverpool in particular covered a huge range of new ground, demonstrating fresh ideas to get everyone improvising, and trying out an innovative digital interface for improvising (dfScore) with a cross-disciplinary group. Families, school visits and passing art enthusiasts came to a standstill in the gallery to watch arts therapists exchanging clinical techniques through performance, and share the delight of the city’s artists, dancers and musicians exploring novel strategies of choice together. It was inspirational to see so many remarkable researchers and practitioners brought together and fully engaged with this audience.

Were there any unexpected outcomes?

Through connections with one of our collaborators, we were able to put on a week of Concurrent workshops, performances and discussions at Tate Liverpool in February 2017, as part of the Tate Exchange scheme to exchange cutting-edge arts thinking with new audiences at the gallery. This gave the network an even higher profile and further reach than we had originally envisaged and extended our scope for experimentation. The range of disciplines represented in the network expanded over the series of events, for instance with the involvement in various sessions of digital visual artists, a chef, a skateboarder, anthropologist, and a broader cross-section of arts therapists.

How did you disseminate your findings to your colleagues and/or the general public?

Three main Concurrent Events – two weekend seminars at Edinburgh College of Art, and a week’s residency at Tate Liverpool – brought emerging ideas to a diverse audience of the public visiting the galleries in a series of exciting workshops, talks and performances. These brought collaborators from different disciplines together often for the first time. Two open workshop/discussions were held as part of GIOFest 2015 & 2016, an annual festival of new improvised music held at Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow. Throughout the project, ongoing work has been featured in international conference presentations and invited public talks by the award recipients and other collaborators. Conference presentations & invited/public talks. All events and workshops have been documented to be publicly accessible on the dedicated website for Concurrent and have generated considerable interest via social media (@ConcurrentECA). Collaborators’ institutions and online presence have also widened the impact of network outputs. The award recipients’ project Stones Clouds, developed through the network, led to a CD of new recordings released to critical acclaim on the label Creative Sources, and the development of this work will be described in a book on improvisation they are currently writing for Open University Press.

What do you plan to do now that the award has finished?

We will build on the collaborations established through specific larger scale research projects, such as a proposal recently submitted for a three-year fellowship to develop understanding of the impacts of improvisation on mental health. All collaborators are committed to maintaining a regular annual Concurrent event, and we will seek further funding to support this. We will also seek to expand a wider programme of practitioner-led events to cement the working relations and new ideas emerging from the network, such as a recent series of improvised dance and music events in Edinburgh initiated by dancer Alma Lindenhovius and Graeme Wilson, Something Smashing, programmes of new work by Raymond MacDonald for collaborating improvisers hosted at the Glad Café in Glasgow, and the recording of an improvised soundtrack to live animation with Dr Cath Keay of ECA School of Design.

Findings from the network programme will be further disseminated through peer-reviewed journal articles and a book for Open University Press in preparation by the recipients.

Would you say that the award was helpful in terms of progressing your career? If so, how?

The award has been extremely helpful towards career progression; it has been invaluable to exchange and refine ideas with improvisation researchers from dance, visual art and arts therapies. Both recipients have collaborated on new funding proposals, including a fellowship application to the Wellcome Trust, and have gained much stronger awareness of, and contacts with, the wider audience of researchers and public interested in this field, particularly through the online & social media presence of the network.

Research conducted under the network has provided ideas and material for a major new book and has shaped a new course delivered successfully this year on improvising at Edinburgh College of Art.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of applying for an RSE Arts and Humanities Award?

A network should ideally let you build new links with individuals and fields that you do not otherwise interact with; plan to devote a lot of energy to publicising your activities and outputs.

RSE Arts & Humanities Awards

The RSE programme of Research Networks is designed to create and/or to consolidate collaborative partnerships over a two year period.  The 2017-18 round is currently open for applications, closing on Friday 29 September at 5 pm.

Arts and Humanities Funding: Research Networks