“My approach to music research and study is very pluralistic,” says Geoff Baker, new director of the Institute of Musical Research.
Now a reader in musicology and ethnomusicology at Royal Holloway, University of London, Baker has always specialised in Latin American music, but that has included “everything from colonial church music to hip hop”. As a result, he has never drawn sharp distinctions between Western art music, popular music and ethnomusicology, and he believes that it is not the job of the IMR to “police what does or doesn’t count as musical research”. Its role, rather, is to “foster high-quality research” of any relevant kind and, in the longer term, to “build bridges with the world outside academia”.
The IMR was one of the constituent institutes of the University of London’s School of Advanced Studies until a feasibility study in 2014 suggested that both it and the Institute of English Studies should be merged into some of the others. In the event, Royal Holloway stepped into the breach to save the IMR and Baker took over as part-time director in July with the support of a PhD student who acts as an administrative assistant six hours a week.
By maintaining links with the University of London, the IMR can still offer free or very cheap space at Senate House in Central London, an excellent venue for the one-day conferences, seminars, workshops, networking meetings and book launches that Baker describes as “the showcasing end of the research process”.
But although his three predecessors as directors all serve on the advisory board alongside many fresh faces, he is now in charge of what is in essence a new institution. So what is already in the pipeline and at planning stages?
One major initiative, reports Baker, is a “scheme for early career researchers” who have completed PhDs within the past three years but “haven’t yet got their feet on the employment ladder of their first academic jobs”. These are “the most vulnerable group of scholars, in danger of falling through the cracks in the profession”.
Applicants to become IMR early career fellows have to find a sponsoring music department for a co-organised event where they can present their own work and join forces with other scholars to broaden their networks. (They are also specifically asked to think about the public-facing aspect of such events, and finding ways to communicate – beyond fellow specialists – to performers, instrument-makers, audiences and so on.)
The first five “winners” have recently been announced, in research areas ranging from instrument-making to music and politics. Although the institute can currently afford to give them only £500 each, Baker sees this as “a minor leg-up for people at a crucial stage in their careers. Helping such people should be central to what the IMR does.”
Although it is now attached to Royal Holloway, the IMR is very much a national institute that is designed to build synergies with music departments across the country, with its website acting as central hub for anyone working in music studies who is keen to make contacts, and put on and publicise events.
A new distinguished lecture series will allow senior scholars to describe a research project in depth. This will be launched in May-June 2016 by Nicholas Cook, 1684 professor of music at the University of Cambridge, who will be speaking on “Musical Encounters: Studies in Relational Musicology”.
When it comes to seminars, Baker hopes to focus on “themed series pursuing a particular vein of research through the year”. These can be “difficult for individual music departments to put on”, since they often “have to cater to a wide variety of interests” and so end up including “everything from 16th-century music to music in the Sudan”.
Two such themed series are already scheduled by the IMR. One is being organised by John Rink, director of the AHRC Research Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice at Cambridge, and will explore the process and meaning of music in performance. The other is the international composers series, led by Paul Archbold, reader in performance and screen studies at Kingston University (as well as a composer and outgoing director of the IMR), which will bring in renowned composers from around the world to talk about their work.
More generally, Baker sees a role for the IMR as “an honest broker between departments so they can put on things they couldn’t afford individually”. Under discussion for the future are “discipline-specific research training for PhD students” and events (perhaps on the model of cafés philosophiques) to promote “public understanding of musical research”.
Five scholarships in research areas including instrument-making and music in politics
Male victims of domestic violence are reluctant to report abuse for fear of being accused of violence themselves, according to new research. Jessica McCarrick, senior lecturer in counselling psychology at Teesside University, found that men are frequently arrested under false accusations and their disclosures of victimisation are initially dismissed. Dr McCarrick is calling for more understanding of the emotional experiences of male domestic violence victims and encouraging a more balanced, gender-informed perspective of domestic abuse.
University of Sheffield
An innovative tool has been launched by a university in partnership with Microsoft to help organisations to reduce the environmental impact of their supply chains. The cloud-based Supply Chain Environmental Analysis Tool (SCEnAT+), produced by academics at the University of Sheffield, helps to lower organisations’ carbon emissions by running an analysis of supply chains and presenting a carbon “heat-map”. Companies that have already benefited from the tool include Muntons, the UK’s leading malt supplier, and Outokumpu, a stainless steel producer.
London School of Economics
A new centre is set to become a focal point on campus for about 900 PhD students. Based on the fourth floor of the London School of Economics’ Lionel Robbins Building, the PhD Academy includes a common room, a teaching room and central services all in one location for the first time in the institution’s 120-year history. The specially designed space will host professional development and advanced methodology training, career sessions and other events delivered by LSE experts.
University of Warwick
Scholarships for refugees are part of a university’s “inherent responsibility to try to shape a more accepting society”, according to its vice-chancellor. Sir Nigel Thrift, the University of Warwick’s vice-chancellor, has announced that there will be 10 student scholarships for refugees seeking a place at university to study or research in 2015-16. Warwick will offer the same number the next year, and then review the impact of the project.
University of Liverpool
A team of students broke the human-powered British land speed record three times while competing against an international field in the US. The University of Liverpool Velocipede (ULV) Team designed and built their recumbent bicycle, ARION1, from scratch and, thanks to sponsorship from Rathbones Investment Management, transported the finished product to the Nevada desert to race at the World Human Powered Speed Challenge 2015. Ken Buckley pushed the record to 75.03mph, beating the record freshly set by teammate David Collins.
Five new research institutes are being opened by Cardiff University. The centres will focus on big data, disease immunity, water usage, crime and security, and energy systems. It is hoped that the institutes will encourage existing researchers to work across disciplinary boundaries, and will attract more international academic talent to Wales. Their establishment will take the number of research institutes at Cardiff to nine.
An agreement has been signed for Glyndwr University to offer research degrees validated by the University of Chester. The five-year deal, which will initially support 30 PhD or MPhil students at Wrexham, is seen as a precursor to Glyndwr eventually securing its own research degree awarding powers. Graham Upton, Glyndwr’s interim vice-chancellor, said: “This is an important milestone for us as we take the first steps towards a new era for higher education in North East Wales.”
University of Westminster
More than 2,000 undergraduates and 250 lecturers have been provided with iPads as part of a £1 million scheme to promote paperless learning. Second- and third-year students at the University of Westminster’s Faculty of Science and Technology received the Apple devices for use until graduation, allowing them to access video, audio and text documents on a single platform. Dedicated staff “digital leaders” and “student digital ambassadors” have been appointed to support the pilot project, which may be rolled out across the whole university if it is successful.