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Catherine Laws is a musicologist and a pianist specialising in contemporary music. She has two primary research specialisms: word and music studies (particularly the relationship between music, language and meaning), and aspects of contemporary music performance practice as research.
Her research into the relationship between music and language has a special focus on the musicality of the work of Samuel Beckett and composers’ responses to his texts. She has published a range of articles on these topics, and her book, ‘Headaches Among the Overtones’: Music in Beckett/ Beckett in Music appeared in 2013 (Editions Rodopi). Her most recent research in this area includes study of Beckett’s radio work for the BBC in the late 1950s and the significance of his work for early British experiments with radiophonic sound.
Catherine’s practice-led research is focused variously on processes of embodiment, subjectivity and collaboration in contemporary performance practices. In addition to her current post at York, she is a Senior Artistic Research Fellow at the Orpheus Institute in Ghent, where she leads the research cluster Performance, Subjectivity and Experimentation. The aim of this cluster is to explore how subjectivity is produced through performance practices associated with new music: who is the ‘I’ that performs, and how is that ‘I’ embodied in performance?
Her own research in this project takes the (problematised) performing ‘self’ as the linking factor in a sequence of performances of new music for piano and other things: any or all of voice, toy piano, harmonium, electronics (live and/or fixed media), other sound-making objects and/or video. The project scrutinises the process of developing new collaborative pieces to performance. Through processes of making new work in collaboration with a sequence of composers, and linked critical enquiry, Catherine is finding ways to consider the extent and nature of performer agency, exploring the production of a multiple, distributed subjectivity that masquerades as individual performance persona. One of the key outputs here is a large-scale solo music theatre performance, Player Piano: a collaboration with composers Edward Jessen, Annea Lockwood, Roger Marsh and Paul Whitty, theatre maker Teresa Brayshaw, and film maker Wendy Kirkup. The first performance of Player Pianotook place on May 5th 2016 in York, and it will tour later in 2016 and 2017. As a performer, Catherine is interested in instrumental colour and interaction; the wide and subtle variations of touch, tone, dynamic and texture possible on the modern piano, and the innate drama of interactions between performer and piano, piano and other sounds (electronic or otherwise), and performer, instruments and audience: these things underpin the exploration of how the sense of a sonic self is produced and reproduced in the different parts of Player Piano.
Catherine is also collaborating with Jonathan Hook (Lecturer in Interactive Media, University of York) and Tom Cornford (theatre maker and Lecturer in Theatre at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama) on the project Representing Rehearsal, a research project developing the use of interactive video to facilitate and document contemporary collaborative music and theatre practices.
Other recent practice-led research projects have explored the relationship between physical and sonic gesture, the interactions of performers and composers in devising performance projects, and processes of experimentation in performing the piano music of Morton Feldman. This work has led to outputs in a range of forms: performances, audio recordings, filmic versions of new collaborative works, and theoretical considerations of the critical questions underpinning the research.
Three of Catherine’s films are currently available on vimeo: Chambre 119 (for amplified voice, piano, toy piano and CD playback), composed for Catherine by Ed Jessen can be seen at http://vimeo.com/7452393; Companion (for two toy pianos and voices), also by Ed Jessen, for Anna Myatt and Catherine, can be seen at http://www.vimeo.com/7520730; Disjointed, a collaboration with composer Bill Brooks and percussionist Damien Harron (produced as part of the research project ‘Sounded Gestures, Enacted Sounds’) is at http://vimeo.com/70437876
A film version of Damien Harron’s The Writing’s on the Wall, for speaking pianist (composed for Catherine in 2009) is shortly to be released (produced with Scam Artist Productions).
Recent audio recordings include: performances of music by Morton Feldman for 3 and 4 pianos (with Philp Thomas, John Tilbury and Mark Knoop), on Morton Feldman: Two Pianos and Other Pieces, 1953-1969.
another timbre (at81-2), 2014; Martin Iddon’s head down among the stems and bells, for amplified, prepared piano, on pneuma, a CD collection of Iddon’s compositions, another timbre’ (at72), 2014; a recording of Annea Lockwood’s Ceci n’est pas un piano, for piano, recorded voice and electronics, with a new text by the performer, is due for release shortly.
Recent publications include: ‘Beckett in New Musical Composition,’ Journal of Beckett Studies 23/1 (2014), 54-72; ‘Experiment in Practice: Morton Feldman’s Late Piano Music,’ and ‘Embodiment and Gesture in Performance: Practice-led Perspectives,’ both in Darla Crispin and Bob Gilmore (eds.), Artistic Experimentation in Music: An Anthology (Leuven University Press, 2014), pp. 131-142, 565-574;‘Music in Beckett’s Nacht und Träume: Vocality and Imagination,’ in Sara Jane Bailes and Nicholas Till (eds.), Beckett and Musicality (Ashgate, 2014); ‘On Listening’, volume 15 no. 3 of the journal Performance Research, which Catherine guest edited.
Catherine is also the keyboard player with [rout], a collective of composers and performers specialising in new music for amplified ensemble (usually violin/ electric violin, electric guitar, saxophone, double/ electric bass, keyboards, samplers, and other electronics).
In addition to supervising research students with individual projects, Catherine is a member of the supervisory team for the project Expressive Nonverbal Communication in Ensemble Performance, a doctoral studentship network funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities.
View all Catherine's publications at the York Research Database.