Conference Report: MuSA 2023 Conference – Music and Sonic Art: Seeing Sound, Hearing Sight

The 12th International Conference for Music and Sonic Art took place on the 28th October 2023 at the Martin Harris Centre, University of Manchester. The theme of ‘Seeing Sound, Hearing Sight’ resulted in a rich diversity of topics within the field of multimodal media, featuring both in-person and international online speakers. MuSA 2023 was designed in collaboration with MANTIS, the University of Manchester’s electroacoustic festival, which occurred immediately after the conference and featured audiovisual works from several conference speakers. Conference attendees certainly absorbed new perspectives, ideas and methodologies during the conference that enhanced and transformed their experiences in the concert hall!

Fourteen talks over five sessions investigated the varied multimodal models within film, video games, live performance, data sonification/visualisation, and the development of new technologies. One multimodal model that was explored in multiple talks was the use of the audiovisual contract to draw attention to certain elements of a work. Three varying examples include Andrew Connor (University of Edinburgh) investigating how to direct attention in audiovisual immersive environments, Tansy Spinks (Middlesex University) exploring improvisation as a way of drawing attention to the unnoticed in live performance, and Jules Rawlinson (University of Edinburgh) adding audio to the scientific films of Eric Lucey to highlight certain visual components.

Cross-modal influences within the audiovisual relationship were explored from multiple perspectives. For example, Dominic Thibault’s (Université de Montréal) talk ‘Mosaïque: Concatenative synthesis for practising musicians’ explained how music produced using this new software is impacted by the way data is visualised and navigated – visuals supporting sound – while the following talk, ‘Soundtracking violence: Ludic breakbeats and electronic dance music in action games’ by James Heazelwood and John Macdonald (independent artist-researchers) investigated how gameplay themes were catalysed by the music and its cultural connotations – sound supporting visuals.

The keynote speaker was electroacoustic pioneer Simon Emmerson (De Montford University) who began his talk ‘Imagination and Image (in Sonic Art)’ by considering how his ideas on the multimodal capacity of acousmatic performance has changed since his 2008 seminar, ‘l’œil écoute, l’oreille voit’. Many themes from the keynote presentation resonated with other talks during the day, such as the idea of synaesthesia/quasi-synaesthesia/pseudo-synesthesia which was mentioned by many speakers but especially featured in Robin Parmar’s (University of Limerick) talk, ‘Stroboscopic rhythm as chromaesthesia in Curgenven’s Agenesis’. Finally, Simon explored his composition methodology of ‘working towards sound’ in his piece Near and Far (at once) – performed later at the MANTIS Festival – which involved starting with the spatial and multimodal components of places and images and then evoking these images through sonic transformations.

Many thanks to the MuSA Committee and the University of Manchester team who helped the day go smoothly, and to the Royal Musical Association for supporting this event. MuSA 2024 will undoubtedly feature as rich and exciting a range of works and approaches as this year’s iteration!

Sarah Keirle is a final-year AHRC-funded PhD student at the University of Manchester. Her research explores the use of animal communication and multimodal perception within electroacoustic composition to create new sonic means for nature connection and conservation awareness.

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