Conference Report: BFE-RMA Research Students’ Conference 2024

Report by James Ellis

The annual BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference (RSC) was hosted by the Department of Music at Cardiff University from 10th to 12th January 2024. The conference was a fantastic and informative event, showcasing high-quality research output from a diverse range of early career research students as well as EDI panel sessions and keynotes which were both inspiring and illuminating. The conference theme of ‘Identities’ was addressed through paper topics ranging from music and religion, politics, gender and sexuality to a wonderfully apt panel entitled ‘Welsh Perspectives’. Additionally, the number of research students bringing their own sense of identity, culture, and understanding to the proceedings furthered the conference theme’s resonance, ensuring that the RSC provided an inclusive educational environment for such a diverse and eclectic group of researchers to meet, share, and learn.

Held over three days, the conference saw a wealth of subjects discussed in presentations, workshops, and keynotes. In total, eighty-two presentations featured – all marked by a high degree of research quality focusing on diverse and intriguing subject matters. Before any presentations and panels, however, an excellent training session was delivered to all conference Chairs by Dr Matthew Machin-Autenrieth (University of Aberdeen). The training session provided those with limited experience of chairing with information on how to coordinate sessions and organise post-presentation Q&As. It was a helpful session which certainly put all Chairs at ease before the conference proper.

After a warm welcome from Dr Nick Jones (Cardiff University) and the RMA Student Committee, the conference began with lecture recitals running alongside topics on music and religion, regional identity, and issues in popular music. I attended the latter which saw fantastic papers on the subject. In particular, Luigi Monteanni’s presentation on farmers and heavy metal music in West Java provided an illuminating insight into what occurs when music and culture collide and, in particular, how heavy metal music in West Java relates to the political and socio- economic realities of the population and its intersection with indigenous identity narratives. Anna Tharia’s (University of Liverpool) paper which so effectively dissected the idea of the British ‘North’ and its musics was equally informative, revealing so much in regards to the Beatles members’ individual educations, class perspectives, and their placement in the context of the 1950s British ‘New Wave’ culture of theatre and film.

Two highlights of the RSC came in the form of keynote presentations given in the Concert Hall. First, the Jerome Roche Keynote Lecture by Dr Gabrielle Messeder (City, University of London) was entitled ‘Shifting Identities, Ethnic Ambiguity and Tropicalisation in Beirut’s Transnational Brazilian Music Scene’. This research highlighted the incredible value of ethnographic research methodologies and approaches as the lives of Brazilian musicians and dancers living and working in Beirut came into sharp focus in this keynote. The culture unearthed by Messeder was at once fascinating and concerning as we learned of the dangers performers faced in their creative contexts. Issues of sociopolitical anxieties emerged regarding gender, ethnicity, and ‘race,’ and the keynote illuminated the human lives and their musics so vividly.

The BFE Keynote Lecture, presented by Dr Saeid Kordmafi (SOAS, University of London), highlighted the ever-evolving relevance and value of practice-based ethnomusicological research. Presenting his own playing in Maqam cultural contexts, Kordmafi showed how the blurring of disciplinary boundaries between art practice and ethnomusicology can reveal more about the cultures and musics being researched. It was also invaluable to learn of Kordmafi’s methodologies which doubtlessly inspired so many who attended this excellent keynote.

Further panel presentations on days two and three of the conference stood out for their high quality of research. I was fortunate enough, after presenting my own paper, to chair a session on film and radio. This session highlighted excellent research across audio and mixed media formats with presentations from Emma Payne (Cardiff University) on embodied identity in period drama films, Juan Carlos Méndez Álvarez (University of Oxford) on hauntological approaches to revealing cultural identity in Latin-American film, and a fascinating paper from Benedict Turner-Berry (University of Cambridge) on the as yet under-researched topic of Islamic radio stations in the UK. All three papers stood out to me as examples of fascinating topics researched to a high degree, thus enabling audience members to further their knowledge and, in some cases, learn something new and intriguing about cultures they had had limited contact with in the past.

I would also like to praise lecturers and senior scholars for the four informative training sessions held across the conference. Of particular value, the session entitled ‘Routes to Publication and Preparing for REF 2029’, led by our welcoming hosts at Cardiff University, explained the importance of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to early career PGRs as well as how to best address the issues it presents. Pathways to academic careers were also discussed and it was fantastic to hear from practitioners across musicology, ethnomusicology, performance, and composition.

A final highlight of the conference saw Trio Anima, the ensemble in residence at the RSC, perform a wonderful and enthralling concert. In particular, the performance of Nathan James Dearden’s trio ‘ayre’ was animately and passionately played. Furthermore, it was wonderful to hear the compositions workshopped by Trio Anima performed in the concert. These compositions, by composers attending the conference, highlighted a vast array of compositional styles and a wonderful mastery of the instrumentation available. That the conference was able to facilitate these composition workshops and later performances was a clear sign of its value, and a huge thank you must go to all the organisers as well as Trio Anima and the composers for such a fantastic evening of music.

The RSC was a wonderful way to begin 2024 and an excellent reminder of the valuable research being undertaken by PGRs across the country as well as internationally. Special thanks must go to the Student Committee for all their work and warmth towards attendees as well as the most welcoming of hosts in the staff at Cardiff University. It was a conference filled with inspirational work and wonderful practitioners eager to learn from one another and contribute to each attendee’s body of work. A final thanks, therefore, to the RMA, BFE, and the Cardiff University music team for an outstanding RSC.

James Ellis is a PhD Research Student at Royal Holloway University of London. His recent publication in the Journal of Sound and Music in Games is entitled “On the Trail of a Nostalgic Adventure: Identifying and Analyzing the Nostalgic Potential of Video Game Music in the Context of the Pokémon Franchise.” James’s research centres around ludomusicology and musical analysis with a focus on player interaction, identity and engagement with audiovisual texts and the development of gestural theories of music to illuminate concepts of immersion. James is also an active pianist who teaches and regularly performs.

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