DMU academic wins €2 million grant to investigate the future of music and creative technology

Could ‘digital scores’ lead to a new kind of music experience in the future? An expert from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has won €2 million to find out.

Professor Craig Vear is set to lead the first ever scientific investigation into how creative technologies have revolutionised the traditional musical score, after winning funding from the European Research Council (ERC)’s Consolidator Grant.

Professor Vear, an active researcher at the university’s Institute of Creative Technologies (IOCT) and Performing Arts alumnus of DMU, secured the highest amount possible from the prestigious ERC for his proposal, which will enable him to conduct the study over the course of five years and work with research partners around the world.

His main objectives are to determine scientific knowledge of how digital music scores stimulate new creative opportunities and experiences within a range of music practices, and develop a theoretical framework for digital scores that can be used as a transdisciplinary area of research.

“A digital score is about transferring musical ideas between people and exploring the possibilities of modern technology to communicate music,” explained Professor Vear.

“In traditional music scores we use lines and dots. Today, we can use a whole range of different technologies and devices to create, collaborate and communicate music. Seeing as we are now one fifth of the way through the 21st century, it only seems right that the music score transforms accordingly.

“Up until now there has been no scientific study of how digital scores affect creativity and musicianship, which is quite remarkable because digital scores are generating new music experiences, innovative compositional approaches, novel performance opportunities and broader accessibility for a vast number of musicians and music cultures around the world.”

The Digital Score

The ERC received 2,506 proposals for its highly competitive Consolidator Grant this year, out of which 327 projects will be funded, worth €655 million.

ERC President Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, said: “This funding not only empowers bright minds from across Europe to pursue their most ambitious ideas at a critical stage of their careers, but also helps train the youngest generation of researchers as members of their ERC teams.

“To prepare for the challenges of tomorrow, Europe must stick to the vision of investing in frontier research, which has proved time and again its crucial added value.”

The €2 million funding Professor Vear has received will enable him to commission 50 new pieces of music that will be created using seven key themes:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Machine learning
  • Internet networking
  • Robotics
  • Virtual/augmented reality
  • Gaming
  • Physical computing

He will work alongside four other world-leading experts in the field, including Professor Cat Hope from Monash University, Australia; Professor Sandeep Bhagwati from Concordia University, Canada; Professor Kenneth Fields from the University of California, USA; and Professor Li Xiaobing from Central Conservatory of Music, China.

“DMU will be the hub for the research, with four other experimental labs around the world replicating what we are doing,” continued Professor Vear. “We want to work with marginalised musicians, international artists and even children. That’s what makes this project so exciting – it’s about who we can get involved.”

While the musicians create their digital compositions, Professor Vear and his colleagues will interview them to learn more about their experiences and knowledge with the aim of building a scientific study of inclusive digital musicianship by identifying the potential of a digital score.

“It’s about gaining understanding of the human perspective of a digital score in practice,” he said. “Transdisciplinary research is also very important for this project, so we will also be working with lots of different experts in different fields to inform the project further.”

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Professor Vear has developed a list of themes that will be used as key discussion points for the experts to consider. These include things like embodiment, representation, liveness and interaction.

“There has always been a spirit of adventure in experimental music and there has always been a spirit of exploration within technology. This project will bring both of those together.”

The researchers will also speak to students and teachers around the world to see how education and training could be improved.

Craig Vear
Professor Craig Vear

“The ERC Consolidator Grant is a practice-based research grant and our IOCT specialises in exactly that, so it is a perfect fit," said Professor Vear.

"It is a rare and privileged opportunity to be given this much money and this much time to concentrate on something that I am so passionate about and have been thinking about and working on for decades.

“I have worked incredibly hard to get here and receiving this grant is the best validation because it comes from immensely prestigious peers from across the world.”

Professor Sophy Smith, Director of the IOCT at DMU, said: “I am delighted that Craig’s passion and expertise in this area has been recognised through this incredible award. As well as recognising Craig’s expertise, the full funding from the ERC is also recognition of the ongoing work of the IOCT, which continues to undertake exciting and innovative research across creative technologies.”

Professor David Mba, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) at DMU, said: “To be awarded €2 million from the ERC’s Consolidator Grant – the highest amount available – is an outstanding achievement for DMU but more than that, it is great acknowledgment of Professor Vear’s unwavering efforts and determination to conduct impactful research in this field.

“This project will open up new and exciting opportunities for DMU to collaborate with partners around the world and I for one am very much looking forward to hearing more about the research as it gets underway. Huge congratulations to Professor Vear.”

Posted on Wednesday 9th December 2020

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