Dr Richard Whalley

Senior Lecturer in Musical Composition

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Research interests

The most important aspect of composition for me is the exploration of possibilities. Such a magnitude of music already exists… and yet there remain infinite unexplored possibilities, and this fascinates and energises me. In fact this is fundamental to why I compose.

Although I really enjoy listening to electronic music of all kinds, my music is primarily instrumental or vocal. Partly this is because the sonic possibilities of instruments and voices are so rich, and there is much to discover. But also I am fascinated by the variety of what live performers can bring to a piece of music: the chemistry between performers, the ideas performers bring to the music and the possibilities for spontaneity in live performance. Consequently, a number of recent compositions explore various means of allowing performers certain freedoms in places, for example in choosing how their parts align, or the order in which they play material.

Sonic exploration plays a large part in my music – again this comes down to a fascination with the exploration of possibilities. Yet what is fundamentally interesting for me is to focus on the relationship between such concepts as sound quality, performing technique, etc. and aspects of music that have been the concern of composers for centuries: musical line, harmony, transformation of ideas, etc. Indeed a sense of dialogue with music of the past is perhaps inevitable given my classical training as a musician, but this is tempered by a desire to escape, often finding freedom in the challenge of responding through sound to extra-musical sources of inspiration.

A number of my works take analogies with visual art as a starting point: these include Interlocking Melodies (2007), A Very Serious Game (2012) and Three Roses (2013), which are inspired by works by De Kooning, M.C. Escher and Cy Twombly respectively. These works respond in their own distinct ways to the varied textures of the art, with the relationship between structure and space provoking varied musical shapes over time. Literature and film have also had their influence, particularly through the possibilities they offer in evoking memory, for example in Misplaced Time Refound (2015) which takes its inspiration from Umberto Eco’s tongue-in-cheek description of computer memory in Foucault’s Pendulum. In recent works, notably Wonderland (2015), Iapetus Suture (2016) and Kinderszenen (2016), I am increasingly drawn to evoking shapes and patterns found in nature in music, for example by using proportions found in nature, allowing elements of chance into the realisation of musical material, and in exploring musical analogies with geological processes.


Research and projects

No current projects are available for public display