Sonic Waves: Music and Sound Beyond Borders’ was the intriguing title of a truly multi-disciplinary symposium at Manchester Metropolitan University earlier in May, with an evening performance space to carry on the discussions in the heart of Manchester’s creative Northern Quarter. Hosted by MASS Manchester (Music and Sonic Studies), this newly formed research group, consisting of a diverse range of researchers from across the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, are ‘exploring the musical beats and sonic streets of Manchester and beyond’.

Many of the symposium attendees came from across the North West region but others made the trip from London, Scotland and even as far afield as Canada. Independent scholars, postgraduate students and researchers, as well as more expeMASS Mcr rienced academics and interested members of the public had an opportunity to mingle and immerse themselves in a broad range of topics around the conference theme.

The day’s events began with a keynote address entitled ‘Listening to Renewable Technologies’ by Dr Linda O Keeffe (Head of the School of Fine Art, Edinburgh College of Art). Coming from a sound art tradition, Dr O Keeffe highlighted the implications and consequences of environmentally friendly renewable technologies for the natural and social worlds. A thought provoking and timely discussion focusing on the sonic spaces of such technologies bringing to the fore the current climate crisis and the perceived universal good of a move away from fossil fuels towards sustainable options. But sustainability at what cost? A sonic focus, argued Dr O Keeffe, can help us identify problems but also offer solutions to the ecological, social and political difficulties of integrating renewable technologies into new landscapes.

MASS Manchester’s founding members, and symposium organisers, included Dr Susan O’Shea, Dr Beate Peter, Dr Julian Holloway of the Research Centre for Applied Social Sciences (RCASS) and Dr Matthew Foley of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies. The team chaired a range of creative and interactive panel sessions throughout the day which included themes on:

  • Do IT Yourself (DIY) - music archiving, sonic pedagogy and the materiality of Noise;
  • Innovative Performance - audio, notation and systems design for sound and movement;
  • Subcultures and Identity – Eurovision shaming, the Northern experience of pop, gender and place;
  • Voices of excess – consumption and excess, the Wolf Tone and Black Metal, shouting as aesthetic practice;
  • Music, Place and Self – sonic persona in digital spaces, periphery placemaking through festivals, and the riots of 1991 and ‘New Monkey’.

Breaks were interspersed with ample opportunities to mingle and meet other delegates over coffee. The conference’s constructive effort to facilitate, as well as examine work in music and sonic studies, was also highlighted by an afternoon performance by Kevin Craig from Manchester Met’s School of Art, presenting a multi-sensory experimental piece ‘From the World Without Us'. MASS Manchester’s innovative approach to research and dissemination was epitomised by the performative elements celebrated within a more mainstream academic context, and hints at its vision for the future.MASS Image

The afternoon’s events concluded with the opportunity for all delegates to come together again, it began with Sam Legg introducing his music/anthropology project Academic People Watchers. Rosie Garland also delivered a talk, introduced by Matt Foley as a friend of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, and writer in residence at John Rylands Library (as covered previously on HAUNT).

According to Helen Darby, Research Impact and Public Engagement Senior Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University, who was in the audience:

“For MASS, Rosie presented 'Radiant Girls: 'You can't be goth and queer and feminist' - being an outsider amongst outsiders'. Framing the gothic genesis of The March Violets against a backdrop of post-punk post-industrial 1980s Leeds, Rosie regaled us with tales of the novelty of 8 tracks and the grime of sleeping on floors. Despite being lead singer and lyricist, Rosie characterised her role as that of 'invisible girl' - sidelined by 'oversight' by other band members. Despite this, the scene was a place of strength and inspiration for Rosie. Going through coming out as queer in Leeds, she took her style to a flamboyant gothic, gender non-conforming place of leather, lace and shirts and ties.

"Unfortunately, Rosie's intersectional identity as a 'goth lesbian feminist' meant she was treated with suspicion in multiple subcultures - too glam to be a feminist, too goth to be a lesbian, too queer to be rock. Although she left the band in 1984 Rosie has never let the resistance she faced change her. Rosie pursued her own path inspired by Siouxsie and Poly Styrene, and the feminist post-punk spirit of believing that 'difference is a place of power' - a resolve since vindicated by her subsequent multi-platform success as a poet, novelist, performer and yes, current lead singer of The March Violets.”

However, the day did not end there. With just enough time to taste some of the flavours of Manchester’s great eateries, many of the delegates made their way to the Castle Hotel in the Northern Quarter to be joined by some of the city’s more discerning and adventurous music supporters. The performance event, MASS Assembly, featured a number of the day’s presenters and organisers who were accompanied by some of Manchester’s finest musicians and sound artists for an evening of firsts, and certainly not lasts.


Julian Holloway (co-organiser) had this to say: “Sonic Waves - the symposium, and the evening event - MASS Assembly, were fantastic, and exceeded our expectations. The daytime provided a whole range of excellent and insightful papers, with a particularly thought-provoking keynote from Linda O Keeffe on sound and environmental technologies. After these inspirational papers and panels, MASS assembly at The Castle Hotel went down a storm! Music and sounds ranging from experimental compositions and political drone, to melodic and industrial post-punk, to the brilliant poetry of Emily Oldfield and the electro stomp of Factory Acts made for a fitting end to a wonderful day and night”

The performance evening started with Tywi & Visible-Invisible Musicians (pictured above), students from the Royal Northern College of Music. Deconstructing the hidden digital spaces of the laptop as a tool of sound production and construction which takes place behind the music and complete with computer-screen projections, Tywi instructed the improvising musicians (guitar and voice) to carry out his commands, much to the amusement of the audience. Aphonae followed, an intense and gripping sonic performance by Manoli Moriaty exploring recorded and captured material from areas often suppressed in the public domain; for example rough sleepers.Unseasonal Beasts

With intense post-punk electronic fervour Unseasonal Beasts (pictured above) burst forth in a potently political and charged call for cooperation, a live debut consisting of the duo of Four Candles’ frontman Ian ‘Moet’ Moss and producer and Bobbie Peru bassist Simon ‘Ding’ Archer. There was also space for sonic reflection on this remarkably co-ordinated evening of varied performance, as Fig by Four took to the stage – a solo project of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Sarah Statham; combining deft guitar skill with contemplative lyricism.

Pete Dale (Manchester Met), who also spoke earlier in the day, followed with the guitar-and-vocals format, but in a more overtly humorous tone, bringing together self-deprecating style with lush guitar playing and romantic, teenage-esque intensity in well-crafted skill. Another signature collaborative feature of MASS Assembly was the aptly-titled ‘MASS Assemblage: Break it down, bring it together’.  This featured spoken word with Emily Oldfield (HAUNT Manchester) reflecting on the ‘Sonic Wave’ theme of the day by considering the River Irwell, music with Susan O’Shea (Factory Acts) and live improvisation from Julian Holloway (Flange Circus, Zirkus), to great intensity.Susan O'Shea

The ‘electro stomp’ of Factory Acts was indeed a final performance from the duo of Susan O’Shea (pictured left) and Matt Davies themselves, presenting a new and highly rousing, powerful version of their recent single ‘Are You the Singer?’, to great applause. It was a performance which ultimately underlined the span of events across the day: innovative thinking, rhythm-building and creative experimentation connecting people across disciplines. MASS Manchester is a creation and community to be proud of. A podcast episode, providing more information about the event and group, will be available on the RAH! Podcast at Manchester Met in the future. Beate Peter will also be presenting her work at Dimensions of Live Music conference at the University of Central Lancashire (21 June) and the Drugs: North West inaugural conference (24 June) based here at Manchester Met.

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Image 2 provided by Julian Holloway

Images 3,4+5 with thanks to Neil Winward Photography