I am a composer and researcher interested in group dynamics and decision making. I am fascinated by the potential of the social behaviour of groups to organise musical structures and processes. My focus is on embodying these decision-making processes in live performance, exploring the way choices and actions by individual performers affect the behaviour of the whole group, and the resultant music. For example, in recent pieces I have explored how ideas developed in social psychology and heuristics research can be translated to music, including:
- differentiated power relationships in groups (things to do, 2014-),
- cognitive load (alternate between attention and ease, 2017),
- consensus decision making (all voices are heard, 2015)
- group uses of shared resources (reaching an acceptable and stable solution, 2018)
- split attention (you are required to split your attention between multiple sources of information, 2018)
My aim in these pieces is to translate behaviour as the material of the work, such that the decision-making and interaction is evident to audiences both visually through the social interaction of the performers and aurally through the traces these interactions leave through making sounds. Through doing this, I hope to encourage audiences to reflect on the way we make choices and relate to others as individuals in groups, what values we hold, and how social and organisational systems operate on and through us.
I also write about aspects of this work in journal articles and books. Currently I am exploring how processes from group dynamics, heuristics, and games can be used as a basis for making music. Recent publications on these topics include:
- Saunders, James. 2015b. “Heuristic Models for Decision Making in Rule-Based Compositions.” In Ninth Triennial Conference of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music, 715–19. RNCM: ESCOM. http://escom.org/proceedings/ESCOM9_Manchester_2015_Abstracts_Proceedings.pdf.
- Saunders, James. 2017. “Rules and Goals in Game Compositions.” In . Bath Spa University. http://www.james-saunders.com/rules-and-goals-in-game-compositions/.
- Saunders, James. 2020a. “Group Behaviours as Music.” In Together in Music: Participation, Coordination, and Creativity in Ensembles, edited by Renee Timmers, Freya Bailes, and Helena Daffern. Oxford: OUP.
- Saunders, James. 2020b. “What’s the Point? Balancing Purpose and Play in Rule-Based Compositions.” In Performing Indeterminacy, edited by Philip Thomas and Emily Payne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
My other research interests all derive from wanting to know more about the way composers work, and how this intersects with what I do as a composer. My research also focuses on the ways processes from the real world can be translated as music. In order to do this, I conduct interviews with composers, and have written about verbal notation, multipart series, and modularity. These projects have been supported by grants from the AHRC (2005-6, 2008-10, 2011-12) and are integrated with my role at Bath Spa University.
PhDs at Bath Spa University
If you are interested in coming to Bath Spa as a PhD student, please have a look at my PhD page to see what we are doing. The work of the PhDs is supported by the Open Scores Lab, which I run with Matthew Sergeant. Visitors have included Peter Ablinger, Joanna Bailie, Laura Bowler, Cathy von Eck, Andy Ingamells, Marcus Kaiser, Dominic Lash, Anton Lukoszevieze, Thomas Meadowcroft, Cassandra Miller, Claudia Molitor, Rie Nakajima, Luke Nickel, Tim Parkinson, David Pocknee, Matthew Shlomowitz, Howard Skempton, Atau Tanaka, Jennifer Walshe, Paul Whitty, Michael Winter, Amnon Wolman, and Michael Wolters
Adlington, Robert, and James Saunders. 2009. “Saunders, Rebecca.” In Oxford Music Online. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000052802.
Lely, John, and James Saunders. 2012. Word Events: Perspectives on Verbal Notation. London; New York: Continuum.
Melia, Nicholas, and James Saunders. 2011a. Wandelweiser. Routledge.
———. 2011b. “Introduction: What Is Wandelweiser?” Contemporary Music Review 30 (6): 445–48. https://doi.org/10.1080/07494467.2011.676893.
Pace, Ian, and James Saunders. 2009. “Fox, Christopher.” In Oxford Music Online. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000048595.
Saunders, James. 2003. “Developing a Modular Approach to Music.” Doctoral, University of Huddersfield. http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/5942/.
———. 2005. “What Are You Doing with Your Music?” In Blocks of Consciousness and the Unbroken Continuum, edited by Brian Marley, Mark Wastell, and Damien Beaton, 254–63. London: Sound 323.
———. 2007. “The Dictaphone in My Life.” Leonardo Music Journal 17 (November): 33–34. https://doi.org/10.1162/lmj.2007.17.33.
———. 2008. “Modular Music.” Perspectives of New Music 46 (1): 152–93.
———. 2009. The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music. Farnham, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
———. 2010. “Mutual Effects: Organization and Interaction in the Orchestral Music of Christian Wolff.” In Changing the System: The Music of Christian Wolff, edited by Stephen Chase and Philip Thomas. Farnham: Ashgate. http://www.ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=637&calcTitle=1&title_id=8432&edition_id=8684.
———. 2011a. “,,Zeit Ist Niemandes Eigentum”. Ein Email-Interview Mit Antoine Beuger (Dezember 2003 Bis März 2004).” Translated by Gisela Gronemeyer. MusikTexte 130 (August): 44–50.
———. 2011b. “Testing the Consequences—Multipart Series in the Work of the Wandelweiser Composers.” Contemporary Music Review 30 (6): 497–524. https://doi.org/10.1080/07494467.2011.676898.
———. 2013. “Specific Objects? Distributed Approaches to Sourcing Sonic Materials in Open Form Compositions.” Contemporary Music Review 32 (5): 473–84. https://doi.org/10.1080/07494467.2013.849875.
———. 2015a. “James Saunders ‘Things to Do.’” Wolf Notes (blog). 2015. https://wolfnotes.org/2017/05/04/james-saunders-things-to-do/#more-366.
———. 2015b. “Heuristic Models for Decision Making in Rule-Based Compositions.” In Ninth Triennial Conference of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music, 715–19. RNCM: ESCOM. http://escom.org/proceedings/ESCOM9_Manchester_2015_Abstracts_Proceedings.pdf.
———. 2016. “No Mapping.” MusikTexte 149 (May).
———. 2017. “Rules and Goals in Game Compositions.” In . Bath Spa University. http://www.james-saunders.com/rules-and-goals-in-game-compositions/.
———. 2020a. “Group Behaviours as Music.” In Together in Music: Participation, Coordination, and Creativity in Ensembles, edited by Renee Timmers, Freya Bailes, and Helena Daffern. Oxford: OUP.
———. 2020b. “What’s the Point? Balancing Purpose and Play in Rule-Based Compositions.” In Performing Indeterminacy, edited by Philip Thomas and Emily Payne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Saunders, James, and John Lely. 2009. “Realising Gavin Bryars’ Far Away and Dimly Pealing.” Edited by William Rowe. PORES, no. 5. http://www.pores.bbk.ac.uk/issues/issue5/poetry-and-music/JamesSaundersandJohnLely.
writing by others
Christopher Fox. 2008. “Saunders, James.” In Oxford Music Online. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0002061684
Drees, Stefan. 2015. “VIELFALT KULTURELLER BEZUGSPUNKTE: DREI BRITISCHE KOMPONISTEN IM PORTRÄT: JAMES SAUNDERS, LUKE BEDFORD, STEVEN DAVERSON.” Neue Zeitschrift Für Musik (1991-) 176 (6): 14–19.
Houëves, Alphonsine. 2018. “James Saunders: Sound Properties Of Group Materials And Behaviors, Things To Do.” Revue et Corrigée 118: 30–36.
Lash, Dominic, and James Saunders. 2016. “AFTER #[Unassigned]: An Interview with James Saunders.” Tempo 70 (276): 5–21. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0040298215000947.
Nyffeler, Max. 2011. “Konzeptionelle Spiele. Der Engländer James Saunders.” MusikTexte 130 (August): 53–57.
Ryan, David. 2003. “ZEITMASCHINEN: Die Englischen Komponisten Bryn Harrison, Tim Parkinson Und James Saunders.” Dissonanz 82 (August): 20–25.