Dr Michael Spencer
Associate Professor of Music, Faculty Director of Postgraduate Research Studies, Deputy Head of School and Chair of Programmes of Study and Audit Group
0113 343 2530
School of Music, room 2.20
Office hours: Thursday 2.00-3.00pm and open door policy
MA (Hons), Scottish Literature and Music, Glasgow; MusM (Composition), Manchester; PhD (Composition), Manchester
Born in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, Spencer studied composition with Graham Hair at Glasgow University where he received an MA in Music and Scottish Literature. Between 1997 and 2002, he completed a MusM and PhD in Composition with Geoff Poole at Manchester University. Between 1998 and 2004 he worked privately with James Dillon, on whose work he has published two articles and he has also studied in masterclasses with Richard Barrett, Steve Takasugi, Chaya Czernowin, Brian Ferneyhough, Mathias Spahlinger and Pierluigi Billone. His music has been performed nationally, internationally, on BBC Radio 3 and is available on CD.
Born in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, Michael Spencer studied composition with Graham Hair at the University of Glasgow where he received an MA in Music and Scottish Literature. Between 1997 and 2002, he completed a MusM and PhD in Composition with Geoff Poole at Manchester University. Between 1998 and 2004, he worked privately with James Dillon.
His music has been performed at the Henze Festival (RNCM), St Cyprian’s Church (London), the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (twice short-listed for the Young Composers’ Competition in 2000 and 2003), Instal 2002 (Glasgow), Maxis 2003 Festival (Leeds), in workshops by the Apollo Sax Quartet, Psappha, in France, Canada, at the Darmstädter Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Germany, 2004 and 2012, and extensively at Glasgow, Manchester and Leeds Universities. Toxic Knuckle Bones was performed by the BBC Philharmonic under James MacMillan on Radio 3’s Hear and Now programme in 2001. He has worked with notable performers such as Ensemble SurPlus, Ian Pace, Richard Casey, Modelo62, Trio Atem, Apartment House, Christophe de Bezenac, Adam Starkie and Geoff Poole. In 2003, he received a stipend to attend the International Summer Course for Composers at Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, where he worked with Chaya Czernowin, Steve Takasugi and Richard Barrett. His work la mer allée avec le soleil was performed there by Ensemble SurPlus and subsequently by them in Stuttgart and Freiburg.
In 1999, he co-founded Polaroid, an evening of new and experimental music at the Arches (Glasgow) with Tiernan Kelly and Freya Mitchell. Programmes included the Scottish premières of Cage’s Muyoce II, Nono’s Canti Per Tredici, and performances of Stockhausen and young British composers. Polaroid was the blueprint for the Arches’ Instal Festival, for which Spencer was a consultant in 2001 and 2002, organising the performance of Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique, works by Berio and Takemitsu and the Scottish première of Feldman’s Instruments III. He has also conducted the University of Glasgow’s Kelvin Ensemble in a programme of Arkell, Yeats and Schumann. In 1999, he co-ordinated the performances of the music of Urugyan composer Graciela Paraskevaidas at Manchester University (as part of a tour of Universities organised by Stephen Davismoon). His research interests include the music of Brian Ferneyhough, James Dillon, Helmut Lachenmann, improvisation, live electronic-performer interaction, aesthetics and semiotic analysis which he taught at Manchester University for seven years. In 2003, he gave a lecture-recital a the University of Glasgow, a master-class in composition at the Junior Department of Trinity College of Music (London) and he was resident composition tutor for the National Youth Brass Band.
At the University of Leeds he runs and conducts the new music ensemble LSTwo which has performed under his artistic direction Stockhausen’s Kreuzspiel, Varèse’s Intégrales and Ionisation, Lachenmann’s …zwei Gefühle…, Musik mit Leonardo, Grisey’s Vortex Temporum and Boulez’s Le marteau sans maître, Chaya Czernowin’s Afatsim, James MacMillan’s …as others see us…, Beat Furrer’s Gaspra, Stäbler’s Luftspiegelungen – Ein Spiel fur Sieben, Nunes’s Improvisation I, Finnissy’s Catana, Dillon’s Zone (de azul…), Birtwistle’s Tragoedia, Clarke’s Delmenhorst and Afterglow, Hoban’s Wyrdlines, an entire festival of the works of Hans Joachim Hespos and a range of premières of postgraduate student work and composition staff works. He has published several articles on the creative process as well as on James Dillon’s music.
His other work includes Ungrund II (after Böhme) for solo clarinet/kick-drum (one player) which was premièred in Strasbourg before receiving its UK première in Leeds, April 2010. It recently received another performance at MusicA Festival, Strasbourg. Ungrund I (after Böhme) for chamber ensemble was premièred by Ensemble Modelo62 as part of their UK Urbane Tour. The Eemis Stane – Homage to K.S. Sorabji is available on a CD collection of new piano music recorded by Aleks Szram (fonorum label 2005) and his piano piece Message from Aiwass X (on his Horoscope) has just been released on CD (Joyous Lake on primafacie records, performed by his past mentor Geoff Poole, to whom the piece is dedicated). A recent work for solo cello, Verdrängung von der Aufhebung was premiered in Darmstadt by Andrej Gal. Current work in progress includes a large scale project entitled Intervolve which explores the possibilities of the double bass within the framework of the thinking of Michel Foucault. The triptych is for accordion and double bass (Intervolve – completed); improvising solo double bass; three improvisers and three non improvisers (Heterotopia – work in progress); and a work for bass flute, harp and double bass (L’Ordre du Discourse). In 2012 he composed Ungrund (after Boehme) V for Trio Atem using text fragments by Heraclitus in a collaborative project with Bill Hutson which was premiered in 2013 and another new piece in his Ungrund cycle for Adam Starkie (solo clarinet) and ensemble (Ungrund (after Boehme) IV which was premiered in 2013. Later in 2013, his article on the string quartets of James Dillon was published in Contemporary Music Review.
In 2014, he wrote The Phaedra Complex for ELISION ensemble (oboe, percussion and violin) which they premiered in Leeds. At the same time, Spencer composed CLSTRFCK (for organ/voice – 1 player – fixed media electronics and live electronics, premiered by Lauren Redhead) and CLSTRBMB (for ensemble, premiered by Workers Union Ensemble) both of which enjoyed performances in 2014 and 2015.
Between 2015 and 2016, Spencer collaborated on a work for clarinet with composer and colleague Scott McLaughlin and clarinettist Heather Roche. She premiered Palmyra in Leeds in early 2016 and there is documentation in web form of the creative process available.
Future work will involve a work for James Wilson for flute and percussion based on one of the Seven Deadly Sins, ‘Lust’, a piece for Ian Pace for solo piano based on James Thomson’s City of Dreadful Night, and a larger ensemble piece for Elision.
- Composition (including improvisation, notational issues, linearity/non-linearity, narratives, experimental music)
- The music of Dillon, Feldman, Ferneyhough, Hespos, Lachenmann, Maxwell Davies, Spahlinger, Xenakis
- Aesthetics, Philosophy of New Music including the theoretical thinking of Adorno, Heidegger, Foucault, Böhme
- Conducting and performance practice of new music
- Heavy metal and related sub-cultural issues
- Semiotic Analysis (Monelle, Nattiez, Samuels)
- Micro-tonal tuning systems
- MUSS1220 Composition (Level 1)
- MUSS2220 Composition (Level 2)
- MUSI3240/3220 Level 3 Minor/Major Composition
- MUSI2311/3320 Projects in Performance (organises and conducts LSTwo, the School of Music New Music Ensemble) including conducting/performing in, for example, Stockhausen’s Kreuzspiel, Lachenmann’s …zwei Gefühle… Musik für Leonardo, Furrer’s Gaspra, Stäbler’s Luftspiegelungen – Ein Spiel fur Sieben and Boulez’s Le Marteau sans maître)
- MUSI5231M Composition Studies (M-level)
- MUSI5262M Portfolio of Compositions (M-level)
- MUSI5132M Dissertation (M-level)
Between 2004 and 2014, was Module Coordinator for
- MUSS1220 Level 1 Composition
- MUSS2220 Level 2 Composition
- MUSI3240/3220 Level 3 Minor/Major Composition
- MUSI5231M Composition Studies (MMus level)
- MUSI5262M Portfolio of Compositions (MMus level)
- MUSI1220 Language and Theory of Music
- MUSI1120 Music Study Skills
- MUSC2211 Level 2 Orchestration (including module co-ordination)
- MUSI3721 Texts and Contexts (on the music of Morton Feldman)
- MUSI3521 Level 3 Aesthetics and Criticism
- MUSI3120/40 Minor/Major Dissertation
- MUSI5040M Introduction to Musical Scholarship (M-level)
- Deputy Head of School
- Faculty Director of Postgraduate Research Studies
- Chair of Programmes of Study and Audit Group
- Chair of the School’s Student:Staff Forum
- Member of School Taught Student Education Committee
- Head of Composition
- Postgraduate Research Tutor
- Postgraduate Research Tutor for the School of Music and the School of Performance and Cultural Industries (2010-12)
- Equality and Diversity Officer for the School (2006-09)
- Joint Honours Arts Tutor (2004-09)
- Programme Manager for MMus Composition (2004-2014)
Other roles (current):
Member of Points-Based System Steering Group
Member of the University Research Ethics Committee (as representative of Graduate Board)
Member of Collaborations and Partnership Committee
University of Leeds Representative on York St. John University Research Degrree Sub-Committee
(2014) CLSTRBMB. Oboe, Saxophone, 2 Percussionists, Piano, Double Bass (Score)
(2014) CLSTRFCK. Organ, voice (1 player), fixed media electronics and live electronics (Score)
(2014) The Phaedra Complex. Oboe, Trumpet, Percussion (Score)
(2013) Ungrund (after Boehme) Cycle.
A five part work for various instrumentations from solo to large ensemble
(2011) Intervolve. Accordion, Double Bass (Score)
(2011) nihil est sine ratione. Piccolo, Oboe, 2 Bass Clarinets, Alto Saxophone, Electric Guitar/Acoustic Guitar, 2 Percussion, 2 Piano, Violin, Viola, Violoncello (Score)
(2010) Ungrund III b (after Böhme). Clarinet, Violoncello (Score)
(2010) Ungrund I (after Böhme). Flute/Piccolo, Clarinet/Bass Clarinet, Trumpet, Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Percussion, Harp, Violin, Violoncello, Double Bass (Score)
(2010) Message from Aiwass X - On his horoscope. Solo Piano (Score)
(2009) ... quel velen che dolcemente ancide.... Flute (doubling piccolo and bass flute), soprano, violoncello (Score)
(2009) Ungrund II (after Böhme). solo clarinet, kick drum (one player) (Score)
(2008) Si vous êtes pris dans le rêve de l’autre, vous êtez foutu. Percussion septet
(2008) Delire. String Quartet
(2008) Ophelia Fragments. Soprano, Flute, Clarinet, Percussion, Violin
(2008) Message from Aiwass VII. Microtonal trumpet, percussion
(2006) Message from Aiwass V.
(2006) The Lynx Arc. Sheet music
(2005) Westphalian Series/Lyra (b).
(2005) Strike softly, away from body. Sheet music
(2005) Diptyque. Sheet music
(2005) Westphalian Series/Lyra. Sheet music
(2004) Message from Aiwass IV. Sheet music
(2004) I built my dreams around you.
(2003) Message from Aiwass II. Sheet music
(2003) same ground, once more stirring under our feet (homage to Foucault).
(2002) Pendule (...de Foucault).
(2002) e quella, si lontana.
(2002) Une nuit noire, par un calme.
(2002) Sotto voce.
(2002) Uber die Grenzen des All ....
(2002) You took my dreams from me, when I first found you.
(2002) Message from Aiwass (frammenti neri). Sheet music
(2001) The Eemis Stane - Homage to K.S. Sorabji.
(2001) la mer allée avec le soleil. Sheet music
(1999) DO NOT MACHINE.
(1998) In te, si posa nostra ignuda natura.
If this be my fate. Trombone, percussion
Ophelia Fragments. Flute, clarinet, mezzo soprano, percusion, violin
Ungrund II (after Böhme). Performance by Adam Starkie (Bb Clarinet/kick drum) 09//2/01/0
Ungrund II (after Böhme). Performed by Adam Starkie (Bb Clarinet/Kick Drum) 09//2/01/0
nihil est sine ratione. Performance by LSTwo (Piccolo, Oboe, 2 Bass Clarinets, Alto Saxophone, Electric Guitar/Acoustic Guitar, 2 Percussion, 2 Piano, Violin, Viola, Violoncello) 11//2/18/0
Ungrund II (after Böhme). Performed by Adam Starkie (Bb Clarinet/Kick Drum) 10//2/01/0
The Eemis Stane: Homage to K.S. Sorabji. Mixed Media 06//2/10/0
Ophelia Fragments. Performed by FOCAM (Soprano, FLute, Clarinet, Percussion, Violin) 08//2/06/0
Message from Aiwass II (Performance - Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival). Audio 03//2/01/1
Intervolve. Performance by Slide Show Secret [Eva Zoellner and John Eckhardt (Accordion, Double Bass) 11//2/18/0
Heterotopia. (In preparation)
The Phaedra Complex.
You took my dreams from me, when I first found you (Performance - The Arches). 02//2/01/1
Elision Ensemble. (In preparation)
Ungrund I (after Böhme). Performance by Ensemble Modelo62 (Flute/Piccolo, Clarinet/Bass Clarinet, Trumpet, Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Percussion, Harp, Violin, Violoncello, Double Bass) 10//2/01/1
Ungrund II (after Böhme). Performed by Adam Starkie (Bb Clarinet/Kick Drum) 10//2/01/0
Toxic Knuckle Bones (Performance - BBC broadcast). Mixed media 01//2/01/0
In te, si posa nostra ignuda natura (Performance - University of Glasgow). 03//2/01/0
You took my dreams from me, when I first found you (Performance - University of Glasgow). 03//2/01/0
La mer allée avec le soleil (Performance - Theater Freiburg). Mixed Media 04//2/08/0
You took my dreams from me, when I first found you (Performance - Whitworth Art Gallery). 03//2/01/0
In te, si posa nostra ignuda natura (Performance - The Arches). 02//2/01/1
Westphalian Series/ Lyra (b). 05//2/01/0
The Lynx Arc. 06//2/01/0
The Eemis Stane - Homage to K.S. Sorabji (Performance - London). 03//2/01/0
same ground, once more stirring under our feet - Homage to Foucault (Performance). 03//2/01/0
Strike softly, away from body. Mixed Media 05//2/08/1
I built my dreams around you (Performance - Ferienkurse fur Neue Musik, Darmstadt). 04//2/01/0
la mer allee avec le soleil (Performance - E-Werke, Freiburg). 04//2/01/0
la mer allee avec le soleil (Performance - Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart). 03//2/01/0
(2006) “Kevin Laycock: Uncertain Harmonies”, In: Laycock K; Gallery AF (eds.) Kevin Laycock. London: Art First. 43-57
(2002) Re-placing the Dialectic: Notions of Compositional Procedure in James Dillon's German Tryptych. Cambridge: British Postgraduate Musicology.
Darmstadt 2008 - A Critical Review.
This review is conducted on the basis of my experience as a participant/observer at the three most recent Ferienkurse and as a composer-musicologist who has studied and engaged with the larger history of the Darmstadt phenomenon for fifteen years. There are several critical observations to be made regarding the current format and functioning of the Courses. While the Courses are a very specific type of learning environment, it is worth considering them in the wider context of creative pedagogy in the first instance, in order to try to better situate them from an educational perspective. In the UK and USA, the idea that practice-based and creative subjects can be higher order or research level areas of study has recently been accepted. This is not the case in Germany, though it is an area that is under review in other parts of central Europe. Of course, the Courses in Darmstadt do not have PhD awarding abilities; however, they are valid "research" experiences for those in other countries and they offer awards that can radically change the course of a composer or performer's career. As such, they have a pedagogical and nurturing significance.
James Dillon's compositions usually invoke extra-musical stimuli from wide-ranging areas such as philosophy, mythology, science and literature. The key 'genre' of music which retains a traditional and prosaic title is the string quartet, which in his output has acted as a reflective and focussed diary often commenting on his other larger works. This article explores the first six quartets and their relation to his other music as well as their own internal logic(s) and structures.
(2008) “Dillon's L'évolution du vol: an Evolution of Stylistics or a Flight from National Identity?”, Musica Scotica Hair GEA (eds.).
In his preview of the world premiere of James Dillon’s Oceanos, the concluding part of his Nine Rivers cycle at the 1996 Proms, Antony Bye attempted to contextualise Dillon’s work: “There’s nothing nationalistic or tweely picturesque about this music. Nine Rivers encapsulates our special relationship with land and seascape, along with Dillon’s desire to recapture some of music’s mediaeval magic […] and his need to distance himself from his Anglo-Scottish heritage”. These observations, while rather general, focus on two elements that have arguably been important for Dillon’s output since 1976: his relationship with Scotland and a concern with the creative artist’s relationship to a wide range of disciplines – from historical performance practice to twentieth century philosophy, from contemporary art to scientific concepts such as genetics or astronomy. Dillon says, “I am interested in what the Sufis call that fine net of connections between things”. This paper seeks to outline some of these ‘connections’ with specific reference to his work L’évolution du vol (1991-93) written for the ensemble Accroche-Note. This work, scored for mezzo soprano, clarinet (doubling Eb clarinet, bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet), 2 percussionists, piano (doubling hurdy-gurdy and harmonium) and double bass, consists of a series of vignettes which may be performed individually, in combination or as a whole. With its strange evocation of a range of musical styles, not least the typographical references to Debussy’s Preludes, and an idiosyncratic formal structure, L’évolution du vol deals with the issue of whether ‘style’ works in-authentically with pre-ordained notions of patterning. Further, the work can perhaps be seen as engaging with what Kenneth White calls “the nomadic intellect” – and as such, may be viewed as Dillon’s re-assertion of the need to transcend national (or any other) stereotypes.
(2006) I built my dreams around you (CD recording on Delphian label). Delphian Record Label.
(2005) The Eemis Stane - Homage to K.S. Sorabji (CD recording on fonorum label). fonorum.
Research Projects & Grants
Researcher for Yorkshire Quarry Arts ‘Stones Project’ in collaboration with University of Leeds [Grant received of 4000] (2005)
Research Centres & Groups
Research clusters: Making Music and Music as Culture
Member of the Royal Musical Association
Member of the Scottish Music Centre
Member of Society for tne Promotion of New Music (now S and M)
Member of Society for Mathematics and Computation in Music
Member of ICSRIM (University of Leeds)
- PhD Examiner (Huddersfield 2013)
- PhD Examiner (Glasgow 2013)
- PhD Examiner (Salford 2011)
- External Examiner for the MA in Composition programme, University College Cork, Ireland
- PVAC Representative on and Chair of SDDU Learning and Teaching Committee
- Organised composition workshop with Icebreaker ensemble, Assemble Rooms, Leeds as part of the FUSE Festival (2009)
- Organiser, Lichtung: A one-day conference on the music of Emmanuel Nunes, University of Leeds (Dec 2007)
- Co-organiser (and composition workshop leader) of RMA Student Conference, University of Leeds (2006)
- Organised workshop with London Sinfonietta at University of Leeds as part of the FUSE Festival (2006)
- Organised and led workshop with Fine Arts Brass, University of Leeds (2004)
- External reviewer for AHRC Research Leave (several extraordinary appointments, 2006 Present)
- Member of:
- The Scottish Music Centre;
- The Society for Mathematics and Computation in Music
- Sound and Music
- Royal Musical Association
PhD & Postdoctoral Supervision
Current Research Students
- Ollie Thurley [PhD Composition AHRC funded] (2012-present)
- Joanne Armitage [PhD Composition Stanley Burton Trust funded] (2012-present)
- Richard Barrett [PhD Composition Stanley Burton Trust funded] (2013-present)
- Alannah Halay [PhD Composition AHRC funded] (2013-present)
- Arne Sanders [PhD Composition University of Leeds Anniversary Scholarship funded] (2014-present)
- Qais Alghanem [PhD Performance] (2014-present)
- Alfia Nakipbekova [PhD Performance] (2014-present)
- James Clarke [PhD Composition Leeds Arts and Humanities Scholarship funded] (2015-present)
Completed Research Students
- Marcello Messina [PhD Composition] (2009-2013)
- Michael Walters [PhD Composition] (2007-2014)
- Caroline Lucas [PhD Composition Stanley Burton Trust funded] (2008-2013)
- Roddy Hawkins [PhD Musicology AHRC funded]
- Adam Ferguson [PhD Composition AHRC funded]
- Eleri Pound [PhD Composition] (2004-2008)
- Ian Sapiro [MPhil Composition] (2001 2004)
- Laurence Johnson [MA by Research] (2015-2016)
- Danielle Hood [PhD Theory] (2010-2016)
- Kevin Laycock [PhD Fine Art Practice, as his theory supervisor]; Parent School: Fine Art (submitted 2012)
- Christophe de Bezenac [PhD Performance] (2003-2007)
- Ian Gallimore [PhD Musicology] (2004 2009)
Nine original compositions as follows:
- Über die Grenzen des All (6′ 00”) For: Piccolo/Alto Flute, Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Tuba, Piano/Harpsichord, Violin, Viola
- In te, si posa Nostra ignuda natura (5′ 50”) For: Solo Oboe
- DO NOT MACHINE (c.10′ 00”) For: Percussion Duo
- las Redes de Piedra (c.15′ 00”) For: Solo Alto Saxophone and Orchestra
- Pendule ( de Foucault) (c.9′ 00”) For: Horn Trio
- Toxic Knuckle Bones (15′ 00”) For: Chamber Ensemble (16 Players)
- The Eemis Stane Homage to Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (c.10′ 00”) For: Solo Piano
- la mer allée avec le soleil (c.7′ 00”) For: Violin, Percussion, Piano
- é quella, sì lontana (c.10′ 00”) For: Chamber Ensemble (20 Players)
In conjunction with the above portfolio, the submission includes a commentary on the portfolio (c.10, 000 words) which offers a general aesthetic overview, an exposition of the composer’s concern with temporal issues, and traces the development of these and other technical matters throughout the nine works (for example, use of pitch sieves, harmonic spectra, pulse-patterning). Two CD’s of the works (all except In te, si Posa Nostra Ignuda Natura) are also included. Please note: all scores are in C.
- November 2007 Invited leader of Manchester Camerata Study Day on Thomas Adès’ Violin Concerto. This included interviewing violin soloist Anthony Marwood and delivering an introduction to the work of Ades as well as a more detailed analysis of the piece (pitched at a public with variable or no knowledge of basic musical concepts/terminology)
- Guest Conductor, The Kelvin Ensemble (performing Schumann, Arkell and Yeats) (December 2000)
- Composer-in-Residence, National Youth Brass Band (August 2003)
- Masterclass Leader, Junior Trinity College of Music (June 2003)
- Associate Composer, spnm Sound Inventors, Teeside (April 2003)
- Co-curator, organiser and performer, experimental and contemporary music at The Arches, Glasgow (March 1999Dec 2002)