Dr Manuella Blackburn, Liverpool Hope University


Incorporating culturally unfamiliar sound into one’s own creative output has been an increasingly popular activity among electroacoustic music composers over the last few years; yet work of this nature is difficult to develop without being accused of appropriation or exploitation, and even of indulging in a contemporary version of musical exoticism, with its overtones of nineteenth-century colonialism.

This project will explore the inclusion of cultural-specific sound in new electroacoustic music works (composition using technology to explore, create and perform sounds) by working collaboratively with Indian musicians and UK audiences for Indian music. Unlike traditional note-based instrumental music, which may engage with exotic musics through evocation, electroacoustic music can express exotic sound quotations literally, via audio sampling.

This research will examine the process of collecting and incorporating Indian cultural sounds originating from Indian musical instruments into two new electroacoustic music compositions. The project, coordinated and supported by Milapfest (the UK’s National Indian Arts Trust) based at Liverpool Hope University, will enable interaction with world-renowned musicians to establish a unique collaborative experience investigating the perceptions and understanding of cultural sound (that is, sound experienced as culturally specific). Practice-led research (composition work) will question the openness of the electroacoustic music sound world through the borrowing of sounds from a culture different to my own cultural background and experience, and will be documented in the form of an online research blog and presented more formally in a new journal article. The musical output, testing a variety of methodologies, techniques and tools to disguise or emphasise cultural manifestation in electroacoustic music creation will build upon a discourse concerning the benefits, implications and issues of cultural sound use. Through these outputs, this research aims to address a current lack of contextual documentation on the now-frequent act of incorporating culturally unfamiliar sound into creative output.

Public concert presentation of the new works will unite the usually separate worlds of Indian music and electroacoustic music, while audience perspectives will collate public reception of exotic sound via interviews and questionnaires. Research dissemination at the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC) and Electronic Music Studies Network conference (EMS) will encourage further scholarly interest in, and consideration of, creative uses of cultural sound, while exposing aspects of Indian music to a research field traditionally unacquainted with these practices.

Further to this, creating an online sound archive from the Indian musical instrument recordings will establish a freely-accessible education and research resource appearing within Milapfest’s online portal. Commissioning new electroacoustic music works making use of the sound archive will continue the research’s influence and impact beyond the project’s funded duration.


Dr Manuella Blackburn

Research blog

Milapfest project page

RCUK Gateway to Research