Skip to main content

* Symposium - Vibrant Practices *

vibrant practices symposium title

16-17 April, 2021 [online]

Register here  |  Overview  |  Video paper links  |  Schedule


Keywords: contingency, materiality, agency, performative ontology, sound, music, responsiveness, intra-action 

This symposium is part of the AHRC-funded Garden of Forking Paths (GFP) project (School of Music, University of Leeds 2019–21). While the project itself has focused on music as a site of material contingency and responsive performancethis symposium extends the conversation outwards to connect with a diverse array of practitioners and researchers working with responsiveness to material contingency and agency in many disciplines. In the language of Andrew Pickering, these are practices that continuously negotiate a ‘dance of agency’ between humans and the more-than-human. April 16–17 will be two days of discussion across a range of approaches to enrolling and negotiating these dances of agency, and the relations and structures that emerge. 

The GFP project, for example, develops compositional strategies for the clarinet where performances unfold as a dance of agency across a performer-instrument apparatus, through recursive open-form works where decisions in-the-moment can be the responsibility of the human OR the instrument. Following Pickering, the project is based on a performative ontology of ‘revealing rather than enframing’. For example, in GFP there are no fixed musical pitches in advance of performance, pitches are an emergent phenomena from the exploratory intra-action (Barad) of the material configuration of the clarinet (what holes are open and closed, what reed strength etc.) and the performer’s techniques (breath pressures, mouth shapes etc.), as afforded through listening and responsiveness. 

This symposium will hear from researchers and practitioners who similarly engage with contingency and agency as a way of ‘revealing […,] being open to what the world has to offer us instead of always trying to bend it to our will’ (Pickering). We are interested in projects that propose performative models of engagement to foreground the formative struggles between people and things, and that engage conditions of decenteredness; where ‘the non-human world enters constitutively into the becoming of the human world and vice versa’. We see these dances as processes of collaboration (Tsing) through which agency emerges, as well as alternate ways of knowing and being. The symposium will explore how these insights may provide means of ‘going on in the world at the ground level’ (Pickering), ‘staying with the trouble’ (Haraway), or ‘becoming earthly’ (Latour). 

Conference sessions outlined in the schedule below will be held on Zoom. Details will be released to registered attendees in the days before the event. Presentations are available on the conference YouTube channel

Video-Paper Links:

The event itself will be devoted to discussion sessions themed around the presentations. The session themes are (see the schedule below for more information) 

 The keynote speaker will be Alice Eldridge - University of Sussex 



Live-streamed installations (streamed during the symposium on 16+17 April - links to come)

Matt Vaughan: Klingen Klang II

In this sculptural work, material relationships emerge visually and sonically. The resonances of the metal are amplified with contact microphones, modulated by the contingent movement of the material as it vibrates in resonance as well as ambient sound transduced into the material from the environment.

Will Schrimshaw: Earth Sample Synthesis

 Earth Sample Synthesis creates an opening in an otherwise hermetic circuit of modular synthesis equipment so that the conductive capacities of the earth can provide a source of modulation and variation to the electronic tones being produced.

Pre-recorded performance

Rob Mackay (University of Newcastle) : Flight of the Monarchs  —> watch here


Friday 16 April:  

10:15–10:30: Introduction – Scott McLaughlin  


10:30–12:00:  Performativity and Responsiveness 

***access presentations for this session here***

This discussion focusses on embodied performance, responding to (human and/or more-than-human) contingency in performance, and composing to structure contingency and response. 

Chair: Mira Benjamin (Goldsmiths, UAL) 

PanelistsFederico Pozzer (University of Leeds) and Kate Ledger (University of York), Jenni Hogan (University of Leeds) and Alastair White (Goldsmiths, UAL), Charlie Sdraulig, Louise Devenish (Monash University) and Sam McAuliffe (Monash University), Rob Mackay (University of Newcastle) 


14:00–14:30: Live Keynote: Dr Alice Eldridge (University of Sussex) 

"Feedback Musicianship and Learning to Let Be: Techno-musicking as speculative faction" (PDF slides here)


14:30–16:00:  Ecologies, Topologies, Exploration 

***access presentations for this session here***

This discussion considers the relations between things: relational networks, encountering worlds and working with the constraints of their shapes and paths, their lines and non-linearities. 

Chair: Anthony Gritten (Royal Academy of Music) 

 Panelists: Anthony Gritten (Royal Academy of Music), Benjamin Jenner (University of Leeds), Ed Cooper (University of Leeds), Murray Royston-Ward (University of Leeds), Tom Mudd (University of Edinburgh) 


19:00–21:00: Workshop: Alex De Little +  Listening in the Chthulucene collective

Listening in the Chthulucene is a sound practitioner collective dedicated to exploring and forming sonic ways of becoming-with and alongside nonhuman others. It was formed on the basis that in order to survive the present and evolving climate and ecological crises, we need to develop new strategies for existence that celebrate human entanglement with more-than-human others rather than perpetuate those which separate us from them. In this workshop, the collective will introduce their practice and lead the audience in a series of engagements that facilitate aural entanglement with more-than-human others.


Saturday 17 April:  

10:00 - 10:30: New Virtuosity: A Manifesto for Contemporary Practice – response to papers  

***read the new virtuosity here***

Cat Hope (Monash University) and Louise Devenish (Monash University) 


10:30–12:00: Human-nonhuman Assemblages 

***access presentations for this session here***

This discussion focuses on human-nonhuman assemblages and the roles of constraint and instruction/guidance/poles/affordances and how they dictate options within particular settings 

Chair: Alex De Little (University of Leeds) 

Panelists: Julian Day (Columbia University),  Clare Lesser (NYU Abu Dhabi) , Will Schrimshaw (Edge Hill University), Matt Vaughan, (University of Leeds)


14:00–16:00: Intra-action and Decentered Ontologies   

***access presentations for this session here***

This discussion focuses on ontologies of decentering through intra-action and the work of Barad, amongst other theorists. It also considers methods for talking about what arises from encountering difference, and what 'matters'. 

 Chair: Scott McLaughlin (University of Leeds) 

 Panelists: Sam Vardy (Sheffield Hallam University) and Paula McCloskey (University of Derby), Tom Challenger (Trinity Laban), Anna Douglas (University of Leeds), Michael Hedges (University of Leeds), Elizabeth Wilneff (University of Leeds) Louise Wilson (University of Leeds) and Sven Schroeder (University of Leeds), Laura Swithenbank (University of Leeds).  


17:00–18:00: Plenary (Alice Eldridge, Scott McLaughlin, Alex De Little) 


19:00–21:00: Garden of Forking Paths concert: Heather Roche (clarinet) 

19:00–19:15: ZOOM: introduction by Scott McLaughlin, situating the concert in relation to the symposium and the overarching project. Concert starts at 19:15 precisely, the zoom will stay live.

19:15–20:00(ish) Concert on youtube (Link)

20:00–21:00 ZOOM post-concert talk.


  • Scott McLaughlin - Loading Study No. 1 (version 2)
  • Ed Cooper - to notice autumn aromas, through...
  • Scott McLaughlin - Chalumeau Venting Study No. 1 (version 2)
  • Anna Höstman - I went down and down until the wing tips of the angels brushed my eyes
  • José del Avellanal Carreño - three breaths (after Ben)
  • Kevin CK Lo - Magnitudes and Exchanges
  • Scott McLaughlin - Register Venting with Embouchure Shifts Study
  • Scott McLaughlin - Maquette for Natura Naturans