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Mr Rob Jones
Koninklijk Conservatorium Den Haag
Study Abroad Studentship

Confounding expectations: master of music composition, Koninklijk Conservatorium Den Haag

Composer Rob Jones is about to start the second year of his research into theories of musical expectation and the relationship between humour and music – and the insights he has gained are already informing his practice of composition

Rob Jones in conversation at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Image credit: Reuben Penny from Trapeze film.

Over the past few years I have noticed that audiences often find humour in my music during concert performances, even when I find this hard to perceive myself. This has led me to embark on a master’s course and research project to discover why audiences may react in this way, and how I could use this knowledge to inform my musical practice. My initial research into the relationship between humour and music quickly revealed that musical expectations that we are either born with, or that we learn from repeated listening to music around us, are a very pertinent issue in my practice as a composer.  

I started to wonder how a deeper understanding of the theories of musical expectations would help me to refine the way I create musical structures. My intention, once I have gained an understanding of this scientific theory, is to find a way to undermine it and create new musical material from this. A useful analogy is one of a comedian who researches why an audience laughs at their jokes. This is unlikely to be very useful to the comedian’s routine, unless this becomes the basis of the material itself and generates some new jokes. The results of my research will be presented partly through a research paper and also through scores and recordings of new compositions written throughout the master’s course in which I explore different aspects of musical expectations. 

A major benefit of studying at the Koninklijk Conservatorium is that I have access to studio space where there is no noise limit. Although this may sound simple, it is something that is very hard to come by when you are not part of an institution, and this makes creating work much more difficult. The chance to access specially equipped studios with unique electronic instruments, pianos and percussion instruments is giving me the freedom to experiment with new ideas that are already transforming my practice. 

When studying at an international conservatoire the benefits reach well beyond my research project. The chance to build an international network in The Hague is also potentially transformative. In the arts world, personal contacts are essential for continuation of your practice especially since as a composer all of my work is collaborative at its core. Since starting the course, I have already built good relationships with high level performers and conductors, and these relationships are sure to last well beyond the end of the course.

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