01:11pm Wednesday 16 October 2019

Roger go to yellow three: choral composition to explore the cocktail party effect

A cocktail party

‘Roger go to yellow three’, produced with support from a Wellcome Trust Arts Award, is an original work of music drama developed by Christopher Fox (Brunel University) and Edward Wickham (Cambridge University), artistic director of vocal group The Clerks, in collaboration with neuroscientists working in the field of linguistics and cognitive psychology.

Lasting approximately 15 minutes, the work is intended to explore the problems of ‘auditory streaming’, the phenomenon by which single lines of speech or music can be understood within a complex auditory environment, also known as the ‘cocktail party effect’.

Live performances of the work from The Clerks will be used to collect experimental data in a live scenario, with audiences invited to offer feedback at the end of the show.

There is a considerable amount of work currently being done by biologists, neurologists and linguists on auditory perception in complex auditory environments. These environments may range from those where certain types of background noise obscure or interfere with a single auditory stream, such as an announcement in a busy train station, to those where several intelligible auditory streams are having to be processed at once, for example at a lively dinner party. However, little is known about how the brain interprets music in such complex scenarios.

Edward Wickham explains the motivation behind the project: “One of our main aims is to better understand how the mind perceives multi-layered music. Polytextual composition is commonplace in many repertories – the Medieval motet, for example, and many vocal works from the post-1945 avant-garde. However the perceptual principles involved in the comprehension of music with many texts operating at the same time has not been interrogated with any particular consistency.”

Christopher Fox adds: “In addition, we hope that this work will be of particular relevance and interest to the hearing-impaired community. Trying to hone our ears in on a particular conversation or piece of music amidst a noisy room is hard enough for people without hearing problems, but for those with hearing impairments it can be particularly problematic. We hope that our findings will contribute to a greater understanding of music perception among the hearing-impaired.”

Professor Sarah Hawkins of the Centre for Music and Science, University of Cambridge, who collaborated on the project, said: “It is rare that research scientists have the opportunity to work with such original and enriching material, especially in parallel with controlled laboratory experiments. These performances will be of enormous value in guiding our research into how people understand speech and singing.”

Each performance of ‘Roger go to yellow three’ will be presented alongside recitals of Medieval and Renaissance works, to introduce the audience to the rich repertory of polytextual music. At the end, audiences will be invited to fill in a questionnaire relating to their experience, which will provide useful data for investigations into how the brain separates sounds.



Friday 28 October, 18.00
Whipple Museum, Cambridge
Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH
Free tickets can be reserved by contacting music@caths.cam.ac.uk. This event is part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.

Thursday 9 February 2012, 19.30
St Paul’s Hall, University of Huddersfield
Queensgate, Huddersfield HD1 3DH

Performances are free to the public and will last approximately one hour.

Image: caption.



Jen Middleton
Media Officer, Wellcome Trust
+44 (0)20 7611 7262
+44 (0) 7534 143849

Notes to editors


About Christopher Fox
The composer Christopher Fox was born in York in 1955 and now lives in London. He studied composition with Hugh Wood, Jonathan Harvey and Richard Orton at Liverpool, Southampton and York Universities and was awarded the degree of DPhil in composition from York University in 1984. In 1981 he won the composition prize of the Performing Right Society of Great Britain; since then he has established a reputation as one of the most individual composers of his generation. Between 1984 and 1994 he was a member of the composition staff of the Darmstadt New Music Summer School. During 1987 he lived in West Berlin as a guest of the DAAD Berlin Artists Programme. In 1994 he joined the Music Department at the University of Huddersfield, eventually becoming Professor in Composition. Since April 2006 he has been Research Professor in Music at Brunel University.

Fox has been hailed by Andy Hamilton in ‘The Wire’ as “a tantalising figure in British music”; Paul Driver in the ‘Sunday Times’ has described his music as “impressive, thoughtful, entertaining and extremely varied”. Fox’s work regularly extends beyond the conventional boundaries of the concert hall and includes works for gallery spaces, radio and theatre. Paul Griffiths, writing in ‘The Times’, has said of Fox’s work that “he takes simple ideas but he makes them sound quite wonderful”.

About Edward Wickham
Edward Wickham is Director of Music and a Fellow at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where he lectures on 15th- and 16th-century music. In recent years, Dr Wickham has been exploring, through collaborative and experimental projects, modes of performance which break out of the traditional Western classical tradition. With multi-media sound installations, partnerships with singers from the Middle East, and ground-breaking educational and outreach programmes, he is committed to pursuing an idiosyncratic agenda of artistic innovation and social participation.

About The Clerks
The Clerks are one of the outstanding groups in the field of vocal music. The group made their professional London debut in 1992 and their discography of over 20 CDs represents a uniquely valuable and pioneering contribution to early music and has won them many accolades, including the coveted Gramophone Award for Early Music. They have performed in many of Europe and America’s most prestigious concert series; in the U.K. the group has performed at the BBC Proms, the South Bank, the Barbican and the Wigmore Hall as well as numerous regional venues. In recent years, The Clerks have expanded their programming to include contemporary works commissioned from Robert Saxton, Anthony Pitts, Gabriel Jackson, Christopher Fox and Robin Holloway, as well as collaborative, multimedia and educational projects.

About the Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is a global charity dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.

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