Charlotte Gilmore: The enactment of cultural values and taste-making within contemporary classical music

Our research tackles a case study at the ‘hard end’ of cultural value; we explore both taste-making and cultural value in contemporary classical music. Our interdisciplinary study, which is supported by Creative Scotland, comprises of two case studies based on performances given by our research partners Red Note contemporary music ensemble and Psappha, also a contemporary music ensemble. Red Note is Scotland’s contemporary music ensemble and Psappha is Manchester’s new music ensemble. There are similarities between the ensembles in the musical styles but the audience, location, musicians and management teams are all different.

Our methodological approach acknowledges the complexity of cultural value. Within society there are diverse range of values and meanings associated with these values, especially in relation to cultural value. We propose an innovative way of exploring this complexity, and that is through taste-making. Taste-making is a situated activity that rests on learning and knowing how to appraise specific performances of a practice (Gherardi, 2009). In this way music can be understood by studying the social and organisational practices of its creation, performance and communication, as well as its enjoyment; these are all music practices. Taste shapes and is shaped within difference practices and is refined through negotiation and reflectivity, in order to express aesthetic judgments of it (Gheradi, 2009). For example gaining pleasure from music is a form of attachment socially supported by the respective communities of practice, which have developed vocabularies and specific criteria of taste and value in order to communicate, share and refine the ways in which such practices are enacted. This research will involve exploring such enactments of taste-making among the different communities of music practitioners.

Specifically, our Research Question is: how are cultural values and taste-making enacted in a contemporary music setting, and what are the consequences of that for practice. We will explore taste-making among music practitioners within the empirical setting of a contemporary music performance. These practitioners will be musicians, creative directors/managers as ‘insiders’ of the practice and also actual and potential audience members (firstly those who attend classical music performances but have never attended a contemporary classical performance and secondly those who have never attended a contemporary or classical music performance but who have an interest in arts and music), as ‘outsiders’ of the practice.

We aim to develop insights from the selected setting for broader application in the creative industries and beyond. In addition we seek to activate learning from the research in skills and capacity building for the practitioner, policy and academic communities.

Link to Red Note ensemble playing a piece which the projects work was based around: