Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)


Faculty of Education and Arts

First Supervisor

Dr Cat Hope

Second Supervisor

Dr Lindsay Vickery


Architectural spaces and their acoustic characteristics offer unique musical material for the compositional process. Acoustic and physical design features of unorthodox performance spaces can become part of works and their performances. This thesis examines ways to integrate acoustic characteristics of an architectural space into the compositional process, and discusses how different levels of site-specificity may be engaged in this process.

This research grew from an interest in composing music for the acoustic problems of performance spaces rather than trying to resist them, after a jazz ensemble performance in a large reverberant space. This led to exploring built environments that offered an acoustic characteristic which could be used to initiate musical material which is directly linked to the site.

Three sites were chosen as starting points for composition according to their varying acoustic characteristics; a stairwell, a tunnel and a bridge. Each site presented unique acoustic and physical characteristics as well as challenges which required creating a precompositional testing and work-shopping methodology. The processes and experiments engaged led to three varying compositions which are discussed in part two of this exegesis.

The research also draws inspiration from secondary literature in theatre, dance and choreography that interrogates the way works can be linked to their particular site. British academic Fiona Wilkie developed a scale of site-specificity for theatre that provides a useful tool to gauge the level and type of site interaction each composition maintains and forms a frame for the different approaches used. In addition, dance choreographer and theorist, Fiona Hunter’s methodology for testing the possibilities of a site for an artwork has been employed. The three creative works at the centre of this project, Stairwell to Fifteen (four brass musicians, cimbalom and found percussive sounds in a stairwell), From Traffic Rises (eight acoustic musicians, electronics and four speakers) and Tunnel Listen (two clarinets, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, two trumpets, two trombones and tuba) explore a range of approaches to site-specificity and embodiment as compositional devices.

The outcome of this research has not only been the creation of these three new works, but also the exploration of an alternative compositional process which begins and is informed by a physical space as a musical starting point.


Link to videos of performances:

Stairwell to Fifteen

From Traffic Rises

Tunnel Listen