DAH PhD - Short Biography

Hi, my name is Maura McDonnell, welcome to my Digital Arts Humanities PhD website and blog, which I hope to keep regularly updated over the course of the four years of the DAH programme and my PhD research on Visual Music. I am now in the first year of the Digital Arts Humanities structured PhD programme (DAH) in Trinity College Dublin, taking the digital arts strand route, with the guidance and direction of Dr Mathew Causey, director of the Arts Technology Research Lab (ATRL) and my supervisor, Dr Dermot Furlong, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Trinity College Dublin.  The Digital Arts and Humanities PhD Programme is funded under the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions Cycle 5

I have been involved with digital arts technology since 1996, when I embarked on the M.Phil in Music and Media Technology at Trinity College Dublin. The Music and Media Technologies programme is a joint effort from the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering and the School of Drama, Film and Music, Trinity College Dublin. I have been part-time lecturing on the music and image strand of this programme since 1999.

Painting and Music

In my Keyboard Harmony music classes in NUIM Maynooth in the early 1980s with the now deceased Fr. Noel Watson, he kept saying to me, it is a pity you cannot get a career in keyboard harmony and in art, as he knew I really liked both.  I was quite wistful saying that it is impossible, they are so separate - music and painting, there is no connection, how could such happen, we both laughed at the idea, but he kept saying it and I think I kept listening to him, even years after.  At that time, I only saw that the mediums were physically different, so where were the points of connection?

Then, I did not realise that even at that time, in the early 1980s, the physical material of sound and the physical material of image had already moved beyond their traditional medium.  In their very re representation in analogue and computer form, the medium had lost its constraints of creation.  TV technology art experiments and analogue video synthesis leading to computer imagery experiments from the 1960s onwards had already discovered the pliability of image by manipulating its analogue to digital representation of imagery.  Audio had followed a similar route through electronic representation and manipulation, it also had moved from analogue manipulation techniques to computer manipulation.  Before that in film, the absolute films of Walther Ruttmann, Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling and Oskar Fischinger, had opened up the medium of film to a more painterly abstract approach. Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky had brought musical ideas into painting. Mechanical devices had been built since the 17th century to explore colour and sound. such as colour organs, that could play colour like music.  Thomas Wilfred from the 1920s created lumic devices to play light and eventually set up his Lumia Institute in New York to explore the art of light.  Again image is explored as a pliable form of coloured light and temporal changes. But at this point, I had not discovered their work or knew of its existence.  Crossing the mediums of painting and music seemed in 1982 totally impossible.

In 1996, I was one of the first set of students on the M.Phil in Music and Media Technologies course in Trinity College, Dublin and here embarked on the journey of discovering sound and music through technology, Ilearned to understand sound from a physics and mathematical perspective and learned how to create sounds digitally with that understanding, to compose music with digital synthesis and to manipulate existing music samples with digital editing and manipulation techniques.  Music as I knew it to be at that point had completely changed.  A whole incredible richness of sound could be created by manipulating sound at its very basic representational level.  It felt like sound had become like painting, sound had become accessible, something that was totally plastic and pliable.

At the same time in doing a multimedia assignment on adobe premiere, the video editing software, I had great fun playing around with the digital image manipulation possibilities within premiere.  Focusing on movement and rhythm as ideas and concept, I could get the images and sound to relate to each other to explore rhythm and explore movement.  No story, no narrative, just an interaction between elements of image and elements of sound.  I realised that I had come home - I had found the connection between the two things I loved most - music and painting, this was just so wonderful at the time, I could not believe it, sadly I never got to tell Fr. Watson, but at this point his words came back to me and I thought of him often.  I never imagined the medium of video and its strong links to narrative and film would have been the place to unify music and art.  This was my own personal journey and discovery.

However, very soon after and since, I have discovered and continue to discover a rich history and contemporary practice for visual music.  I have also discovered, many people like myself who found visual music through exploring creating audio visual works in the computer and also did not know about the rich history for the art, that there were others who were precursors and had also made similar discoveries.

Since 1997 and now, my area of interest and practice in particular since 1997 is Visual Music.

Now that I am fully immersed in the area of Visual Music, I hope to continue to explore its dimensions and its possibilities with the DAH PhD and with the help of my supervisor, Dr Dermot Furlong and the ATRL director, Dr Mathew Causey.

More information on visual music works by Maura McDonnell to date

Visit: Visual Music Works 2011 by Maura McDonnell