ICMP PhD Success Stories

We quiz ICMP tutors Audrey Riley, Oliver Sellwood and Kit Ashton on their PhD achievements...


As ICMP's Dr Tony Harris says, ICMP has a growing number of tutors achieving PhDs and "showing the high levels of scholarship and academic integrity across our faculty". 

Audrey RileyOliver Sellwood and Kit Ashton are three of the most recent tutors to achieve this accolade.

Here, we quiz each of them to learn more about their research and their tips for anyone looking to undertake this kind of study. Congratulations to all three on their amazing achievements!

Audrey Riley 

In Pursuit of Non-Knowledge: Perspectives on Performing with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company


What were the biggest challenges with completing this? 

Studying part-time means you are probably going to be independently funded so you have to stay in your job. So balancing earning a living with your studies can be tricky. But the benefit of studying over such a long period of time is how my research had a chance to grow and evolve. I would spend some time reflecting and thinking, then have huge bursts of writing. 

But you don’t stop once you’ve submitted. A helpful thing my supervisor said to me was that handing in your PhD and getting your doctorate is not the end, it means you’ve passed the audition to become a researcher. Then you focus on your post-doctoral life and what your projects could be. That’s an exciting way to look at it.

Completing a PhD is not a full stop, it’s just the start of another chapter."

Could you talk a little about your research? What inspired you to pursue this line of thought? 

My studies investigated performance practice, exploring my practice as a musician, how I communicate and what I communicate, and the methods I use to approach a performance of experimental music. In a performance which is experimental you cannot know the outcome until you’ve completed the experiment. I was looking into performing as an experiment and understanding as an experience to consider whether I could return to that intriguing state of my first response to a work.I wanted to understand that a little more and to be able to communicate it.

How does it feed into your work at ICMP? 

One becomes more articulate, more reflective, more critical and has a better understanding of one’s own practice.

You can guide your students more effectively if you can understand your own learning at the same time."

I always feel like I’m learning rather than teaching and it’s a conversation which I can continue with my students. 

What would you advise anyone wanting to study a PhD? 

You need to have a really good question. So, spend some time thinking about it as you will be living with this for some time. You can’t change it halfway through so try and make it a good one. 

You also need to find the right university for you, ideally with a community of researchers exploring similar interests. This will help you grow and evolve your research and practice. Don’t consider it as something you do at home, this is about being part of a community and a conversation.

Visit audreyriley.com for more information.

Oliver Sellwood

Alias States: Composing (for) Electronically Enhanced Set-ups


Could you talk a little about your research? What inspired you to pursue this line of thought?

My PhD focussed on music composition, combining acoustic musical instruments with electronic technology for live performance. I’m interested in how we can experience conventional acoustic musical instruments in new (and perhaps uncanny) ways through the application of electronic technology. Another part of my research is the set-up. Historically, the forces used to realise a musical idea, often referred to as the ‘medium’ (such as the piano trio, string quartet, or orchestra), are set configurations that exist before the musical work is written. In my work, I include the creation of these forces as part of the compositional process (composing the set-up). My recent works create specific set-ups that combine acoustic instruments and technology. Examples of this include an electronic drumkit programmed to produce piano pitches; a violin extended into a super instrument of sound and light; and the use of a guitar pick-up that routes each guitar string to a separate amplifier.

What were the biggest challenges with completing this?

For me, the biggest challenges related to time and time management. My PhD was part time (I started seven years ago), so I’ve been working (as a tutor and as a musician) alongside studying. Occasionally, there were lulls in the workload but more frequently it led to multiple deadlines from various projects all landing on the same day.

How does it feed into your work at ICMP?

I teach on the Music Production courses at ICMP, so issues of technology come up a fair bit! My PhD was based on PAR (practice as research), and I am big advocate of this approach.

This practice as research methodology foregrounds the music-making we do and asks us to think reflectively about the work we produce, how it relates to other practitioners, and what our practice contributes to wider discussions."

Have you any advice for anyone looking to take on this level of study?

Find the right supervisor(s)! You will work closely with one or two people during the doctorate, so it is important that you find someone with whom you can work well.

Visit ollysellwood.info for more information. 

Photo credit: Dimitri Djuric

Kit Ashton 

Êcliaithe Man Tchoeu [Light Up My Heart]: Applied Ethnomusicology and the Revitalisation of the Endangered Language of Jèrriais


Could you talk a little about your research? What inspired you to pursue this line of thought?  

My research looked at the ways in which music can help to revitalise and reclaim the endangered language of Jèrriais in my home island of Jersey. Jèrriais is a form of Norman, related to French, but sadly over the last couple of hundred years, it was really oppressed and neglected, to the point of almost becoming dormant. I was already involved with Jèrriais language activism through my pop-folk band Badlabecques, so after my MA at Goldsmiths, I was lucky enough to successfully apply for PhD funding from CHASE (the Consortium for Humanities and Arts) in the South East of England. I couldn’t turn that down!

On a personal level, my gran only spoke French and Jèrriais until she went to school around 1920. Then, not only did she have to learn English but she could have literally been beaten for daring to speak Jèrriais! So of course, she never passed it on to my dad. It’s been great to help reverse some of that appalling prejudice and revive our beautiful language. Ch’est un véthitabl'ye honneu (it’s a real honour).

What were the biggest challenges with completing this?  

I’d say the biggest practical challenges are the sheer resilience and stamina needed to complete something of the scale of a PhD, and then there are conceptual challenges within the work. So for example, for me, it was a headache to grapple with the role of coloniality – which could be summarised as the ideological legacy of colonialism – in Jersey, which was never formally colonised.

Understanding how music can help challenge anglocentric coloniality was, and still is, a big question. But we’ve made a start."

How does it feed into your work at ICMP?  

Pretty much everything I learned on my PhD journey is either directly or indirectly useful to me as a tutor but also as a musician. My work falls under the category of ‘applied research’ because I was actively doing things in the community rather than just sitting in a library or something. So the scholarship, the project planning, the musical experiences, and also the experience of having two amazing PhD supervisors - Dr. Barley Norton and Professor Keith Negus - to guide me, all helps me to teach and support students on their own journeys. 

Have you any advice for anyone looking to take on this level of study?  

A PhD is maybe 10 per cent brains and 90 per cent dogged determination not to let the darn thing beat you.

So, on the one hand, folks shouldn’t feel they need to be a super-genius to consider it, but on the other hand, you definitely do need to be passionate enough about the work itself to commit to it for several years of your life. Don’t do it for the sake of it, do it because you have a great idea or burning issue that the world needs you to explore. And do get yourself funding if you can – it really does make a massive difference to be able to do it full time!  

Visit kitashton.com for more information.

Two albums in the language of Jèrriais from Kit's band's music have recently been added to the permanent collection at the British Library.

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by ICMP staff writer
February 25, 2022
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