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The aim of Catalogue d'Emojis was to directly explore performance and performance settings, the active involvement of the audience and the linking of creative practice and the everyday in conceptual music, thereby contributing to the idea of music composition as an expanded field that moves beyond sound. The secondary aim of the research was to explore how a live performative work can be captured and disseminated more widely as an audio only CD release. 


This was a rigorous collaborative process with Norman and Wolters working together to cross-examine decisions made against the concept. This process was cyclical and reflexive involving periods of active practice-based research followed by reflection, leading to further active creation. This process ensured a crucial distance and self-critical stance and to avoid insularity in the composition process Norman and Wolters worked directly with expert performers Dr Fumiko Miyachi and Kate Halsall, and consulted with experienced dramaturgs who were external to the project, namely Marcus Dross (dramaturg/programmer at Künstlerhaus Mousonturm, Frankfurt am Main, Germany) and Mira Moschallski (freelance creative producer and dramaturg, Birmingham, UK). Norman and Wolters also worked closely with ex-BBC film-maker Oliver Clark (executive producer for Coast and Hairy Bikers among others) for critical feedback at each stage. 

Finally, in consultation with recording engineer Dr Simon Hall, they reflected on and critically edited the work for an audio CD released on the Birmingham Record Company / NMC Label. This was an involved and collaborative process going beyond simply capturing the audio of the live performance. Elements that were, for example, shown only as subtitles in the live performance were converted to spoken text for the audio CD. Another example is of text spoken whilst in certain yoga positions which affect the tone of the voice. These aspects were captured in the recording process engaging with experimental microphone placement and recording techniques (see image below), maintaining their unique sonic qualities.

This work was publicly funded via competitive application processes (Arts Council England, PRSF and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) serving as external peer review of the concept and engagement plans. 



This work contributes to the discourse on music as an expanded field that moves beyond sound by directly exploring and critiquing performance, performance settings, active involvement of the audience, and the linking of creative practice and the everyday in conceptual music. The work is also keenly reflective of, contributes to and takes seriously the current discourse on equality in music.  

This work pushes to the very boundaries of what can be considered a “concert” whilst keeping a level of familiarity. It is with this nuanced balance between risk and comfort, experimental and familiar, new and traditional, lies and truth, pseudo and real, serious and fun, energy and calm, strictness and freedom, and crass and profound that the originality is located. As individual aspects this work does not present anything “new” in a modernist sense, but rather the unique combination of opposing forces is a genuinely original alternative to the standard concert facilitated by a radical, conceptual and rigorous approach to composition. 

Emojis may appear childish and irrelevant on the surface but have become part of our lives. Their look and style as well as their use has shaped communication. They are a pictorial, symbol-driven language and, in this way, quite close to the language of music notation. As a language that is constantly updated we see Emojis also negotiating diversity and equality. This is highlighted throughout the piece but is again gently coaxed from the work by engaging with the complex balancing act it delivers. In this way the work can reflect this most relevant issue in contemporary music but without artistic compromise.


Dissemination and Reception 

The work was performed at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (RBC) in 2018 and 2019 and filmed during the first performance. It was also due to be performed at Musikfest 2020 at Frankfurt’s main concert hall Alte Oper but this performance was unfortunately canceled due to coronavirus. The audio version of the work was recorded by Dr Simon Hall at RBC for Birmingham Record Company who are focused on supporting the public release of practice-based research in new music and are distributed by NMC, the leading label for contemporary music in the UK.

With the combination of live performance, teaser, trailer and full length live documentation all available online and promoted via social media, interviews with Wolters, a full release by NMC recordings and play on BBC radio 3 Late Junction, the work has had a considerable reach. Their inclusion as featured composers on the NMC Label highlights the profile of both Wolters and Norman. James Yarker, artistic director of theatre group Stan's Cafe reviewed the live performance, alluding to the cross-disciplinary impact of Wolters' work: "Should you be planning on drawing up a list called 'The most playful, iconoclastic and talented artists currently working in Birmingham' we can help you out with a name… Michael Wolters" (Yarker, 2018), which builds on his positive, if questioning review of the duo's previous work worries (2017). A reviewer from The Arts Desk commented, "Catalogue d’Emojis had me grinning... sonorous, clangorous minimalism". (Rickson, 2019).


Composition/performance - Dr Paul Norman and Dr Michael Wolters (Difficult Listening)

Piano/performance - Kate Hallsall and Dr Fumiko Miyachi (Cobalt Duo)

Dramaturgy - Mira Moschallski and Marcus Dross

Filming - Oli Clark

Recording - Simon Hall 

Recording in yoga positions.

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