PhD student

  • Doctoral College
  • Research
Michael McEvoy

I am an Emmy award-winning and Ivor Novello-nominated composer with many film, television and pop music credits.


My PhD title:

Indeterminacy, Improvisation and Process in Music Performance to Moving Image.

My PhD summary:

I am a classically trained composer and improviser working in film and television. My intention is to expand my practice, creating interdisciplinary semi-improvised works for classical musicians. In my professional work, I organise improvised musical ideas to serve the filmmaker’s vision. My research project will invert that dynamic: the image will serve the music. Film theorist and composer, Chion (1994) argues it is ‘the reality of the audiovisual combination – that one perception influences the other and transforms it’. Exploring the space between moving image and indeterminate music composition, I examine this nexus of dialogue between performer, composer and moving image. The research process involves the production of visual content captured on an iPhone, then edited in iMovie, followed by the preparation of indeterminate scores with loose tonal parameters (limited modes and note selection). The visual content becomes the gestural impetus underpinning semi-structured improvisations. The aim is to confront behavioural ‘norms’, providing classical musicians opportunities for ‘expressive agency’ (Bowden, 2015) and ‘performative ownership’ (Jan Løhmann Stephensen, 2016). In spite of extensive and rigorous training, the tradition of classical music offers few opportunities for improvisation. The historic context characterises the position of the classical music performer as a ‘middleman’ who ‘exists to serve the composer’ (Copland, 2011). However, Benson (2003) notes the importance of ‘overcoming the strict dichotomy’ between composer and performer, for the sake of ‘future of musical dialogue’, suggesting that both see ‘as essential the improvisation process of making music’. My research questions aspects of traditional hierarchies in classical music, confronting the gap through the lens of improvisation, reframing the role of the composer as co-creator with performers.

More about me:

I am an Emmy award-winning and Ivor Novello-nominated composer with many film, television and pop music credits. My film scores include Richard Loncraine’s Finding Your Feet (2018) starring Timothy Spall and Imelda Staunton and Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles (2009) starring Zac Efron and Clare Danes. In 2018, I scored the Peabody Award-winning BBC/PBS documentary, The Jazz Ambassadors. Other work in television includes ITV miniseries Dark Angel with Joanne Froggatt, the landmark series for NatGeo, Alien DeepEinstein’s Big Idea (PBS/Nova) and Battle of the Hood and Bismarck (ITV Factual/PBS). I collaborate with DJ Paul Oakenfold and together we have scored feature films Nothing Like the Holidays, award winning anime VexilleThe Heavy, and more recently the Showtime documentary, Citizen Bio. I am also part of the scoring team ZeroVU with brothers, Nick and Mitch Taylor. Recent projects include Tuff Money for HBO and indie feature, The Drifters. 

In the pop music industry, I’ve worked as a co-writer and/or musician with many iconic acts including Ian Dury, Soul II Soul, Steve Winwood/Traffic, Scritti Politti, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Mark Morrison, Sting, Bee Gees, Melissa Etheridge, Future Sound of London among others. I am a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, bass, piano, viola) and have written and produced three solo jazz albums. My composition for jazz trio, Mother Medusae, featuring violinist, Thomas Gould, was nominated for an Ivor Novello Composer Award. I have a Masters in Music from the Royal College of Music where I was the PRS Sir Arthur Bliss Scholar and was awarded the Joseph Horovitz Prize.

During the past two decades, my professional work has primarily consisted of music composition for film and television, activities that have demonstrated the power of moving images to incite musical gestures. In my part-time practice-led research project at UCA, I am developing a series of multi-modal works merged with moving images, fusing new music approaches and jazz concepts. Frederic Rzewski proposes (Nyman, 1999) that ‘Music is a creative process in which we all can share, and the closer we can come to each other in the process, abandoning esoteric categories and professional elitism, the closer we can all come to the ancient idea of music as a universal language…’. One of my aims is to uncover strategies that may help non-improvising classical musicians to develop as improvisers.

  • Commission - Stephen Hawking ‘Does God Play Dice in Black Holes’, Royal Albert Hall (1995)
  • Commission – Consecration of Second Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN. ‘Welcome to This House of Prayer’ (2000)
  • Emmy Award (Mid-South Region) for Documentary score ‘Tennessee Yearbook’ (2002)
  • PRS Sir Arthur Bliss Scholar (2003)
  • Joseph Horovitz Composition Prize (2005)
  • Ivor Novello Composer Nomination (2019) for Jazz Trio Mother Medusae, featuring violinist,Thomas Gould
Michael McEvoy