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Catherine Laws

University of York
Department of Music 


Catherine Laws is a musicologist and a pianist specialising in contemporary music. Much of her research focuses on the relationship between music, language and meaning, with a special focus on the musicality of the work of Samuel Beckett and composers’ responses to his texts. She has published a range of articles on these topics, and her book, ‘Headaches Among the Overtones’: Music in Beckett/ Beckett in Music appeared in December 2013 (Editions Rodopi). Other research interests include: contemporary music performance practices; music theatre; subjectivity and embodiment in performance; processes of collaboration; the relationship between critical theory and contemporary musicology; music and gender.

From 1997 until 2008 Catherine was Associate Director of Music and head of performance at Dartington College of Arts, before spending two years as a freelance performer, researcher and lecturer. In addition to her current post at York, she is a Senior Artistic Research Fellow at the Orpheus Institute in Ghent, with practice-based research projects focused on subjectivity in musical performance and the relationship between physical and sonic gesture. Recent projects have focused on processes of composer-performer collaboration and on the performance of Morton Feldman’s late piano music, processes of composer-performer collaboration, Recent publications include: ‘Morton Feldman’s Late Piano Music: Experimentalism in Practice’ in The Practice of Practising (also edited by Catherine), a volume in the Collected Writings of the Orpheus Institute;  ‘On Listening’, volume 15 no. 3 of the journal Performance Research, which Catherine guest edited; and ‘Feldman – Beckett – Johns: Patterning, Memory and Subjectivity’ in Björn Heile (ed.), The Modernist Legacy: Essays on New Music. (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009).   Forthcoming publications. Other publications are listed below.

As a performer, Catherine is interested in instrumental colour and interaction; the wide and subtle variations of touch, tone, dynamic and texture possible on the modern piano, and the innate drama of interactions between performer and piano, piano and other sounds (electronic or otherwise), and performer, instruments and audience. Recent recordings include Martin Iddon’s head down among the stems and bells, for amplified, prepared piano, on pneuma, a CD collection of Iddon’s compositions on the label ‘another timbre’. Three of Catherine’s films are currently available on vimeo: Chambre 119 (for amplified voice, piano, toy piano and CD playback), composed for Catherine by Ed Jessen can be seen at; Companion (for two toy pianos and voices), also by Ed Jessen, for Anna Myatt and Catherine, can be seen at, a collaboration with composer Bill Brooks and percussionist Damien Harron (produced as part of the research project ‘Sounded Gestures, Enacted Sounds’) is at