Emma-Kate Matthews



Emma-Kate is an architect, artist, musician and composer. In 2012 she founded EKM Works; a transdisciplinary creative practice with a focus on experimentation and exploring the boundaries of innovative technologies. Emma-Kate teaches a Masters in Architecture unit at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL where she is also undertaking a design and performance-led PhD, funded by the LAHP studentship (AHRC). Her research is concerned with discovering and exploiting creative reciprocities between music; as constructed sound, and architecture; as constructed space. Her supervisors are Prof. Bob Sheil, Prof. Yeoryia Manolopoulou (UCL) and Prof. Neil Heyde (Royal Academy Music). She is currently a London Symphony Orchestra Soundhub Associate and is writing a number of site-specific compositions which are directly influenced by the outputs of digital acoustic simulation and 3D scanning.


Emma-Kate’s spatial compositions have been performed at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and London’s Southbank Centre. Emma-Kate plays the Clarinet, Drum Kit, Electric Bass and Piano and has released a number of albums, most recently “East of the Active” on Algebra Records. Her Architectural work has been exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts and the RIBA and has also been published in multiple peer-reviewed journals including Architectural Design (Wiley) and Design Ecologies (Intellect books). She is a coordinator of the Sound Making Space doctoral network and she is also currently organising the “Sound Of Space” symposium with Prof. Jane Burry and Mark Burry, which will take place in London in December 2019. She is also recently completed commissions for the Guildhall School of Music, Musicity and the Barbican Centre as part of the “Sound Unbound” festival.







Emma-Kate's paper focuses on a collaborative composition project with Prof. Jim Barbour, Prof. Jane Burry and Prof. Mark Burry, funded by the Australian Research Council and performed at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

The interior of the Sagrada Familia has a reverberation time of approximately 12 seconds. For speech intelligibility in the delivery of sermons, this poses a problem and one that many engineers and designers have tried to fix by retrofitting the interior with various acoustic treatments, however from a music composition perspective, this provides a creative opportunity in the form of a highly site-specific and acoustically-aware musical project.

Architect and acoustician Hope Bagenall once acknowledged the musical potential of architectural acoustic behaviour in an anecdote which recalls: “A legend exists that a Mass by Fairfax-a mediaeval organist of St. Albans-was composed with a fourth part supplied by the church. Even if this was no more than a legend it shows that the building was recognised as an instrument” (Bagenall 1927: 443) This fascinating notion is one source of inspiration for the project that I was commissioned to compose for the Sagrada Familia. The composition is titled “Construction 002: Tracing” and uses the ample reverberation time as a musical device with the hypothesis that the acoustic characteristics of physical space have the capacity to fundamentally alter a musical idea. In order to set up an opportunity for contrast, the piece was also performed in the acoustically dry setting of a small anechoic chamber and London’s Royal Geological Society Library. Significant changes were observed both by ear and in the recordings. In summary; melodic contrapuntal elements maintained a distinct clarity when the piece was played in the library and anechoic chamber, however these melodic element formed a somewhat more homogenous, harmonic construction when sounded in the Sagrada Familia, as the decay of previous notes blend with those that are newly sounded.

This observation threw into question musical ontology as if a melody can be heard and perceived as a melody in one space, but the same musical input is heard as a harmony in another, does there exist a threshold at which the music is heard as both a melodic and harmonic construction, or neither, or something entirely new? It also questions the responsibility of architecture in its role for hosting musical performance, especially at a time when concert-hall design is becoming increasingly standardised as a result of a design trend towards acoustic certainty and away from acoustic diversity.

This paper will take a multidisciplinary approach to unpacking these two questions in the context of music performance and its potential for creative and deliberate interaction with architectural space.