Press release: Milton Mermikides appointed 37th Gresham Professor of Music

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Composer, guitarist and academic Milton Mermikides appointed 37th Gresham Professor of Music

His first series The Nature of Music, examines the universal building blocks of music and the very limits of its potential

Previous Gresham Composer Professors include John Bull, Sir Henry Walford Davies, Henry Wyld, John Dankworth and Iannis Xenakis

Embargo: 18 June 2023

Gresham College, London’s oldest Higher Education Institution, is delighted to announce the appointment of Milton Mermikides as Gresham Professor of Music.

Professor Mermikides is a composer and academic who currently holds positions as Associate Professor of Music at the University of Surrey, Professor of Jazz Guitar at the Royal College of Music, Professor of Research at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and Composer in Residence and Senior Research Fellow at the Centre of Eudaimonia and Human Flourishing (Linacre College, University of Oxford).

He researches a wide range of musical topics and styles (including jazz, electronic, pop, Western classical and traditional global music forms), and has a particular interest in the intersection of music with other disciplines, for example the mathematics and psychology behind groove and rhythmic feel, analytical models of improvisation and composition, and the translation of data and natural phemonena into sound and music. This includes his celebrated work Bloodlines, a musical translation of his blood cell activity during treatment for leukaemia. He is the author of an upcoming academic monograph Hidden Music: The Composer’s Guide to Sonification, Cambridge University Press, and writes regularly for the press.

Professor Mermikides said:  “It is an enormous privilege to take on the role of Gresham Professor of Music and continue in Gresham’s tradition of Music Professors who are also composers and practitioners, from John Bull to Iannis Xenakis to Joanna MacGregor. After four centuries there is still so much to share – and so much yet to discover – about this ancient, universal and profoundly human endeavour of music.” 

“I believe strongly that music education is relevant, valuable and should be made available to all regardless of age, background and artificial notions of talent, and I passionately enjoy communicating the wonderful music within and beyond the Western Classical tradition.”

Dr Martin Elliott, Provost of Gresham College, said: “I am delighted to welcome Professor Milton Mermikides as the 37th Gresham Professor of Music. Milton’s very visual explanations of how music works, and his outstanding ability to bring down to earth complex musical ideas in sound and pictures won over our interview panel. His lectures will, I think, redefine how many of us think about music.” 

As the 37th Gresham Professor of Music, Professor Mermikides will continue the 426-year-old tradition of delivering free lectures aimed at the public within the City of London and beyond. Gresham College live streams lectures online and delivers them to physical audiences in London, with over 8 million views of lectures online last year. Some 3000 past lectures are freely available to view on the College’s website. The Professor of Music position was established in 1597 when the College was opened, and its first incumbent was the composer and scholar John Bull. Other Professors of Music have been Iannis Xenakis, Henry Walford Davies and Christopher Hogwood. Professor Mermikides succeeds Russian music specialist Professor Marina Frolova-Walker.

In 2023-4, Professor Mermikides will be lecturing on The Nature of Music: 

Why does music – formed of mere vibrations in the air - affect us so profoundly? This series examines how music exploits our innate and highly evolved listening faculties in order to communicate complex and otherwise inexpressible emotions. Using a diverse range of examples – from Bach to Beatles, Bossa to Björk, Bartók to Billie Holliday – it will explore the universal building blocks of prediction, rhythm, pitch, scale, dissonance and multiplicity in musical experience.

  1. Why Music Moves Us 
    How is music able to convey and trigger such range and depth of emotion? Why does it elicit joy, sorrow, consolation and the chills? Employing research and theoretical models from neuroscience, psychology and musicology, we examine the extraordinary ways that primal and conditioned listening combine to such complex emotive effect. Examples from pop, jazz, rock, film, global traditional and classical forms are presented under the light of nostalgia, visual imagery, emotional contagion, rhythmic entrainment aesthetics, expectation and the extra-musical.  
  2. Musical Time, Rhythm and Groove 
    Music is a temporal art, unfolding like a ribbon and transforming our experience of time itself. This lecture demonstrates how music harnesses our unique and intricate listening faculties creating a complex interplay between sounding events and our internal predictions. This forms a predictive tapestry whereby the listener - usually unconsciously - ‘explains’ temporal events in reference to multi-layered streams of expectational waves. How musicians exploit such expressive opportunities is explored in a wide range of musical styles.
  3. The Art and Science of Tuning
    This lecture presents the rich history of musicians’ engagement with pitch. From the tuning systems of Babylon, Pythagoras and Hindustani ragas, through the temperaments of the Baroque and Classical eras and arriving at contemporary electronic, blues, jazz and global practices, we explore how musicians have organised, sliced and manipulated the pitch continuum for expressive effect. In so doing we reveal the mechanics that determine the 12 notes of the piano keyboard and the beautiful spectrum of pitch colours between them. 
  4. The Colour Spectrum of Scales and Modes 
    A musical scale – a hierarchical collection of pitches spread over multiple octaves – is a fundamental building block in the creation of melodies and harmonies in a wide range of musical practices. But where do these scales come from? Are they invented or discovered? This lecture looks at the history, theory and artistry of scale construction in a wide range of styles, and how each scale can, through ‘rotation’, form a colourfully expressive palette of modal colours.
  5. Musical Consonance and Dissonance: The Good, Bad, and Beautifully Ugly 25/4/2024
    What makes a piece of music challenging, bland, intriguing, beautiful or ugly? This lecture explores the concept of ‘musical flavour’ formed by intervallic, rhythmic and timbral components and how they contribute to a sense of consonance and dissonance. In particular we look at the interval vector, a system by which harmonic objects are analysed as a series of ‘handshakes’ between pitches, providing a measure of harmonic ‘bite’. The ‘Hendrix chord’ is used as a case study of such harmonic flavour. 
  6. Is Music Infinite? 
    This lecture explores the very limits of music: we investigate historical efforts to catalogue musical materials including the melacarta of Carnatic music, the wazn of Arabic maqam, Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, Schillinger’s Encyclopedia of Rhythms, Forte numbers, and contemporary attempts to ‘pre-copyright’ every possible melody yet to be written. We also tackle the bigger questions, how much music might exist, whether it will ever be exhausted, and if there are any boundaries of our musical perception and imagination. 


Note to Editors: 

1.    Further information and photographs from Lucia Graves in the press office:
2.    Press tickets are available for all lectures, please email Lucia to reserve a seat for any of our lectures.
3.    There are some 3,000 free lectures and videos available to watch now on our website.
4.    All our lectures next year are ticketed (free tickets) whether online or in-person and will open at the end of July; in-person booking opens one month ahead. 
5.    We have free block School and College bookings for in-person lectures; email if teachers want to book, or to order free paper programmes for your school.
6.    Gresham College’s public lectures in numbers: 8 million views of our lectures in 2021-22; some 47,000 registered audience live / online attendances of which 7,000 from schools. 
7.    Read more about Professor Milton Mermikides

More about the College’s work: 
A series of six lectures a year is delivered by each of the College’s ten Professors, and usually three lectures by each of our five Visiting Professors. There are a further 40 or so individual lectures from a range of illustrious speakers selected from the worlds of academia, the arts, law, medicine, politics and industry.

Seats and online registration will be open once the new programme is published online late July; you can only book for in-person lectures a month ahead of each lecture, subscribe here to get notifications: