Keele researcher awarded prestigious AHRC fellowship

A Keele researcher has been awarded funding to broaden the impact of their equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) research.

Dr Manuella Blackburn, Lecturer in Digital Media from Keele’s School of Humanities, is one of ten researchers who have been awarded an EDI Engagement Fellowship by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to support work which focuses on equality, diversity and inclusion issues. The ten fellows will be supported by a total investment of over £850,000 which will be used to engage diverse audiences with their outstanding research.

Dr Blackburn’s fellowship will focus on increasing cultural diversity in sample packs that are used in music. Sample packs are a collection of sounds intended for producers to use to produce music, with many musicians using samples as the basis for their tracks.

Sample packs have a history of placing 'world music' labels onto non-Western sounding samples, with many conforming to stereotypes of what is regarded as Indian music. Addressing outdated and often prejudiced perceptions will allow important conversations to take place between musicians, creators, and their audiences.

To complete the project, Dr Blackburn will use a sound archive - the Instruments INDIA Sound Archive - which holds five hours of recordings of 28 Indian instruments, to create sample packs for use amongst the wider sample-based music community and to engage others with diversity.

Dr Blackburn said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to share the beautiful sounds of Indian musical instruments with the global music production community while digging deeper into important issues of diversity representation on online distribution platforms, artist integrity and fair remuneration for sample pack contributors. The interaction with music industry partners, Ableton, Loopmasters and Symphonic Distribution will assist out aims to commercialise a creative product for use worldwide.”

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair, added: “Learning about our heritage and culture and participating in the arts can deepen our perception of our history and of ourselves. These fellowships will enable researchers to connect their scholarship with diverse communities across the UK and bring about positive change.

“Arts and humanities research has tremendous potential to help people to embrace different viewpoints and to build a fairer, more inclusive society.”