Ailis Ni Riain stands to the left of the image in front of a white wall. they are wearing a pink and purple shirt and has short blond hair
Ailís Ní Ríain

Creative responses to the British Music Collection

In 2016 Unlimited and Sound and Music supported Musician Ailís Ní Ríain to conduct a residency and creative response to the archives at the British Music Collection.  

Ailís is an Irish contemporary classical composer and pianist who creates concert music and site-specific music installations. In 2015 she received an Unlimited Research and Development award to create ‘The Drawing Rooms’, a piece which explored strange stories through BSL, film, live contemporary classical music, new writing and live drawing. Ailís is hearing impaired and has been creating work influenced by her experience of deafness since 2007.

Unlimited were interested in building links with organisations working with new music, and we have a nerdy fascination with exploring hidden histories within archives. Sound and Music have been actively reaching out to more diverse musicians through their ‘pathways’ project, a scheme which supports disabled musicians and musicians with a background other than white British, but were keen to do more.

Having uncovered some overlapping priorities and interests we got together to devise a new disability-led project which explored the depths of Sound and Music’s expansive music collection in Huddersfield.

During her time with the collection Ailís delved into the archive and made her own creative responses to the work, creating filmed ‘Perspectives on the Archive’ (which will be available to view from the beginning of November on the British Music Collection website)

She was keen to draw on graphic scores that any musician could respond to, as a more democratic approach to music making which was not dependent on having 15 years of violin lessons.

Initially Ailís was also looking for historic examples of diversity, disability and difference within the archives but this proved problematic, raising questions about the visibility of disabled musicians within the collection, and the responsibility of people interpreting and ‘uncovering’ hidden histories posthumously.

Alongside this Ailís conducted interviews with Danny Lane, Director of Music and The Deaf, sound artist Gemma Nash, flautist Ruth Montgomery, and composer Coin Riley. Her interviews capture frank and open conversations between musicians, exploring the barriers faced to education, breaking into the arts and sustaining a career in the music industry. There are some fascinating insights into common misunderstandings and misconceptions of artists working in this field.

‘To an outsider, deafness is always invisible… Arts opportunities and events can be hard to access as interpreters and captions are not always available and more deaf awareness is needed. Pathways for deaf people in the arts are extremely limited. The only way to get anywhere in life is to make yourself present and make it clear what your communication needs are.’ – Danny Lane

You can read these interviews in full on Ailís’ website at

Ailís maintains a relationship and is now a panellist on the New Voices programme.

Unlimited is currently open for applications from disabled artists and disability-led arts companies to its Main Research and Development Awards and Emerging Awards – deadline 6 November. Click here for more information.