A Look Back Through Past Work

Recently I've been looking back through some of my older work, particularly the projects I did during my master’s degree. I have taken brief looks back before, but this is the first time in a long while, and it’s the first time since I've been engaging more proactively in reflective practice. So, with the tools and mindset I’ve cultivated through this practice, I found myself viewing this work in a different light. 

Most of the work from my master’s has never been made public. Once it was completed and submitted for assessment, it lay abandoned and effectively forgotten in the dark recesses of my hard drive. Sure, it was copied to new hard drives as my other work and folders grew around it and more space was needed. But this was purely a result of good file management, and not so much with the thought that one day it might be useful. Which eventually turned out to be the case. 

On reflection, I think one of the reasons for this was a negative association I have with some of the work from that period in my life. It took me a few years to complete my master’s degree because of personal issues I encountered in my early to mid 20s. The course was also very challenging, and I found it difficult at times to keep up with the standard that was expected. After taking some time out to address these issues, I came back with the determination to finish the course and in the end, I was very proud of much of the later work that I produced. 

However, other examples of work were left tainted by the challenges and difficulties I experienced. The result of which was me forgetting about them and moving on to new projects and my future career in music and education. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I began teaching at the University where I had studied, that I found myself instructing and supervising students on the same course and modules that I had taken several years before. By this point, I think it was inevitable that I would eventually reach into the forgotten corners of my hard drive to look for the work I had done to see how it might help me teach and guide the new cohorts. 

This is exactly what happened on several occasions during the past academic year; mostly because of the new blended and online learning approaches, and a need to gather and collect a variety of different resources. In any case, this is what prompted me to write this post and share some of that work for the first time. 

There are a few things that have struck me about going through this process of reflection. The first thing is not to delete your old work and project files; you never know when they might come in useful. The second is the observation that your feelings and associations towards your work can be very much affected and biased by the experiences you have at the time. However, the way you feel now may not be how you feel several years down the line, so it’s worth looking back every so often to reassess and maybe even change your perspective. The third thing is that looking back at your past work is a good way to gauge how far you’ve come, which in turn is a useful motivator. 

The last, and probably most important thing is to be kind to yourself, past and present. I believe that one of the things that facilitated this negative association to some of my master’s work was the fact I felt bad that for a period, I couldn’t give one hundred percent to it. I think it made me feel that the work I did was inadequate because it didn’t live up to the standard that I knew I could achieve, nor the standard that was expected from my tutors. But this didn’t mean that it didn’t have value and could not have value in the future. 

As lecturers and teachers, we assign a grade or mark to work as an indicator of its level within a pre-defined criterion, and unfortunately this is often (as in my case) interpreted as its value. But that is not correct. The grades and marks we assign are a metric by which we can interpret the level of understanding a student has on a subject, or more often, how much effort they’ve put in. But it is not necessarily the value of a piece of work. A student could achieve a low to mid-level mark, and it still be a very valuable piece of work because of what they have learned. 

To be clear, this is not a suggestion that students shouldn’t put in the effort to achieve the highest mark they can. They certainly should put in that effort, which will provide experience, and what they learn from that experience will be the value, regardless of the mark. Then they can add to it any future value they can gain from looking back at their work and experience. Whether that’s through revisiting old techniques or styles, or even just to see how far they’ve come. This is something that myself and colleagues in higher education could perhaps do better to keep in mind more often. Maybe if I had kept this in mind more often, and looked back more kindly on my past self, I might have found the value in this work much sooner. 

With all that said, my hope is that you may find some of these thoughts and musing insightful, and possibly even applicable to your own creative and reflective practice. But now, let’s look at a few examples of the work and projects I’ve been reflecting on.

Course Context and Work Examples 

My master’s was an MSc (Master of Science) degree, and the title of the course I took was Sound and Music for Interactive Games (SMIG). This course still runs today at Leeds Beckett University, and it has grown a great deal in popularity since I graduated. In fact, it has become one of the fore-most programmes for the study of video game audio in the U.K. And this is in no small part due to the considerable efforts of my former lecturers and now colleagues, Dave Raybould and Richard Stevens, who quite literally wrote the book(s) on game audio [1] & [2]. 

As the title suggests, the course was all about making music and designing sound for interactive games (i.e. video games). So, whilst there was a lot of creative elements to the course, it was also very technical in nature – one of the things I struggled with as I came from more music performance background. There was also an even split between composition and sound design, which is reflected in the examples I’ve chosen. 

What I’ve tried to do below is to give you a summary of the brief for these projects and why I’ve chosen them so that you have a bit of context and background to the work, which by itself may not always make complete sense.

Example 1 - Collaborative Practice Module 


"Work collaboratively in a team of students from other disciplines to create a project that incorporates each of your skillsets. Our group represented Game Design, Motions Graphics, Music for the Moving Image, and Sound and Music for Games."

Our group decided to create a narrative game level in Unreal Engine (UE3), which included features that the player could interact with and represented the English fairy tale of The Buried Moon [3]. We didn’t quite achieve everything we set out to, but the project did provide an early technical demonstration of the skills within our group. 




Looking back at this, it’s clear that it is not a very polished project. It is quite rough around edges, and now, through the eyes and ears of a teacher and more experienced professional, I have some clear thoughts on the feedback I would give to my younger self. But the reason I chose it is because it shows a good example of where I was in the early stages of my masters. 

This project was one of my earliest ventures into interactive sound design, and I was beginning to incorporate the ideas of non-repetitive sound design into my early efforts of recording and editing sounds. For example, using the systems within the game engine (UE3) to recombine and randomise multiple layers and different elements of sounds to add a greater sense of realism, or at the very least avoid repetitiveness. 

It is also a good example of one of my first collaborative team efforts on a video game project that was developed from scratch. On the team I worked with follow students Velislava Georgieva (Graphics and level design), Maher Huniedi (effects and motion graphics), Rory Smith (music), and myself (sound design). Three of us from the team even went on to work on an independent game project called Eye for an Ice Cream; a 3D platformer about an aggressive squirrel on a mission to seek revenge against evil critters that robbed him of his favourite treat. We took a fair bit of inspiration from Happy Tree Friends if you have ever seen it. Sadly, the project was never fully completed and released, but it was certainly a valuable learning experience, and in a way, was the project above was its precursor.

Example 2 – Sound, Music, and Interactivity Module 


"Demonstrate audio implementation skills within a commonly used audio middleware package. Using FMod / Wwise create an interactive music system. You may compose your own assets or edit pre-existing assets. Your system should allow the user to preview how the music would respond appropriately to a typical game scenario."

For this project, I chose to compose a piece of music for a scenario within a spy game and used Wwise as the middleware programme to alter the music in accordance with different possible game states and events that might happen in this scenario. 




This was my second time using an audio middleware for a project and my first time using it in the context of music rather than sound design. It was also my first outing with Wwise and so is another useful example of my early attempts to incorporate the non-linear approaches of game audio into my work. Writing music with the concept of player autonomy in mind was challenging at first. But it wasn’t long I before understood some of the techniques to create dynamic music for games. Accounting for video game music’s need to respond to the player’s in-game actions whilst avoiding becoming repetitive and still sounding like a coherent composition eventually became very familiar to me. This project was the first step in that learning process.

Example 3 – Creative Sound Design Module 


"Using the techniques covered within the ‘Sample Manipulation/Transformation’ and ‘Granular’ seminars, and your own research into the area, create a series of original sounds and apply these creatively."

There was a selection of videos to choose from for this project, and I chose the video below as it seemed to be the best option for demonstrating a wide range of sounds and experimenting with movement and direction, size and scale, and the texture of the sounds. I must admit though, I don’t think I relied exclusively on granular and sample manipulation techniques. I’m pretty sure there’s some subtractive synthesis going on in some of the low frequency pulsing sounds, but not much more.




This example is one of the projects that I relate most closely to the negative associations I mentioned earlier. It is also the one that gave me the clearest realisation that I had been biased against my own work. So, it seemed an appropriate choice to present here. I remember the semester that this module ran throughout was when things were getting particularly difficult for me, and it was just before I took some time away from the course. Looking back now, I believe that the work I was doing around that time suffered the most from this bias. It wasn’t until I was doing preparations to lead a tutorial on granular processing that I found myself thinking back to some of the work I did during my master’s. When I dug through my hard drive to find this, I was pleasantly surprised with what I heard. At the time of completing this project, I was a good way through my degree, so this is also a nice example to illustrate the progression of my sound design skills.

Example 4 – Final Individual Research Project 


The title of my research paper for this project was The Effect of Dynamic Music on Meditation and my aim was to investigate whether dynamic music could improve meditation outcomes for both experienced and novice meditators. The project involved building a dynamic music system in Max that monitored participants’ heart rate via an Arduino and a light-responsive pulse sensor. The heart rate data was used to vary aspects of the music such as the tempo and the timbre through altering the layers within the mix. The theory underpinning all this was that music and meditation both induce similar psychophysiological responses, and my line of inquiry was how the use of dynamic music might affect this. My hypothesis was that the adaptability of dynamic music systems, in this case via the mechanisms of rhythmic entrainment and timbral blend, could be leveraged to improve the outcome of a session of mediation. 

The files linked below include the research paper and a journal-style summary. Additional appendices have also been provided, but not all. Some have been withheld to avoid any possible compromise of participants’ or other sensitive data.


The Effect of Dynamic Music on Meditation - PDF Download

Project Summary - PDF Download

Research Paper Appendices - Zip Download



The main reason for choosing this example is because it represents a significant body of work that I am very proud of. Unlike other examples of past work from my degree, it is not something that I had any negative associations with, likely because it was one of the last projects that I returned to the course to complete. However, until recently, it never had an appropriate home where I felt I could make it publicly available. It was a serious undertaking though, and whilst it was very challenging, it was also very exciting. It had the feeling of being on the cutting edge of an area of study that was very novel (at least at the time of writing it), and that it could potentially contribute to a wider understanding of the related fields. 

It is also the best representation of the standard of academic writing and rigorous research that I had developed by that point. It was the culmination of all the research practice and academic writing I had done prior to it during my master’s. In addition, it acts as a detailed and comprehensive pilot study that could form the basis for a large-scale study and perhaps be turned into a PhD; something I am still considering to this day, along with other areas of research I have an interest in.

Closing Thoughts 

So, whether it may be challenging you to reassess your relationship to and the value of your past work, or encouraging you to take up some reflective practice of your own, I hope you are able to take something away from this post. I have certainly found it beneficial to look back on this work and that period in my life and to form a new perspective on both. At the very least, maybe this post will serve to provide you with more of an insight into some of my past work, and present thinking. Either way thank you for taking the time to read it.


[1] Stevens, R. and Raybould, D. (2011) The Game Audio Tutorial: A Practical Guide to Sound and Music for Interactive Games. Waltham, US: Focal Press. 

[2] Stevens, R. and Raybould, D. (2015) Game Audio Implementation: A Practical Guide Using the Unreal Engine. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

[3] Jacobs, J ed. (1894) More English Fairy Tales. New York: G. P. Putnam's & Sons.