‘Stay true to your own instincts’: We catch up with Halldor Ulfarsson, one of the winners of this year’s Adam Weiler Impact Award

A headshot of Adam Weiler award winner Halldor Ulfarsson.

The annual Adam Weiler Award goes to a doctoral researcher who shows the potential to achieve outstanding impact in their chosen field, the result of a generous donation from the family of a former Sussex student. This year, the prize was split between Halldor and Sunayana Bhargava (MPS). An interview with Sunayana will follow next month.

> Tell us a little about your research.
My research is practice based and very much rooted in the work I have been doing with my project the halldorophone, an electro-acoustic string instrument I have been developing for a few years. My contribution will be to the field of innovation in musical instrument design and can perhaps be summarized so: “instrument making is culture making” as a new instrument implies a new kind of music making so you kind of have to be out there finding people who are up for making music in new ways and nurturing those relationships.

> What impact do you hope your research will achieve?
Perhaps that, sharing my perspective and approach will demonstrate that one does not have to be an insider to contribute to a field (I have no musical training) but rather that a flexibility and sensitivity to the conversation one has in creative collaborations can be fertile ground for discovery.

> How will the prize money help you?
I am building my workshop at the moment and it went towards an expensive and crucial tool.

> Tell us about your journey to the PhD, and what keeps you motivated.
The research and conversation with my supervisors has been good in surprising ways. The work I do (design, fabrication and evaluation of the instrument with musician collaborators) is its own language and transposing those thoughts and intentions to the language of academic reflection (contextualisation within the field and broader trends in scientific method) is fortifying in ways I could not have foreseen. It is hard to describe but, perhaps the following is true: that once the elements of how this project came together have become abstracted during the period of research it is easier to move those elements around and consequently, experiment and evaluate them more critically. All of which is stimulating and invigorating. 

> What advice would you offer to new doctoral researchers starting out?
Stay true to your own instincts. Especially at the beginning when examining the state of the art and you are trying to imbue the massive amount of data that makes up your field it can be overwhelming and you feel like you know nothing. But every new pair of eyes and fresh mind has the potential to see something which has not been seen before, so being alive to your own perspective, arguably, can be your most important asset when contributing something meaningful to the field you have been invited to do research within. 

> There is life outside the PhD! What do you do away from your research?
At the moment I lift weights and swim in the Aegean.

> What’s next for you, in your work or otherwise?
I am building myself a workshop for the first time. After that is done I will build myself a home. Both feel exceedingly satisfying.