Sunday, December 21, 2008

A 2006 recording of Glenn Gould?*

A well-known recording company recently released a new recording of Glenn Gould performing the Goldberg Variations. The recording date was summer 2006. Curious, not? Another pianist with the same name as the legendary Canadian musician?

Actually, the recording was made using measurements of the original, old recordings that were used to remake the performance on a computer-controlled grand piano, a modern pianola. In the recording studio a grand piano was moving its keys without someone behind the piano. Glenn Goulds original performance was re-performed on a modern instrument in a modern studio.

The technology that was used dates from the early nineties, a time when several piano companies (including Yamaha and Bosendorfer) combined MIDI (an industry standard for communicating between computers and electronic keyboard instruments) and modern solenoid technology with the older idea of a pianola. Old paper piano rolls with recordings of Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Stravinsky and others were translated to MIDI and could be reproduced 'live' on modern instruments like the Yamaha Disklavier. Until now, the only left challenge was to be able to do this for recordings of which no piano-rolls exist.

Besides the technicalties of all this, for most people the real surprise -- or perhaps disillusion -- might well be the realization that a piano performance can actually be reduced to the 'when', 'what' and 'how fast' the piano keys are pressed. Three numbers per note can fully capture a piano performance, and together with the pedaling information it allows for replicating any performance on a grand piano(-la). The moment a pianist hits the key with a certain velocity, the hammer releases, and any gesture that is made after that can be considered merely dramatic: it will have no effect on the sound. This realization puts all theories about the magic of piano touché in a different perspective.

Nevertheless, while it is relatively easy to make the translation from audio (say a recording from Glenn Gould from 1955) to the 'what' (which notes), and the 'when' (timing) in a MIDI-like representation, the problem is in the 'reverse engineering' of key velocity. What was the speed of Gould's finger presses on the specific piano he used? The Zenph Studios claim to have solved it for at least a few recordings. Only trust your ears.

* Repeated blog entry from August 18, 2007.

ResearchBlogging.orgWerner Goebl, Caroline Palmer (2008). Tactile feedback and timing accuracy in piano performance Experimental Brain Research, 186 (3), 471-479 DOI: 10.1007/s00221-007-1252-1

Monday, December 15, 2008

Does rhythm make our bodies move?*

Why do some people dance more rhythmically to music than others? Are these differences genetically or culturally determined? These are some typical questions journalists who are interested in rhythm research like to ask.

The link between musical rhythm and movement has been a fascination for a small yet passionate group of researchers. Early examples, from the 1920s, are the works by Alexander Truslit and Gustav Becking. More recently researchers like Neil Todd (University of Manchester, England) [1] defend a view that makes a direct link between musical rhythm and movement. Direct in the sense that it is argued that rhythm perception can be explained in terms of our physiology and body metrics (from the functioning of our vestibular system to leg length and body size).

While this might be a natural line of thought for most people, the consequences of such theories are peculiar. They predict, for instance, that body length will have an effect on our rhythm perception, longer people preferring slower musical tempi (or rates), shorter people preferring faster ones. Hence, females (since they are on average shorter than men) should have a preference for faster tempi as compared to males.

To me that is too direct and naïve a relation. There are quite a few studies that looked for these direct physiological relations (like heart rate, spontaneous tapping rate, walking speed, etc.) and how these might influence or even determine rhythm perception. However, none of these succeeded in finding a convincing correlation, let alone a causal relation. In addition, they ignore the influence that culture and cognition apparently have on rhythm perception. Nevertheless it should be added that embodied explanations do form a healthy alternative to the often too restricted ‘mentalist’ or cognitive approach.

An intriguing study in that respect was done by Jessica Phillips-Silver and Laurel Trainor (McMaster University, Canada) [2] a few years ago. They did an inventive experiment with seven month old babies, and showed that body movement (i.e. not body size) can influence rhythm perception. They had a group of mothers bounce their infants on a rhythm that could be interpreted as either being in duple or in triple meter. They could show (using a head-turn preference procedure, measuring the time an infant pays attention to a stimulus) that bouncing in three or in four influenced the perception of the infant. While one could be critical on some important details, this is a striking empirical finding, and a small step forward in trying to underpin the relation between rhythm cognition and human movement.

ResearchBlogging.orgJ. Phillips-Silver (2005). Feeling the Beat: Movement Influences Infant Rhythm Perception Science, 308 (5727), 1430-1430 DOI: 10.1126/science.1110922

* Repeated blog entry from July 17, 2007.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Waarom kan muziek zulke sterke herinneringen oproepen? [Dutch]

'Muziek raakt onze allerdiepste emoties en blijkt een spoor te trekken in de hersenen. Muziek is ook een drager van herinneringen. Hoe werkt dat? En waarom houdt de één van Bach en de ander van The Beatles?'
De Ncrv-tv zendt vandaag een aflevering uit over muziek, emotie en herinneringen. Zie de trailer. Voor de volledige aflevering, zie uitzending gemist. Zie tevens gerelateerd artikel in de Volkskrant bijlage van 13.12.2008 (met levendige reacties).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Zit muziek tussen je oren? [Dutch]

This week a short note for Dutch readers:

"Elke derde dinsdag van de maand vindt in Het Paard van Troje het NWO-Spinozadebat plaats. Op deze avonden komt de absolute wetenschappelijke top van Nederland naar het Haagse poppodium om de fascinerende kanten van hun vakgebied uit te leggen. En dan niet met behulp van ellenlange formules, grafieken en tabellen maar in begrijpelijke taal. Of de avond interessant wordt hangt van het publiek af. Het is namelijk aan de bezoekers om te komen met prangende vragen die de aanzet zijn voor verdere discussie. Geen voorgekookt programma dus maar interactie met het publiek. Dat wetenschap en muziek prima samengaan zal huis-DJ Henk Koolen bewijzen. Met ondersteuning van VJ Michiel Bos mixt hij de favoriete nummers van de sprekers tot een muzikaal hoogtepunt. Teleac registreert het debat en zendt het via internet en televisie uit." (citaat van NWO website).

Dinsdag 16 december gaat het debat over muziekcognitie. Of, in wat meer wervende termen: over de onvermoede vaardigheden van de gewone luisteraar.

Sommige mensen vinden van zichzelf dat ze geen ritmegevoel hebben of geen toon kunnen houden, en concluderen dat ze dus niet muzikaal zijn. Een begrijpelijk maar hardnekkig misverstand. We zijn allemaal geboren met een talent voor muziek. Dat talent laat zich niet alleen zien in de acrobatiek van het muziek maken, maar ook in het beluisteren en waarderen van muziek. De gewone luisteraar —die we allemaal zijn— heeft een veel grotere rol in wat muziek tot muziek maakt dan vaak gedacht wordt.

Wat is gewoon en wat is bijzonder aan muzikaliteit? Is het herkennen van ingewikkelde melodieën bijzonder, en het meeklappen op de maat van de muziek gewoon? Het zou wel eens precies andersom kunnen zijn.

In deze presentatie verkent Henkjan Honing, universitair hoofddocent muziekcognitie, een aantal visies op het ontstaan van muziek en de actieve rol van luisteraar daarin. Van het ritmegevoel van pasgeboren baby’s tot een op muziek dansende kaketoe en van het maatgevoel van kleuters tot de onvermoede muzikale expertise van gewone luisteraars.

Datum: 16 december 2008
Locatie: Paard van Troje, Prinsegracht 12, Den Haag
Tijd: 20.00 - 21.30 uur; zaal open: 19.00 uur
Prijs: 7 euro (ex. servicekosten)
Kaarten: reserveren via

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Can music (cognition) save your life?

To explore the research finding I’m about to present, I asked my girlfriend this afternoon to think of the film Saturday Night Fever and the song Stayin’ Alive. Being of the generation that grew-up in the late seventies, she could sing it immediately. I tapped along on my computer spacebar (using MusicMath software) which indicated an average of 105 BPM. And, surprisingly, the original was recorded at 103 BPM (well within the just noticeable difference for tempo perception)!

Dan Levitin and Perry Cook did a similar, but more systematic experiment in the late nineties and found that most people can actually do this quite easily —roughly within a 4-8% tempo difference range—, and especially for songs they are quite familiar with. The results were interpreted as evidence for an (iconic) long term memory for tempo, especially for popsongs that are often heard in one single version.

I was reminded of this research because of a recent e-mail by Lauren Stewart (see earlier blog) pointing me at a news clipping from with the title Stayin' Alive' has near-perfect rhythm to help jump-start heart, stating:
CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- "Stayin' Alive" might be more true to its name than the Bee Gees ever could have guessed: At 103 beats per minute, the old disco song has almost the perfect rhythm to help jump-start a stopped heart. In a small but intriguing study from the University of Illinois medical school, doctors and students maintained close to the ideal number of chest compressions doing CPR while listening to the catchy, sung-in-falsetto tune from the 1977 movie "Saturday Night Fever."
Well, I cannot oversee the impact of this for the medical world (it was published as a pilot study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine), yet it is an another interesting example of the fact that we can easily remember the tempo of a familiar or ‘sticky’ song. The pilot-experiment showed that the participants (ten doctors and five medical students, to be precise) when asked think of Stayin’ Alive could easily reproduce the tempo of the original (in this study an average of 108 BPM). Apparently the ‘stickiness’ of the song proves very useful as a kind of mental metronome in applying cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

This might well be the first, potential lifesaving application of music and music cognition research :-)

ResearchBlogging.orgLevitin, D. J., Cook, P. R. (1996). Memory for musical tempo: Additional evidence that auditory memory is absolute. Perception & Psychophysics, 58, 927-935

ResearchBlogging.orgD. Matlock, J.W. Hafner, E.G. Bockewitz, L.T. Barker, J.D. Dewar (2008). “Stayin' Alive”: A Pilot Study to Test the Effectiveness of a Novel Mental Metronome in Maintaining Appropriate Compression Rates in Simulated Cardiac Arrest Scenarios Annals of Emergency Medicine, 52 (4), S67-S68

ResearchBlogging.orgE. Glenn Schellenberg, Sandra E. Trehub (2003). Good pitch memory is widespread Psychological Science, 14 (3), 262-266 DOI: 10.1111/1467-9280.03432

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Can you point at it?

This week an extra entry with a (repeated) poll related to a research project on older and newer internet technologies that support sharing musical taste and exchange of musical listening experiences.

Before explaining more: would you like to do this informal poll?

(If you like, you can use the Comments option below to mention which piece it actually is.)

The project (in preparation) aims not only to analyze and explicate these existing listening communities (e.g., YouTube, Pandora, Spotify) but also to actively experiment with Web 2.0 technologies by designing and constructing virtual listening spaces that will allow participants to share their listening experiences (LISTEN), make other listeners enthusiastic for a certain musical fragment (LURE), and mark a specific location in an actual recording (LOCATE) - a specific point in the music where a particular listener experienced something special or that s/he considers musically striking or intriguing.

The LOCATE-component of the project was inspired by some early work of John Sloboda (Keele University). He found that a large portion of music listeners could locate (in the score or a recording) specific musical passages that reliably evoked, e.g., shivers down the spine, laughter, tears or a lump in the throat (Sloboda, 1991).

ResearchBlogging.orgJ. A. Sloboda (1991). Music Structure and Emotional Response: Some Empirical Findings Psychology of Music, 19 (2), 110-120 DOI: 10.1177/0305735691192002

Thursday, October 02, 2008

And what was the symposium like?

I just returned from the UK where the Music, Science and the Brain symposium was held in celebration of the end of the European EmCAP project. (The lectures will be online as vodcasts soon.)

I particularly liked, among others, the presentations of David Huron (Ohio State University, US) and Lauren Stewart (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK).

David Huron was the keynote speaker (delivered by video link from Columbus, Ohio), His talk was entitled: ‘How Music Produces Goose-bumps and Why Listeners Enjoy It’. Paralleling one of the chapters of his recent book ‘Sweet Anticipation’ (MIT Press), he treated the audience on a waterfall of ideas and findings on why and how music elicits physiological reactions like goose bums (or piloerection, as it is formally called). Because the speed of it all, some ideas lacked alternative interpretations or proposals on how to (potentially) falsify them. Nevertheless, I’m a great fan of David. His knowledge of the literature is more than impressive. You should read his book that presents these ideas at a more appropriate pace.

Lauren Stewarts’s talk was on amusia (or tone deafness, see earlier blog), and the question of whether people with amusia are destined to get no pleasure out of music (listening) whatsoever. She discussed a recent study, published earlier this year in Music Perception, on the use and functions of music for people ‘suffering’ from amusia. While people with amusia seem to be mostly annoyed by music (‘[I have experienced] just a sort of irritable rage. Now I wonder what others feel and think I may be missing out on something.’), some music appraisal seemed to be shared with ‘normal’ listeners.

ResearchBlogging.orgCLAIRE MCDONALD, LAUREN STEWART (2008). USES AND FUNCTIONS OF MUSIC IN CONGENITAL AMUSIA Music Perception, 25 (4), 345-355 DOI: 10.1525/MP.2008.25.4.345

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Visiting Plymouth, UK this weekend?

The last few weeks I wrote little or no entries mainly because of the overwhelming amount of paper work that comes with finalizing a European research project :-) Nevertheless, the end of the EmCAP project (Sixth Framework, IST) is celebrated this weekend in Plymouth, UK with a public symposium.

This symposium, named Music, Science and the Brain, will discuss the latest scientific contributions to our understanding of how the brain processes music and how this understanding contributes to the development of new technologies for the music industry.

Speakers include all principal investigators of the European EmCAP Project and a number of invited scientists, such as David Huron (Ohio State University, USA), Stefan Koelsch (University of Sussex, UK), Lauren Stewart (Goldsmiths College, UK), Roy Patterson (University fo Cambridge, UK) and Petri Toiviainen (University Jyvaskyla, Finland).

Saturday, September 06, 2008

De do do do, de da da da?

For a long time I thought of it as quite a peculiar phenomenon: grown-ups who, the moment they spot a baby, start talking in a curious dialect. A dialect that has unclear semantics, little or no grammar, and is full of exaggerated rhythmic and melodic diversions. Nevertheless, babies love it. They react, cooing with pleasure, to melodies that are not unlike pop songs as ‘De do do do, de da da da’ of The Police or ‘La la la’ by Kylie Minoque. This babbling, or, more formally, infant-direct speech (IDS), differs from normal adult speech by its high pitch, exaggerated melodic contours, a slower tempo, and more rhythmic variation. A kind of ‘musilanguage’ indeed.

IDS is a widespread phenomenon that is —as far as we know— present in all cultures and has more similarities than differences, even when some characteristics of IDS conflict with the rules of the adult language, like Chinese. Hence, it is unlikely that IDS is ‘just’ a preparation for language -- until recently the most common interpretation.

Laurel Trainor, and her team at McMaster University (Ontario, Canada) suggests that IDS is essentially a tool to communicate emotion. The decoding of the speech patterns into their emotional meaning is something infants can do easily, and long before they learn about language. In that sense, it seems more likely that language makes use of faculties special to music then that it emerged as a side effect of language (as as suggested once by a well-known cognitive psychologist).

ResearchBlogging.orgLaurel J. Trainor, Caren M. Austin, Renee N. Desjardins (2000). Is Infant-Directed Speech Prosody a Result of the Vocal Expression of Emotion? Psychological Science, 11 (3), 188-195 DOI: 10.1111/1467-9280.00240

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Does exposure matter? (Part 2)

Today an entry in Dutch on the same topic as a week ago: Does exposure matter? Hendrik Spiering, science editor of NRC Handelsblad, wrote a short, well-written article on the results:
"Subtiele muzikale verschillen in frasering en timing worden ook opgemerkt door liefhebbers zonder enige muzikale training. Vaak luisteren naar een specifiek muzikaal genre is genoeg. Dit blijkt uit een onderzoek waarbij muzikale experts en 'gewone' liefhebbers een serie van telkens twee versies van dezelfde stukken - jazz, rock en klassiek - moesten beoordelen op 'natuurlijkheid'. Er bleek geen verschil tussen mensen met veel en die met weinig muzikale opleiding, wel maakt het veel uit of ze vaak hadden geluisterd naar muziek, en naar welk genre. Subtiele afwijkingen in de frasering van klassieke muziek werden het best ontdekt door mensen die veel naar klassiek hadden geluisterd, die in jazz-muziek door mensen die vaak naar klassiek of jazz hadden geluisterd. Voor rock bleek de muziekvoorkeur niet uit te maken, mogelijk omdat in een moderne samenleving iedereen wel wordt blootgesteld aan rock."
Voor het volledige artikel, zie hier.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How did music evolve?

This week a podcast from the Guardian on music, the brain, and evolutionary psychology (by James Randerson, Francesca Panetta and Marcus Pearce | guardian). How did music evolve, how is it linked to language, and how is it understood by the brain.

Ian Cross (Cambridge University) talks about how music acts as a social tool. Eric Clarke (Oxford University) talks about musical meaning and why dance music has such a profound effect on a club full of revellers. Adena Schachner (Harvard University) talks about her analyses of birds in relation to beat induction. In addition, snippets of Stefan Koelsch (Sussex University), Ani Patel (Neuroscience Institute, San Diego), Andrea Norton (Harvard Medical School), Geraint Wiggins (Goldsmiths College London) and Paul Robertson (founder and leader of the Medici String Quartet) can be heard.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Does exposure matter?

Last week the University of Amsterdam issued a press release on the results of our study on musical competence and the role of exposure (to be published in an upcoming issue of JEP:HPP). I didn’t expect it to have too much impact, but it is surprising to see how many news sites simply copied the text of the original release:
"Researchers at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have demonstrated how much the brain can learn simply through active exposure to many different kinds of music. The common view among music scientists is that musical abilities are shaped mostly by intense musical training, and that they remain rather rough in untrained listeners, the so-called Expertise hypothesis. However, the UvA-study shows that listeners without formal musical training, but with sufficient exposure to a certain musical idiom (the Exposure hypothesis), perform similarly in a musical task when compared to formally trained listeners. Furthermore, the results show that listeners generally do better in their preferred musical genre. As such the study provides evidence for the idea that some musical capabilities are acquired through mere exposure to music."
My compliments, therefore, to those journalists who actually read the publication and gave their own perspective on the results, such as Wired, and Wissenschaft Actuel, with a special mention for NRC Handelsblad :-)

Friday, August 08, 2008

What is the point of a mechanical shoe?

Fragment of the UvA tv-series De Fascinatie on the computational modeling of music cognition.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Music ≠ sound?

This week another fragment of the tv-series The Fascination on research by scholars and scientists of the University of Amsterdam. The fragment below is about music cognition and is questioning the common definition of music as being (structured) sound.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Does it matter what your child listens too?

This week a link to a newspaper article by Jeremy Eichler of the Boston Globe. Last week he phoned a number of researchers in music cognition asking for advice on what to play to his newborn son; he was wondering whether he could take advantage of the latest insights presented at the Music & Language Conference organized by Tufts University. The newspaper article reports on advice given by prominent cognitive scientists like Steven Pinker, Laurel Trainer and Glenn Schellenberg, but also mentions our work on musical competence and the role of exposure that is about to be published.

See Jeremy Eichler’s light-hearted personal report in the Boston Globe of his 'yearlong quest to grasp the infant musical mind' (or pdf).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Has it been 25 years already?

The Music & Language conference —seeing its second edition this year— is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff's landmark book ‘A Generative Theory of Tonal Music’ (GTTM for short). An important book in the short history of music cognition that is widely cited, from computer science to experimental psychology.

As I wrote elsewhere (Honing, 2006), I believe that the fact that theories —such as GTTM—, with the ambition to formalize certain aspects of music theory, has led to a greater visibility of musicology at large, especially outside the humanities. The fact that a theory is presented in a formal way allows for an easier formulation of hypotheses, the making of precise predictions, and, consequently, the testing and evaluation of these. As such, it makes this style of music theory compelling to both computer scientists and experimental psychologists. This development is an important example of how a methodology (adapted from, and shared with the sciences) serves as a vehicle — a format for the transmission of ideas between science and the humanities— that turned out to be very influential.

However, it has to be noted that there are also examples that were less successful. For instance, theories on music that were developed in the sciences, such as Christopher Longuet-Higgins’ work in the 1970s. This research did not reach the music community in the way one would have expected, even though it is presented in a compelling and formalized form. Thus, the transmission of ideas in formalized form could well be primarily one-directional :-\

On Thursday night Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff’s both joined the stage and reflected on what happened then, in the period leading up to the publication of the book, the late 1970s. While both went their own ways since then, the memories radiated a close, and mutually inspiring relationship effectuated in meetings at kitchen tables and private homes. One more example that interdisciplinary and collaborative work can lead to important developments and changes in science.

Lerdahl, F., Jackendoff, R. (1983). A generative theory of tonal music. Cambridge: MIT Press

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A fascination for music cognition?

This week a link to an episode of UvA's tv-series The Fascination. This episode is on music cognition, and is directed by Bob van Gijzel. Click here for the ten minute video with English subtitles.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Listen and learn?

This week Nature published a last in a series of nine essays on the topic of Science and Music, containing essays by Huron, Trainor, Patel and others (see also podcast). The last one was by John Sloboda, renowned for his excellent research in the psychology of music, music and emotion and a variety of educational issues in music. In his essay he stresses —like in his well-known article What makes a musician?— that talent for music is a myth, in the sense that it is not special but a 'talent' we all share. Listen and learn is one of the headings of the essay. Sloboda writes:
"One beneficial effect of the careful scientific probing of listeners' experiences is that it often demonstrates their hidden musical competence. Studies of encoding and memory reveal musical intelligence in people's recall errors: they tend to substitute a note or chord that serves a similar musical function. This shows that they have subconsciously internalized the rules of musical grammar. Other studies show that the ability to sing in tune can be dramatically improved by simple well-targeted feedback, suggesting that many abilities are already in place but are masked by the absence of one simple cognitive component."
More and more evidence is provided, by research teams in both Europe and North-America, that shows that responses of musically untrained listeners tend to be highly correlated with those of musically trained listeners (including our own Internet study on musical competence and the role of exposure that will be presented next week at the Music and Language conference organized by Tufts University in Boston). These studies suggest that musical competence can be improved (or altered) by mere exposure to music, without the help of explicit training. Listen and learn, indeed.

Sloboda, J. (2008). Science and Music: The ear of the beholder. Nature, 454(7200), 32-33. DOI: 10.1038/454032a

Friday, June 27, 2008

Is beat induction special? (Part 4)

Beat induction has been a recurring topic on this blog. The topic was also the focus at the opening symposium of the Neurosciences and Music Conference, currently being held in Montreal, Canada. Especially researchers like Jessica A. Grahn (Cognition and Brain Science Unit, Cambridge), Joel S. Snyder (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), Ed W. Large (Florida Atlantic University) and John R. Iversen (Neursosciences Institute, San Diego) talked about different aspects of beat perception and synchonization in relation to the structure of the brain.

While there is quite some agreement that auditory rhythm processing is associated with movement and auditory brain areas, also some deeper brain areas were proposed as candidates. An elegant series of studies was presented by Joyce L. Chen (McGill University, Montreal) that went a step further in looking for patterns in how these brain areas might be interrelated. She could show (using a very nice design in which behavioral data informs and helps the analyses of brain imaging data) an intimate linkage between the auditory and premotor brain circuit, a link that was suggested to be “at the core of what links music, movement and language together”.

However, in how far beat induction is special –in the sense that it might be a uniquely human trait (see earlier blog)– is still under much discussion. Ed W. Large (Florida State University) mentioned in his talk yesterday that he is currently testing bonobo’s on having beat induction (Needless to say that he is optimistic on that, but the results will only be published later this year). This morning Aniruddh D. Patel (The Neurosciences Institute, San Diego) presented a poster with the first data of the ‘dancing cockatoo’ (mentioned in an earlier blog). Below a short compilation of some of the recordings that Patel’s group analyzed and presented here at the Neurosciences and Music conference (with the kind permission of Ani Patel):


The video is convincing in suggesting that the cockatoo seems to be really sensitive -at least in these fragments- to the tempo of the music and can be argued to really listen and able to pick up the induced beat. When looking at the actual measurements however, the story is less convincing. Five video’s where recorded, of which three had to be rejected because the experimenter might have moved along while the video was made. In the remaining two video’s ‘successful’ dancing on the beat was ranging between 2.5% to 20% of the trials (an episode of say one minute of dancing). Part of the problem, quite interesting from a methodological and statistical point of view, is how to show that all this is better than chance.

Patel, A.D., et al., . (2008). Investigating the human-specificity of synchronization to music. In: M. Adachi et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Music Perception and Cognition Conference (ICMPC10), Sapporo: Japan / Adelaide: Causal Productions.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Combining science and music in Montréal?

I’m about to leave for Montréal, Canada. Next week, at McGill University, the third Neurosciences and Music conference is held: four days of presentations on new research in music cognition and related fields, with presentations by well-known researchers like Steven Mithen, Isabelle Peretz, Sandra Trehub and others.

Ani Patel and colleagues will present their intriguing analyses of the ‘dancing cockatoo’ (see earlier blog), and our group will report on an exiting study we did on meter and syncopation with adults and newborns in collaboration with the Institute of Psychology in Budapest.

At about the same time there is the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal – a good second excuse to travel. I look forward to, for instance, the solo concert of Brad Melhdau. More next week in some extra blog entries.

P.S. See also discussion on Science and Music in Nature last month.

Patel, A.D. (2008). Science & Music: Talk of the tone. Nature, 453(7196), 726-727. DOI: 10.1038/453726a

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

'Mannen gevoeliger voor muziek': Populariserende wetenschap? [Dutch]

Vandaag verscheen er een persbericht (via ANP) met de titel 'Mannen gevoeliger voor muziek dan vrouwen' over (gesponsored) onderzoek naar de reactie van mannen en vrouwen op muziek. De geschreven pers pikte het bericht gretig op (zie overzicht; zo'n 900 hits als dit geschreven wordt).

Het onderzoek blijkt echter ‘vertrouwelijk’ en betaald door opdrachtgever Sony Ericsson: het onderzoeksrapport is niet in te zien (ik werd verwezen naar een PR medewerker van de telefoonfabrikant: "[dr Moxon] is not aloud [sic!] to give out all the research that has been done.").

Op de website is de missie van de onderzoeker te lezen: het verzorgen van "consultancy which gives you fast, highly-creative and psychologically-endorsed stories that grab the headlines". Met succes dus. ‘Free publicity’ voor een telefoonfabrikant die een nieuw mobieltje wil promoten. En de pers, de ANP voorop, loopt er met open ogen in.

Dr David Moxon kon mij evenmin vertellen of hij ooit eerder op dit gebied gepubliceerd had. Volgens hem bestaan er maar zeer weinig vergelijkbare studies. Er is echter legio literatuur over de cognitieve en fysiologische reacties op muziek te vinden. Google maar eens op namen als Krumhansl, Huron of Zatorre. Maar natuurlijk hebben zij niet het smeuïge resultaat dat Moxon vond.

Dit is populariserende wetenschap op z’n slechtst. Vandaar dat ik me verplicht voelde er een stukje over te schrijven.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Did the University of Amsterdam win?

No. Nevertheless, we had some great fun in preparing and presenting our ideas and plans. The University of Groningen and Maastricht won first and second prize in last night's finals of the Dutch Academic Year Prize. Congratulations to the teams of Peter Barthel and Eric Postma. Great work!

Below some fragments from our presentation and the jury response. We, unfortunately, did not get a prize, but nevertheless got many supportive reactions.*

A big thanks to Olivia Ladinig, Vivienne Aerts, Shane Burmania, and Leigh M. Smith for all their energy, and great ideas, they put in preparing for this event!

Jury response:

Impression of the finals (made by Bas Broertjes, Campus Tv):

Fragments of the presentation (part 1):

Fragments of the presentation (part 2):

For all video material of the finals, see here.

* I’m quite sure there will be alternative ways of realizing our plans promoting the field of music cognition (cf. AJP proposal)

Monday, June 09, 2008

In Amsterdam this week?

Today an unrelated, yet passionate plug for my brother Yuri, who presents his new album Meet Your Demons at De Melkweg in Amsterdam this week.

If you like some (con)fusion, you might want to check it out. However, note that subtlety was never his merit ;-)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Good vibrations at science festival?

Currently I am at the Cheltenham Science Festival in England, an annual five-day ‘feast of debate, delight and entertainment’, as the organizers promote it.

And indeed, it is quite an extraordinary initiative: a festival with an attendance that can easily be compared to a popular jazz or pop festival. Next to numerous one-hour lectures, there were several panels, debates, and presentations by scientists like Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and Martin Rees.

Yesterday night I presented, together with neuroscientist Martin Coath (Plymouth University), the results of our European EmCAP research consortium on music cognition. All this under the, admittedly, somewhat smooth title ‘Good Vibrations’.

Martin Coath, a gifted speaker and FameLab finalist, got a large crowd enthusiastically doing a live experiment on relative pitch, and I presented our latest research on the similarities in listening skills between expert musicians and ‘ordinary’ listeners. Furthermore, we gave a preview of some of the preliminary results of collaborative work done with the research team of Istvan Winkler (Budapest) on, e.g., the sensitivity for rhythm and beat induction in babies of just one or two days old.
N.B. More on this at the end of this month when we will present the actual results at the Neuroscience & Music Conference in Montreal.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Want to join the finals?

Next week the final of the Academische Jaarpijs will be held in Leiden, The Netherlands. The UvA-team aims to show that we all have a talent for music, and that the listener actually plays an active role in what makes music special. AJPThis will be communicated to a larger audience by a website and a tv-show, made by the UvA-team in collaboration with five partners from the creative industry.
Below, a sneak preview of one of our rehearsals (the enthousiastic 'voice-over' is by group member Leigh M. Smith :-)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Een luisterende machine? [Dutch]

This week another fragment of the video that was directed by Bob van Gijzel (AVC/UvA) as part of a series of short films with the title De Fascinatie: Scholars and scientists from the Universiteit van Amsterdam talk about their fascination in research:

Click here for the full episode.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Final ritards in Balinese music?

This week an interesting article appeared in Empirical Musicology Review, an open peer-reviewed journal on music. Andrew McGraw (University of Richmond) discusses the use of tempo-change in Balinese music.

The most common kind of tempo-change is often referred to as the ‘final ritard’: the typical slowing down at the end of a music performance, apparent in Javanese and Balinese gamelan music, music from the Western Baroque and Romantic period, but also in quite some pop and jazz genres.

An important contribution to this topic is made by a family of computational theories, so-called ‘kinematic models’, that propose an explicit relation between the laws of physical motion (elementary mechanics) in the real world and chaneg of tempo (so-called "expressive timing") in music performance. These models were shown to produce a good fit with a variety of empirical performance data, suggesting that the final ritard alludes to human movement: the pattern of runners’ deceleration.

Unfortunately, the McGraw study is yet another example of a study that takes ‘tempo curves’ too seriously as a potential description, or even mental representation, of tempo-change in music (A hobby horse of mine that I shouldn't bring in once more; cf. here).

Furthermore, the author seems to be unaware of the notorious mistake made by Feldman, Epstein and Richards (MIT, Cambridge, Mass.) in their 1992 study. In there the authors propose a theory of tempo change (or rubato) based on the laws of physical motion, but in the end fit the empirical data to models unrelated to these laws. So indeed, the conclusion that "previous idealized models are too simplistic to describe Balinese music" is correct. In fact, it has been shown for both music performance and music perception. The challenge is still to model the regularity and structure that can characterize this particular use of tempo rubato.

Nevertheless, the paper is a much needed contribution to music perception and cognition research by studying other than Western classical music, a genre that is still dominating the literature.

McGraw, A.C. (2008). The Perception and Cognition of Time in Balinese Music. Empirical Musicology Review, 3(2), 38-54.

HONING, H. (2005). IS THERE A PERCEPTION-BASED ALTERNATIVE TO KINEMATIC MODELS OF TEMPO RUBATO?. Music Perception, 23(1), 79-85. DOI: 10.1525/mp.2005.23.1.79

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Amsterdam Weekly reader?

Today a short entry for readers of the Amsterdam Weekly that have been referred to this blog: The test mentioned in the article by Laura Bruun can be found here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Zonder luisteraar geen muziek" [Part 3]

Today our team finalized an elaborate communication plan to promote music cognition research to a larger audience. It is part of the demands for university research teams that are nominated for the Dutch Academische Jaarprijs (an initiative of NRC Handelsblad in cooperation with NWO, KNAW and Shell; see earlier blog-entries with the same tag).

We will have to defend our plan on June 11th in the Leidse Schouwburg (photo above), when also the winner of the Battle of the Universities 07/08 will be announced. We can't say too much about our plans (it's supposed to be a 'battle' :-) but see below some snippets of the opening and ending of an interactive dvd that accompanies our ambitious plans. We hope the jury will like it.