Wednesday, April 28, 2010

V is for Velocity

The results of research into the physics, psychophysics and neuroscience of music are often fascinating, but also, as a practicing musician, often frustrating.  This frustration is due, in part, to an inherent pessimism, in that the subject of research is typically constrained by existing musical repertoire and its material qualities and existing conditions for performance and audition. Far more interesting, for a composer like me, would be exploration of the potential and means for musicians and listeners to go beyond those constraints.   It is one thing, for example, to determine limits for pitch perception under conventional listening contexts, but it is quite another thing to investigate ways and contexts through which these limits may be expanded.  Further, there is a real frustration that much research — research in audio recording somewhat excepted — does not focus on issues of urgent compositional interest.  For example, I would really like to know more about how fast a listener can take in and process musical information. In some cases — as real musical variety encompasses both clarity and opacity —  the compositional interest is not only creating music which can be taken in and analyzed by a listener but also in making music which overwhelms the whole sensory and cognitive apparatus.  It would be very useful to have more empirical insight into this issue.  


John Oliver said...

I have also been interested in these issues in much of my orchestral writing, especially where I pile up layers of sound using traditional techniques, like imitation or fugue, to a point where questions of masking and phasing start to take over, where multiple lines become texture. It's what I call the Jim Dine phenomenon of being at once "representational" and "textural". Science can only go with 'measurable' most of the time. When sound becomes complex, perception shifts away from the conventional materials of music (melody, harmony, rhythm). The science of perception is perhaps still young? I'll have to revisit. Can you post some links here to recent research? Thanks.

Samuel Vriezen said...

Daniel, perhaps this research is more properly compositional research than neurological/psychoacoustic? Since our familiarity with some musical form is so fundamental in determining how much of it we can take in (or how much we take from it) at any meaningful level.

Daniel Wolf said...


I believe that we agree that the extent and limits of music are open and defined, provisionally, by composition. That said, as a composer, I welcome all the help I can get with regard to questions of performance practice and technology.


I'd like to hear some of your music; the territory between our perceptual/conceptual boundaries — between pitch and timbre, for example, or your example of polyphony and texture — is extraordinarily rich.

As for research, I would start with Richard Parncutt's book (it's online at his homepage) and Martin Braun's webpage and then start following up on any area that interests you.