Last week, two of our Music & Science Lab members presented their research at the International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition (ICMPC)/European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM) in Graz, Austria. For those who missed it (or those who attended but are curious to hear another perspective), here’s a summary of some of the many highlights for us:
Highlights of my ICMPC15/ESCOM10 experience include seeing a huge variety of talks and posters on everything from social aspects of musical synchronisation (Birgitta Burger, Makiko Sadakata, Joshua Bamford, Jan Stupacher, Tommi Himberg) to reasons for listening to contemporary classical music (Iris Mencke) to emotional responses to music in pregnancy (Katie Rose Sanfilippo, Nora Schaal). It was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with many former classmates, students, and mentors, and I was really pleased to get to present some initial findings from my new research project on music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs), which will run for 3 years from September. In particular, it was great to find out about some other very recent research on MEAMs, and to discuss potential collaborations with several interested (and interesting!) researchers. Below I present a brief summary of just some of the many themes and topics that permeated this conference.
There were several presentations that either used existing methods in new ways or developed novel paradigms for studying a variety of important questions in our field. Lauren Hadley presented a well-designed study on cognitive control and task automatization in music learning in children and adults using functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS). This is a portable and non-invasive method for studying brain activity that is particularly useful for studying children and musical activities due to its relatively large tolerance for movement during data acquisition. This conference also saw an increase in interest in pupillometry as a relatively inexpensive and objective measure of arousal and/or attentional processes during music listening, including presentations from Pablo Graf Ancochea on pupil responses to music that varied in groove characteristics and Lauren Fink on entrainment of the pupil to prominent periodicities in music. Diana Omigie’s research on the coupling of respiration rates in a professional choir—in particular when members of the group were in physical contact with one another—provided stimulating methodological insights that are highly relevant to some of our own ongoing work in Durham (see our Breath of Music and string quartet projects). In addition, Luiz Naveda’s keynote speech provided some excellent and novel ideas for visualizing and quantifying dance gestures from motion capture data. In terms of new paradigms, I especially liked Manuel Anglada-Tort’s adaptation of the misinformation paradigm from the visual domain (Loftus, 1978) for studying musical false memories, which has potential applications in areas such as musical plagiarism cases that rely on expert ‘earwitnesses’, and Ioanna Filippidi’s use of a ‘musical diet’ to test the effects of recent exposure on the experience of earworms by eliminating participants’ exposure to music for three days.
Another aspect of the research process that we in Durham have been particularly interested in recently is corpus development and data sharing. Although there is still a long way to go in this area, there were a few exciting examples of people making their corpora and code available to other researchers. Olivier Senn, Lorenz Kilchenmann, and Florian Hoesl gave engaging presentations on their research on rhythm and groove using their freely-available corpus, the Lucerne Groove Research Library, while Klaus Frieler presented a comprehensive analysis of walking bass patterns from the impressive Jazzomat corpus. In the very first session of the conference, Fabian Moss presented a harmonic and formal analysis of a less commonly studied genre, Brazilian Choro music, for which the corpus and code will soon be available here. A related theme was the use of existing databases and archives for answering music psychology-related questions. A good example here was the work presented by Alex Lamont on autobiographical and emotional features of songs reported on the Desert Island Discs programme, which asks UK celebrities to report and discuss a list of songs they would take with them if deserted on an island; archives of these programmes from 1942 to the present are freely available and provide a rich source of interview data on musical preferences and memories.
In terms of new theoretical contributions, highlights included an engaging talk by Juan Loaiza comparing mechanistic to dynamical (system-level) frameworks, and a subsequent talk in the same session by Hasan Gürkan Tekman on music as collective memory. Another provocative theme emerged in Luiz Naveda’s keynote, which advocated for a mid-level approach between the entirely subjective world of music in ‘the wild’ and the objective and reductionist approaches of traditional scientific inquiry, which often consider and exclude individual variability as ‘noise’. Naveda also highlighted the need to incorporate intentional and creative variation within frameworks such as dynamical systems theory. Finally, Peter Harrison gave a clear and convincing talk in which he used computational modeling approaches to compare sensory (e.g. auditory short-term memory) and cognitive (e.g. statistical learning) explanations for harmonic expectation, which revealed overwhelming evidence for the latter, at least in the pop music corpus employed in this study.
Finally, one poster that received a lot of attention was ‘Visualizing Music Psychology: Who, What, When, and Where?’ by Manuel Anglada-Tort and Katie Rose Sanfilippo. They used a bibliometric approach to survey the dominant themes, authors, and countries in our field and produced a variety of attractive visualisations using the ‘bibliometrix’ R package. One especially exciting aspect of this work was that our lab’s own Tuomas Eerola was the highest scorer in the field in the ‘Dominance’ metric they used, which takes account not only of citations but number of first-authored publications.
In regard to the conference in general, this was a groundbreaking event since it was, to my knowledge, the first international conference to involve four hubs (Graz, Montreal, Sydney, La Plata) on four different continents that were connected via a semi-virtual format. This allowed for close to 800 participants to engage in the conference, either by attending a hub or via virtual attendance. The technical team (led in Graz by Nils Meyer-Kahlen and Katharina Pollack) did a fantastic job of coordinating activities across the hubs and allowing for discussions spanning all four sites, and it was a surprise to many of us how few technical difficulties were experienced overall (and how quickly any problems were addressed by the team). Another positive development was the use of an innovative timekeeping system (developed by Hannes Karlbauer) whereby a piece of music was selected at random and began playing to signal the end of each presentation and allow for timely changeover between speakers and for attendees to switch between rooms.
One downside of this hub-based approach was that many of the participants, myself included, felt we had missed an opportunity to properly engage in meaningful, face-to-face conversations with colleagues and potential collaborators on other continents. This was particularly hard on some of the early career researchers who are presently trying to get an idea of the range of people they might eventually be interested in working with as postdocs and beyond. However, one quite interesting point that arose was that the majority of the attendees in La Plata in particular expressed that they would not have been able to attend the conference at all had it only been held in Graz. Thus, the use of such formats does need to be considered seriously in relation to issues of widening participation in the field, in particular for inclusion of researchers beyond North America and Europe.
Judging from the reactions, either in-person or across the growing social media and tweeting culture permeating within the music and science research field, my experience aligns with the consensus regarding the novel ICMPC15/ESCOM10 conference; a brave, stimulating success. There were numerous highlights, involving great research, presentations, discussions, and getting to know other researchers. The conference showcased some excellent new research on music, emotion and visual imagery (Mats Küssner, Simon Schaerlaeken, Liila Taruffi, Robina Day), interesting talks regarding music processing and expectations (David Quiroga, Peter Harrison), through to rhythmic entrainment and a focus on resisting entrainment in a ‘rhythm battle’ (Tommi Himberg). As I move ever closer to the final year of my PhD project on musical chills, it was great to meet with scholars interested in some of my research, whilst also having the chance to speak with various researchers who are currently working in fields of emotion psychology that are becoming more intertwined with my theories and ideas, regarding certain peak experiences with music and other artistic domains. I learned a great many things from others regarding the possible paradigms for studying lyrics and emotion, the opportunities, difficulties and limitations of introducing different methodologies to the field of chills such as electroencephalograhy (EEG), and the use of developing applications for experience sampling methodologies and strong, everyday musical experiences. As a final opening point, it was fantastic to see the growing reputation of our Music & Science Lab at Durham, and with more PhD students joining this coming year, this trend looks set to continue.
As the general themes and novel methodologies have been highlighted earlier, I will give some insight into several personal, key highlights in the research projects presented and showcased at ICMPC15/ESCOM10. The first was regarding visual imagery as a mechanism of emotion induction in music listening, as proposed by Patrik Juslin; some exciting and ambitious work from Robina Day investigated the emotion induction sequence: does emotion induce visual imagery, vice-versa, or is there a mutual, complex interaction? This is an important question, but one that is difficult to get into. Despite this, early results suggest that in reaction time paradigms (pressing a button when experiencing emotion and imagery), the emotion was reported first, followed by visual imagery. From this, a great many fascinating questions follow, such as how this may differ depending on the music itself, and individual traits of the listener, such as preferences and personality.
A further presentation of interest was given by Peter Harrison from Queen Mary, University of London, describing a nicely designed comparative study between computational models derived either from auditory short-term memory theories, or statistical learning processes (IDyOM, managed by Marcus Pearce), and seeing how these compare to human judgments of ‘surprisingness’. By having participants listen to 300 chord sequences, some more ‘expected’ or ‘right’ than others, Peter provided evidence that statistical learning processes were more highly correlated with human performance than models based on auditory short-term memory; however, some fascinating questions regarding musical style and genre were raised, especially considering that some pretty common chord progressions from popular music caused trouble for some computational models employed.
Another highlight was hearing from Niels Chr. Hansen and his recent work with David Huron about the prevalence of instrumental solos in sad music. This type of corpus approach can be quite revealing about a certain type of music, or music from a certain historical or cultural period; interestingly, some of the findings, particularly with regards to sadness and instrumental solos, may naturally transfer to experimental music listening paradigms and could be quite exciting. I had a great interest in hearing some of what Niels had to say, especially given that my own research on musical chills suggests that solo voices and instruments are often moments in which these responses are elicited.
Landon Peck from Oxford University also, in roughly ten minutes, presented a great discussion of the enigmatic, poorly understood, complex concept of emotional awe, presenting some preliminary data that will hopefully elucidate some of the characteristics of the experience in the future; as awe may have some crossover with certain chills experiences, I will be interested to see where this goes. Elsewhere, Sabrina Sattman presented some recent work on musical chills, suggesting that the perennial link between openness to experience and chills may be mediated by certain components of trait empathy as measured by the Interpersonal Reactivity Index.
As a final highlight, it was very nice to speak with Alinka Greasley from the University of Leeds again, having done my Master’s degree there several years ago. Alinka’s funded project on the experience of music for those with hearing aids looks to be concluding soon, and a large amount of high impact results were presented in her talk at ICMPC15/ESCOM10, such as how hearing aids may positively or negatively impact the music listening experience, depending on mode of listening and environment (live or recorded music). Developing hearing aid plans and procedures with audiologists is integral to normal musical experience and engagement for those with hearing loss, and the research presented from Leeds seems to offer a great selection of data-driven guides, suggestions and information.
Echoing the sentiments expressed by those at the conference, the multi-hub format was risky, with the potential for any number of technical complications; in fact, the proceedings ran smoothly with very little issue, a testament to the brilliant technical and organization team behind the conference. The keynotes from Montreal, La Plata and Sydney were all executed seamlessly, and judging from the subsequent questions, Jonna Vuoskoski communicated her Graz keynote successfully to the other hubs as well. Of course, the main downside, which seems difficult to deal with at this stage considering current technology, is the inability to interact in-person or at a zero-latency standard with other researchers; there is so much about face-to-face interaction that is not replicated digitally (body language, rapport, timing of speech, and more subjective impressions that can matter a great deal in professional relationships), which can be especially important for early career researchers looking for potential supervisors or collaborators for the future. For me personally, considering also that the SMPC and ESCOM conferences ran concurrently last year, I have still yet to meet many researchers from North and South America. However, the global foyer, in which people could catch and speak to others from different hubs was a neat concept, and future iterations of the format could focus on this area of improvement which has a lot of potential.