Music & Science Symposium 2018: Highlights of the Event

Last month, the Music & Science Lab held its third Music & Science Symposium; a one-day event at the Music Department at Durham University. The day was jam-packed with interesting talks on diverse topics from researchers, both from Durham University and other Universities. One of the main focuses of this symposium was to be a postgraduate learning experience, and thus, postgraduate students were involved in the organisation of the event, while some also had the opportunity to give a presentation on the day. The event was relatively small and informal; however, it was bursting with information waiting to be absorbed. What follows is a run-down of the day, the highlights, and outcomes. 

The symposium loosely followed the theme of ‘Rhythm, Movement & Affect’, which encompassed the first session of talks and the keynote presentation. The day started out with our own Dr Kelly Jakubowski presenting the idea that social factors and culture affects the aesthetic evaluation of the arts. More specifically, social factors affect microrhythmic variations in music, which produces what is known as ‘expressive timing’. Kelly presented the results of a study where the effect of microrhythmic variations on aesthetic evaluations of groove-based music was tested across the UK, Uruguay and Mali. Results showed that there was a general preference towards an isochronous metric grid, particularly in culturally unfamiliar music and in non-musicians. Professor Martin Clayton followed this presentation by giving an end-of-project report on the Interpersonal Entrainment in Music Performance (IEMP) project, which dealt with developing a better understanding of how groups of people coordinate their behaviour within diverse musical contexts. Martin took us through the existing methods for measuring entrainment, such as asynchrony/phase analysis of audio onsets, and also presented a novel method for entrainment measurement: video movement analysis. Martin also announced the release of the first part of the IEMP corpus, which encompasses a collection of audio-visual recordings of North Indian (Hindustani) Raga performances with detailed annotations (this can be found here). The first session concluded with a talk by Dr Laura Leante on using Thomas Turino’s presentational performance model to interpret how performers use the meter of a musical composition to engage with each other and the audience during performances, using a case study of an Indian music performance for a more detailed explanation. 

Dr Kelly Jakubowski explaining the results of the study carried out in the UK, Uruguay and Mali

The much-anticipated keynote presentation started straight after the coffee break (we can all agree that coffee and biscuits make everything better!), with Dr Maria Witek (University of Birmingham) explaining the effects of music on pleasure, body-movement, and the brain. The structural characteristics of groove were outlined (repetition, microtiming, and syncopation), and different research questions were presented. Maria discussed in detail methods used (online surveys and motion capture study) to analyse the relationship between syncopation and subjective experience of groove, the interaction between syncopation and sensorimotor synchronisation in groove, and the relationship between harmonic and rhythmic complexity in musical groove. Furthermore, Maria also talked about using fMRI for data collection, and introduced a new method of analysis and brain metastability that suggests the body is getting ready to move. A comparison between the different processes of the brain was also made, comparing the enactivist and inferential models, and their effect on the existing approaches of studying musical processes. The keynote sparked a lot of interest, which was reflected in the fantastic discussion that followed it during the Q&A section.

Dr Maria Witek delivering the excellent keynote

After a very stimulating morning, we broke for lunch, where the riveting conversation continued. The second half of the day followed the common theme of ‘Music and Emotions’. The second session began with a very interesting talk by Professor Pam Heaton (Goldsmiths, University of London), presenting her work on the perception of musical and vocal emotions in children with Williams Syndrome. Perceptual and cognitive characteristics in Williams Syndrome were highlighted and the influence of the deficit in visual and spatial processing on recognition of emotion perception in music was explained. 

The second half of the symposium saw postgraduate students presenting their research. Mr Thomas Magnus Lennie, a PhD Candidate at Durham University, followed Professor Heaton’s talk with a presentation on universality in musical emotions. Furthermore, he explored the similarities between acoustic cues in speech and music, as well as presenting a summary of cross-modal patterns of acoustic cues for discrete emotions from new findings from an online cross-cultural experiment.

Mr Thomas Magnus Lennie presenting his work on universality in musical emotions

Lennie’s talk was followed by a much-needed coffee break (all the discussions left us parched!), after which Ms Diana Kayser, a PhD candidate from the York Music Psychology Group YMPG (University of York) talked about the difference between musical emotions and everyday emotions. Diana presented technology that allows for readings of facial expressions as a new method for data collection of induced emotions and identification of distinct induced emotions in music listening research. Ms Sarah Hashim (Durham University) concluded this last section with an interesting talk about the relationship between visual imagery and emotional response during music listening. Sarah explored the notion that music-induced visual imagery can be suppressed, which was proven to be possible by engaging participants in visuo-spatial tasks while listening to music. 

Ms Diana Kayser giving a talk on aesthetic emotions

After a wonderful series of riveting talks, Professor Tuomas Eerola led a group discussion of the themes highlighted throughout the day, and also posed questions about the outcomes of the talks and possible ideas for the future. The highly engaging group discussion sparked propositions for future collaborations and further research. The event was drawn to a close as everyone was famished, and we then made our way to dinner, where the discussion on the day’s events carried on.

Thanks goes out to everyone who contributed to make this event a success: all the presenters and people who travelled to Durham for the symposium; the highly engaging audience; the individuals who lent a helping hand in the organisation of this event. We would also like to thank the Centre for Academic and Researcher Development (CAROD) at Durham University for funding the event, allowing for refreshments and lunch throughout this wonderful, intellectually-engaging symposium. Finally, a special thanks goes to Mr Matt Moore and Dr George Athanasopoulos for providing their notes and input on the event.

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