Investigating the psychology of live music in the field: Student-led projects at CTM 2020, Berlin

This year, a group of undergraduate students attending the 3rd year Psychology of Music module had the opportunity to conduct their empirical projects within the framework of an exciting international research programme in collaboration with another group of students from the Department of Musicology and Media Studies at Humboldt University (Berlin, Germany). Supervised by Dr Liila Taruffi (Durham University) and Dr Mats Küssner (HU Berlin), the students from the two universities have been working together on four research projects that fall under the common goal of investigating the experience of contemporary live music directly in the field. Their research efforts will contribute to create a richer as well as more ecologically valid picture of the psychology of live music. This initiative was generously funded by SEMPREBritish Society of Aesthetics, and bologna.lab (HU Berlin). 

All four projects investigate different aspects relating to the audience’s experiences of attending a music festival. The first group’s project, led by Catalina, Beth, Ruby and Ludivine, investigates the effect of attending a live music festival on well-being. The second project, led by Juliane, Nina, Phil (Berlin) and Phil (Durham), explores mind-wandering during a concert, looking at how the music and visuals might affect the attendees’ thoughts and mental images. The third project by Nikolai, Ceren and Marlene regards music and gender, and investigates whether the artist’s gender has an effect on the emotions, anxiety and confidence levels evoked in the audience. The fourth project by Leonard and Florian focusses on communication of emotions between the artist and the audience. 

At the Department of Musicology and Media Studies of Humboldt University

After weeks of refining their experiment designs and preparing their questionnaires (Berlin-Durham Skype meetings were held fortnightly in Term 1), the students were ready to carry out data collection in the field; in this case, the field being a music festival. This is why, two weekends ago, the Durham University students accompanied by our own Annaliese and Liila travelled to Berlin for three days, to meet their project partners from Humboldt University, finalise the materials required for their studies, and carry out the data collection at the CTM 2020 (

Final preparations before the field work

The CTM Festival (festival for adventurous music and art) was founded in 1999, and it is an international festival which hosts a diverse range of music concerts, performances, and audio-visual installations which include contemporary, electronic, and experimental music, as well as club culture music. The CTM Festival is held in numerous locations spread across the vibrant city of Berlin, Germany. This year’s 10-day festival (24th January to 2nd February 2020) donned the theme of Liminal; phenomena or states that refer to transitional phases. The CTM Festival is a long-standing partner of the Department of Musicology and Media Studies at HU Berlin and kindly provided access to our team of young researchers.

CTM 2020 festival logo – taken from

Each group chose two live performances to attend, depending on the type of music they thought appropriate for their studies. Some of the selected artists were Deathprod, Jacob Kirkegaard, Dan Deacon, and Kamaal Williams. These performances varied from Deathprod’s soundscapes created with homemade electronics, filters, and modulators to name a few; to Jacob Kirkegaard’s ambient sounds’ work called Opus Mors, which consists of four pieces that represent four different processes that happen after death: a morgue, an autopsy, a cremation, and decomposition; to Dan Deacon’s electronic music, and Kamaal Williams’s fusion of Jazz and urban sounds. 

Deathprod performance – photo by @CTMFestival and @Deathprod on Twitter

The groups had pre-concert and/or post-concert questionnaires for audience members to fill in, and one group also developed a mobile app, which allowed for audience members to rate their evoked emotions during the music performance. Students collected data in various locations, such as concert halls, a club, as well a morgue-turned concert hall. The students had the first-hand experience of being researchers in the field, learn how to recruit participants in a very busy location and summarise a research project to explain to attendees. 

Enjoying the last lunch together before departure

The students will now have to work together to analyse the data collected, and they will present their research projects at a final workshop happening at Durham University on the 19th of June 2020. This time, the Berlin students will travel to Durham to be reunited with their group members and to conclude this fantastic research programme experience. Besides showcasing the outcome of the students’ projects, the workshop will also bring together leading researchers from music psychology and aesthetics, providing an interdisciplinary space to foster the understanding of contemporary live music experiences. Confirmed speakers include Karen Burland (University of Leeds), Stephanie Pitts (University of Sheffield), Andy Hamilton (Durham University), and Hauke Egermann (University of York).

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