NEMuR 7: A Day of Interdisciplinarity and Collaboration

Written by Aliyah Ramatally, Elizabeth Galbo & Joshua Schlichting

On Friday 11th of November, the Durham University Music and Science Lab hosted the 7th biannual meeting of the Northern Network for Empirical Music Research (NEMuR 7) at Van Mildert College, Durham, where participants from seven member institutions across Northern England gathered in-person and online. As the three of us involved in this blog post are newly upcoming researchers, it was our extreme privilege to take part in and be surrounded by extraordinary minds in our field. Within the span of the day, members collaborated in presenting and discussing many topics which challenged our ways of thinking.

Decolonisation Research Workshop

NEMuR 7 opened with an interactive decolonisation workshop, led by Dr Eduardo Coutinho University of Liverpool, Professor Alinka Greasley of University of Leeds, and Dr Kelly Jakubowski of Durham University. This workshop aimed to identify the most pressing issues arising from colonising thought processes in the music psychology field and ways of addressing them. Attendees worked in small groups, collaborating across subdisciplines and academic experience levels. Five issues were identified as most critical by the workshop attendees: the assumed use of validated measures in populations in which they were not validated, the lack of non-researcher input in study design, ethnocentricity in distinguishing “cultural” and “non-cultural” studies, the tendency to research “on” communities rather than “with” them, and the issue of linguistic privilege in academic research. When discussing how these issues could be addressed within current research practices, we determined that efforts must be made at all levels of academic frameworks. Increasing accessibility of academic journals by providing translation assistance to authors and encouraging preregistrations would de-Westernize the visibility of research already in existence. In terms of developing new research, academics can look for collaborative opportunities, consider the validity of their methods and theories within target populations, and incorporate the perspectives of these populations into study design from the outset. Those just entering the field can practise decolonisation by actively seeking out research from non-centred sources and encountering currently centred research through a critical lens to foster research tendencies that aim towards decolonisation. Members agreed that future NEMuR meetings will include sessions on decolonisation and feature key speakers with extensive experience on the topic.

In the Zoom room, discussions were just as lively as on-site. – Photo by Thomas Lennie via Twitter

Synchrony and Entrainment Workshop

First to present her project on synchrony and social bonding was Persefoni Tzanaki, a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. Her project explores the bidirectional relationship between empathy and interpersonal synchronisation in musical group interaction. She discussed that a positive feedback loop existed between empathy and synchronisation, as they enhance each other in relation to social behaviour, relationships, and personal traits. She outlined the first study of her project, ‘how does trait empathy affect the strength of the effects of interpersonal synchronisation and social bonding?’ Tasking persons to tap to the beat while synchronisation was manipulated, her results did not show a direct interaction between empathy and synchrony. It instead showed that faster tempo allowed for higher closeness and situational cognitive empathy and as a result, higher empathy allowed for stronger social bonding. With her stimulating research, she left us to question if there is a bilateral relationship between social behaviour and synchrony.

Hannah Gibbs, a current PhD student at the University of York, then presented her exploration of flow state in the context of Javanese gamelan performance. Using physiological methods, including a particularly novel way of recording ECG and skin conductance by attaching sensors to the foot to reduce performance interference, Gibbs found couplings of skin conductance levels between the participants. This coupling is physiological evidence of a shared flow experience. These results were similar across the experienced and non-experienced Gamelan players, signifying that although Gamelan is highly improvisatory, the process of making gamelan music creates a shared flow experience through interpersonal interaction.

Continuing the workshop was Professor Martin Clayton, Professor of Ethnomusicology at Durham University. His presentation elaborated on the methodology applied in and available to studies on entrainment and synchronisation, including the studies by the previous presenters. The coupling of two independent phases of events can be described in terms of accuracy and precision, where accuracy is the lead or lag of the events of one phase compared to the other phase, and precision means the closeness of matched events from the two phases. Both can be operationalised through measures of relative phase (a circular statistic) or asynchronisation (a linear statistic). While relative phase is useful in uncertain contexts where the matching of events is ambiguous, asynchronisation may be more useful for making comparisons across different kinds of music and allows for the computation of a group measure of synchronisation in ensemble performance. Therefore, the latter method was used in the analysis of the comprehensive corpus of the Interpersonal Entrainment in Music Performance (IEMP) project, in which several members of our MSL lab were involved.

The session closed with Professor Tuomas Eerola from Durham University who presented the R package ‘onsetsync.’ Developed in the course of the IEMP project, this is a powerful toolbox that facilitates the computation of the measures of synchronisation from audio data, as previously explained by Professor Martin Clayton. Eerola guided the audience through example calculations and shared tips for complex cases (which are quite common when analysing naturalistic music performance). In publicly sharing the collected data as well as the applied analysis methods, the IEMP project follows the principles of FAIR research (being Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable). In this regard, the presentation tied in with the highly important meta-debate on research practices that was stimulated in the decolonisation workshop. The ‘onsetsync’ package is available on GitHub.

Presenters of the Synchrony and Entrainment Workshop: Persefoni Tzanaki (University of Sheffield), Hannah Gibbs (University of York), Professor Martin Clayton (Durham University), and Professor Tuomas Eerola (Durham University)- Photos by Aliyah Ramatally

Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Music

The day then turned towards focusing on discussion on interdisciplinary collaboration featuring a panel of members who shared their unique experiences and thoughts on collaboration. Dr Caroline Waddington-Jones from University of York shared her experience with collaboration among music psychologists, music educators, and health sciences/community art practitioners. She featured her work with CoMusicate, a project producing music technology to aid the musical and social interactions of adults with mental health conditions. Dr Kelly Jakubowski from Durham University shared her experience collaborating with music psychologists and ethnomusicologists in the Interpersonal Entrainment in Music Performance (IEMP), featuring over 20 international researchers in ethnomusicology, music psychology, and computer science. Dr Elaine King from Hull University reflected on her collaborations between music psychologists and music performers, which explored how ensemble performers use music analysis in performance preparation. Finally, Dr Michelle Phillips from the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), in collaboration with music psychologists, scientists, and music composers, shared her riveting music and mutation project. Biologist Nicholas Weise and the Lux Trio also joined the project, asking if genetic mutation can be represented in music, and further, if musical representation can make genetic mutation clearer. In discussing these amazing and contrasting projects, many similar themes of collaboration came up. All panellists agreed that in collaboration, a priority needs to be made to use common language and a shared understanding on aligned standards and set goals. Dr Waddington-Jones emphasised the need for researchers to always ask questions, to never assume, and to have transparent communications to eradicate issues that lie in the common understanding of a project. A question of hierarchy was brought up by Dr King as projects are usually only undertaken when researchers develop questions rather than performers. Finally, there was an overall understanding that interdisciplinary collaboration can reach broader and more diverse audiences if dissemination of research is managed outside of academic journals. Overall, it was of the general consensus of the panellists that different perspectives can inspire and educate individual collaborators.

Sharing Best Practices in Teaching: Discussion Session

The ultimate session of NEMuR 7 invited member institutions to share innovative concepts and methods of teaching music and science. In teaching, the ‘chalk and talk’ technique is left behind and concepts of student-to-student teaching and assessment and flipped classroom learning are explored. Several universities give students the opportunity to learn-by-doing in the forms of student research projects and applied professional projects with industry partners. Furthermore, informal ways of teaching and learning such as reading groups and research forums prove to be great ways to engage students. Of course, distance-learning remains a central topic even as universities go back to in-person classes, as it comes with advantages. From a student perspective, we appreciate that the NEMuR members try to customise the teaching to fit their students’ needs. Moreover, even members who do not have specific programs or pathways in music psychology provide opportunities to engage with the topic for students on every level of studies. These best practices confirm our experience that the members provide the best possible training for upcoming generations of empirical music researchers.

A well-deserved dinner at the end of the day. – Photo by Kelly Jakubowski via Twitter

NEMuR 7 was a day filled with relevant thematic input and interdisciplinary discussions that left us inspired and encouraged to pursue our own academic activities. We enjoyed our encounters with like-minded researchers, both early in their careers and long established, during breaks and at the after-conference dinner. Fueled by enthralling exchange and collaboration, the meeting was rewarding in its entirety. We are looking forward to reuniting for the next edition this spring!

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