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AMPS: Past Seminar Series

Past Seminar Series

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1999 Seminar Series

Timbre and Technology
Speaker : Stephen Malloch
Date :5th Mar


Music Analysis consists of "the resolution of a musical structure into relatively simpler constituent elements, and the investigation of the functions of those elements within that structure." [1] What are the 'constituent elements'? Pitch is the element most often studied when a composition is analysed. Yet pitch is only one element of music. Pitches must be sounded, so an indispensable element of music is its timbre. While analysts are able to discuss pitch structures with a great deal of sophistication, their attempts to discuss timbre are few and often rudimentary.

The discipline of Music Analysis would be enhanced if timbre could be discussed with the same degree of precision as pitch. To this end, methods of data weighting and reduction are introduced, based on psychoacoustic models, and a number of acoustic methods for analysing music timbre are proposed. An analysis is presented of Ligeti's Atmosphères (1961), combining traditional music analytic techniques and timbre analysis.

[1] Bent, Ian: (1987). The New Grove Handbooks in Music: Analysis. London: Macmillan Press, p.1.

Learning to Perform
Speaker : Gary McPherson University of NSW
Date :26th Mar


This study examined the ability of 101 high school instrumentalists to perform rehearsed music, sightread, play from memory, play by ear and improvise over a three year period. Path analysis was used to test a model designed to encapsulate the flow of influences theorised to exist between the five types of musical performance and four factors derived from a researcher administered questionnaire. Results show major differences in the pattern of influences leading to the re-creative skill of performing a repertoire of rehearsed music for a formal music examination, compared to the creative ability of improvising. Performing rehearsed music was found to be influenced most by an ability to sightread, together with a factor comprised of variables concerned with the length of time a subject had been studying their instrument and taking lessons. In sharp contrast, an ability to improvise was most markedly influenced by an ability to play by ear. Results for this sample of instrumentalists exposed to a 'traditional' style of teaching also suggest that their ability to sightread may be influenced by how well they are able to play by ear.

Enactive and Reflective Thinking During the Compositional Process by Secondary Students
Speaker : Myung-sook Auh University of Wollongong
Date :16th Apr


This is a preliminary study to explore how students think during the compositional process. The purpose of the study was to examine students' enactive and reflective thinking during the compositional process. Subjects were 20 seventh-grade Korean students enrolled in junior high schools in Seoul, Korea. They were asked to compose music and, when they finished it, were asked to describe how they composed music on the Compositional Process Questionnaire. The results showed that students tended to think enactively and/or reflectively in the beginning stages of the compositional process; however, when developing musical ideas to expand their composition, most of them tended to think more reflectively than enactively. Also, while enactive thinkers tended to sing, hum, and/or play on their instrument looking for tunes, reflective thinkers tended to make detailed musical-analytical strategies and make their own strategies, such as "composing is like craftsmanship" and "doing a puzzle", and also employ auditory and visual images for composing. There were no significant difference in enactive and reflective thinking between boys and girls.

Implication: The students' descriptions of how they composed can give music teachers an insight on how their students might think when composing and possibly lead to a better instruction in composition.

Mothers and Babies and Communicative Musicality
Speaker : Stephen Malloch
Date :30th Apr


Using music as a model, I examine mother/infant vocalisations using computer-based acoustic analysis. The importance of both parties in the mother-infant dyad is emphasised. Methods are introduced for analysing Pulse, Quality and Narrative in mother/infant vocalisations. These three elements comprise "Communicative Musicality": those attributes of human communication, which are particularly exploited in music, that allow co-ordinated companionship to arise. Pulse is analysed using spectrographic analysis, and regular timing intervals are discovered that serve to co-ordinate the mother's and infant's joint vocalisations. Quality consists of both the pitch-contour of the vocalisations, and their timbre. Pitch plots are derived, and are analysed to show how the infant and mother structure their joint exploration of pitch space on the small and large scale. Timbre is measured with a variety of acoustic measures - tristimulus values, sharpness, roughness and width. These measures show that the mother's voice changes its quality in response to the infant's. Narrative combines Pulse and Quality - it allows two persons to share a sense of passing time. Narrative is shown in the musical companionship that is created between a mother and her baby as she chants a nursery rhyme. I conclude that Communicative Musicality is vital for companionable parent/infant communication.

Metaphor and Synesthesia in Music Perception
Speaker : Robert Walker University of NSW
Date :14th May


The use of metaphor in human communication has a long history stretching back thousands of years from ancient China, through ancient Greece and Rome, to our present day. For example, a typical cross-modal metaphor used in many literary forms of communication is where loudness is matched with bright lights or stark colours. Experimental evidence shows that children and adults image pitch difference more naturally as size difference, or brightness difference than with vertically placed notations such as those used in music. These and other cross-modal phenomena may have neurological, psychoacoustic origins, yet they form the basis of much artistic communication and our understanding of music.

The Role of the Family in the Development of Musical Ability
Speaker : Jane Davidson & Sophia Borthwick University of Sheffield, UK
Date :4th Jun


This paper is focused around a detailed case study of the Brown family, a whilte middle class English family whose members all play musical instruments. Using Ethnomethodology and Interpretative Phenomenonological Analysis, we examine the impact of the parents' beliefs and behaviours on their two daughters' musical progress. In particular, we examine how the eldest daughter's sense of self is tied up with her father's 'script' about her musical ability. We see that a believed symbiosis between father and daughter leads the girl to develop a very positive self image as a musician; whereas the younger sister, who is excluded from the special father-daughter 'script' rebels against the emphasis on music within the home and seeks her sense of self and identity elsewhere. Byng-Hall's 'Family Script Theory' is central to our theorising.

Separating Speech from Noise
Speaker : Bill Noble University of New England
Date :18th Jun


When a broadband noise source is spatially displaced in the horizontal plane from a signal straight ahead that the listener is trying to follow (such as speech) it makes it easier to hear the speech, compared with when the speech and noise are both located in front of the listener. The effect can be explained in terms of shadowing properties of the head. When two noise sources are symmetrically displaced from the speech, it is still easier to hear the speech, a finding that is not so expected. When the competing signal is itself speech, spatial displacement yields a greater advantage than when the competitor is broadband noise. A series of experiments will be described that explore the effects of different competing signals in an effort to find out what it is about speech, as a competitor, that gives rise to this particular advantage.

Everyday Uses of Music
Speaker : John Sloboda Keele University, UK
Date :9th Jul


Two studies are reported which explore the functionality of music in the everyday lives of non-musicians. Study 1 was a mail survey of 500 panel members with a range of open-ended questions relating to uses of music in and out of the home. Key theme emerging from responses relate to music as a source of individual, rather than collective, value. This problematises music in public places, which is often perceived as an infringement of autonomy. Study 2 tracked 8 adults for an entire week, using pagers to sample ongoing musical engagement. This study showed powerful effects of music on various psychological indicators, including mood. The effects of music were moderated both by the specific social context in which music was experienced, and also by the degree of choice exercised by participants over the music they were hearing. Music almost always was used to enhance some non-musical activity. "Pure" prolonged attentive listening to music is not a dominant feature of these samples. The implications of these results for experimental studies of music listening are discussed.

On and Off the Beat: Some "Surprising" Results
Speaker : Devin McAuley & Mari Riess Jones Ohio State University
Date :8th Aug


A series of time-judgment experiments were performed that manipulated the beginning and ending of a to-be-remembered time interval (the standard) relative to the rhythm of a preceding induction sequence. Beginning and ending times of the standard interval were examined for conditions that were on-time, early, and late, relative to a beat implied by the induction rhythm. In general, better performance was observed when the standard was on-time than when it was early or late, leading to a systematic context-sensitive performance profile, termed an expectancy profile. The most interesting feature of the data was an interaction between the beginning and ending manipulations. Interpreted with respect to an entrainment model, the interaction suggests that a tracking oscillator's phase is more affected by unexpected beginnings, whereas its period is more affected by unexpected endings.

Perception & Evaluation of 'stylishness' in recordings of Baroque Music: an Empirical Investigation
Speaker : Dorottya Fabian University of NSW
Date :3rd Sep


Baroque Performance Practice has been researched extensively in this century, especially since the 1950s. In the wake of the so called early music movement the idea of playing old music the old way gathered momentum and musicologists and performers alike started to believe in the possibility of reconstructing historically appropriate performance styles. Musicians learnt to play on period instruments; musicologists studied 18th century instrumental tutors and other sources of performance practice. The interpretation of baroque compositions have changed, indeed, as the analysis of approximately 100 recordings issued between ca. 1950-1980 demonstrates.

The systematic review and comparison of this huge scholarly contribution to the topic and the sound documents provided some fascinating results that highlighted the limits of traditional musicological methods and prompted new research questions.

The discrepancy between theory and practice, between verbal/written claims and the aural/sonic experience is often striking. It seems that the methods of empirical investigation and music perception may prove useful in an attempt to clarify or explain some of these problems and to support (or discard) some of the conclusions put forward in my PhD. On the other hand, given the large number of historical sources and the detailed accounts of what constitutes 'stylish' playing, the examination of this repertoire seems to have an edge over that of romantic piano music; a repertoire which received much more attention in the field of music perception or psychological studies of musical performances.

In this paper I'll attempt to outline some of the issues, discrepancies and theoretical hypothesis that came out of my previous study (ie. the systematic review of baroque performance practice in the 20th century) and introduce my new project (very much in a work-in-[initial]progress stage): the research questions and how the semantic differentials method might be of help. I'll discuss the questionnaire (and how it should be fine-tuned), and give a summary of the preliminary results of the pilot study (ie. the lessons gained from the analysis of the first 60 or so respondents' answers).

Instruments without players and singers without voices
Speaker : Joe Wolfe & John Smith University of NSW
Date :17th Sep


Much of our work on the acoustics of musical instruments involves acoustic measurements of an instrument while it is not being played. While the player-instrument interaction is of course very important, measurements like ours have the advantage that they are precise, reproducible and (nearly) objective properties of the instrument alone.

We have developed a technique to measure some acoustic properties rapidly, precisely and with a large dynamic range. In wind instruments, an important quantity is called the acoustic impedance, which is the ratio of the sound pressure to the vibrating air flow. This has similarities with electrical impedance (voltage divided by current), although the acoustic impedance usually has an interesting variation with frequency. The impedance spectrum of the instrument interacts with the reed, lips or air jet to determine the operating régime of the instrument and the pitch, stability and timbre of the sound produced. One interesting set of examples are the configurations which give rise to multiphonics or chords, in which two or different notes are sounded at the same time on a single instrument.

The voice is rather different from most other wind instruments. In the voice, the vibration of the vocal folds determines the pitch. This produces a large set of frequency components in the harmonic series. The way in which these components interact with the vocal tract is in part responsible for the timbre of the voice, including which phoneme is produced. Using our technique, we can make non-invasive, rapid measurements of the acoustics of the tract during speech or singing. In these measurements, we separate the voice signal from the injected broad-band signal and study the two separately. These measurements allow an investigation of fundamentals of acoustic phonetics. Further, such measurements can be used to provide visual feedback in "real-time", which can be used as a teaching aid. We shall discuss ways in which we are attempting to apply this technique to the tracts of singers and wind players.

Playing from the heart and playing from the mind: Children's expressiveness in instrumental performance
Speaker : James Renwick University of NSW
Date :8th Oct


Children's musical development has been studied more extensively from the point of view of perception than from that of performance. In this paper, however, I shall explore how the development in children of increasingly sophisticated mental representations of music might interact with their expressiveness in performance.

First, I shall review research on adults' use of expressive devices to communicate structural aspects of a score, before turning to the literature on the acquisition of increased sensitivity to these structural aspects. Second, research findings will be presented on emotional communication through music, conducted with both adults and children. Third, I shall discuss some explanations for individual and age-related differences in music learners' performance expressiveness. In conclusion, implications of these three areas for music teaching and learning will be explored.

As the presenter is contemplating the possibilities of research in this area, discussion and suggestions will be invited after the literature review.

Choreographing Space and Time: A Microcosm of World Structure
Speaker : Shirley McKechnie Victorian College of the Arts
Date :12th Nov


The vibrant network of dynamic and spatial relationships which characterises a fine choreographic creation is evidence of complex thinking in four dimensions. This paper discusses the nature of this thought and asks questions about affinities between a search for form and a search for meaning.

Questions about form and structure are not only asked by artists. New ideas arising from evolutionary theory and the neurosciences find resonance with similar ideas emanating from philosophy, cosmology, theology, and political and social theory. It seems that we can now view the brain as a biological given and the mind as a cultural construct subject to the dynamic flux of a multitude of influences. Indeed, the postmodern fixation on context has a venerable history and while the distance between Jacques Derrida and Isaac Newton seems more irreconcilable than ever, the connections between Leibniz, Newton's great critic, and creative thinkers of our own time, are increasingly self evident. My own interest in these matters has grown in the past few years, from earlier impulses to frame the questions which arose out of my own practice as a dance artist, to a different kind of quest. It now seems important to understand why so many people from so many apparently different disciplines are asking the same kind of question. The research project 'Unspoken Knowledges' at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne has time to trace a complex choreographic journey and to ask questions about the way artists view the world and the relationship between the nature of choreographic thought and its relationship to more universal themes.

Adventures with the IMP: The Psychology of Musical Narrative in Mother's Songs and Chants with Infants
Speaker : Colwyn Trevarthen University of Edinburgh
Date :19th Nov


Analysis of the rhythms, melodies and expression of protoconversational 'motherese', chanting games and songs that mothers spontaneously perform for their infants' pleasure in the first 6 months, and of the sympathetic responses of infants by expressions of the whole body, face, voice and hands, demonstrates that a forward moving time-sense coloured by feelings is a fundamental attribute of the human mind. Recordings from many different cultures and in many languages will be presented to show the universal patterns that convey a syntax of feelings or 'emotional narratives' that may sustain a young infant's interest over minutes. Phrasing and organisation of the mother's expressive stream in cyclic episodes that form verses or stanzas give a foundation for the shared activity, 'affect attunement' and 'co-consciousness', and reveal the infant's coherent time sense. This is taken as a necessary basis for subsequent development of 'executive' thought and linguistic syntax. Language is, therefore, not considered to be appropriately described as a separate cognitive module. It is pervaded by general intersubjective processes , which become obscured by a psycholinguistics that restricts attention to text out of conversational contexts.

Towards a model for music composition
Speaker : Ian Irvine University of Newcastle
Date :26th Nov


This paper argues that creativity has a cognitive base, and as such it incorporates metacognitive, motivational and self-regulation components. We therefore conceptualise creativity as emerging from a notion of expertise grounded in more sophisticated accounts of cognition and content. The distinguishing feature of the expert is their ability to creatively solve problems. On the basis of this account, composition is seen as evidence for an increasing level of expertise which involves increasing levels of abstraction in the cognitive base and consequent sophistication in the strategic way that composers engage in the composition process. The paper then critically reviews existing accounts of musical creativity from the standpoint of the need to incorporate underlying cognitive basis to creative musical activity. This is demonstrated through analysis of research literature of composition.