This week an interesting article appeared in Empirical Musicology Review, an open peer-reviewed journal on music. Andrew McGraw (University of Richmond) discusses the use of tempo-change in Balinese music.
The most common kind of tempo-change is often referred to as the ‘final ritard’: the typical slowing down at the end of a music performance, apparent in Javanese and Balinese gamelan music, music from the Western Baroque and Romantic period, but also in quite some pop and jazz genres.
An important contribution to this topic is made by a family of computational theories, so-called ‘kinematic models’, that propose an explicit relation between the laws of physical motion (elementary mechanics) in the real world and chaneg of tempo (so-called "expressive timing") in music performance. These models were shown to produce a good fit with a variety of empirical performance data, suggesting that the final ritard alludes to human movement: the pattern of runners’ deceleration.
Unfortunately, the McGraw study is yet another example of a study that takes ‘tempo curves’ too seriously as a potential description, or even mental representation, of tempo-change in music (A hobby horse of mine that I shouldn't bring in once more; cf. here).
Furthermore, the author seems to be unaware of the notorious mistake made by Feldman, Epstein and Richards (MIT, Cambridge, Mass.) in their 1992 study. In there the authors propose a theory of tempo change (or rubato) based on the laws of physical motion, but in the end fit the empirical data to models unrelated to these laws. So indeed, the conclusion that "previous idealized models are too simplistic to describe Balinese music" is correct. In fact, it has been shown for both music performance and music perception. The challenge is still to model the regularity and structure that can characterize this particular use of tempo rubato.
Nevertheless, the paper is a much needed contribution to music perception and cognition research by studying other than Western classical music, a genre that is still dominating the literature.
McGraw, A.C. (2008). The Perception and Cognition of Time in Balinese Music. Empirical Musicology Review, 3(2), 38-54.
HONING, H. (2005). IS THERE A PERCEPTION-BASED ALTERNATIVE TO KINEMATIC MODELS OF TEMPO RUBATO?. Music Perception, 23(1), 79-85. DOI: 10.1525/mp.2005.23.1.79