Sunday, January 27, 2008

What should a listening machine be able to do?

This week we'll have a kick-off meeting preparing for our project Zonder luisteraar geen muziek [No music without a listener] that has been nominated for the Dutch Academic Year Prize.

One of the questions the UvA-team (consisting of Vivienne Aerts, Shane Burmania, Olivia Ladinig, and me) will brainstorm about is: Imagine what a listening machine would look like, a machine that is able to listen and react in a human and musical way. What should such a machine know, what should it listen for, how could it respond, and how can we compare and evaluate such machines? One of the challenges is how to turn such a question into a compelling and fun problem to think about, aimed at students that want to combine their interest in music with a liberal arts and sciences education.

While it might look like a simple question, the design of a 'listening machine' that embodies the musical and listening skills common to most humans turns out to be a full-fledged research program, and it is part of the scientific enterprise generally known as music cognition. In this field of research computational modeling (formalizing a theory in the form of a computer program and relating it to human behavior) is an influential methodology that has contributed to a further understanding of music as a process in which the performer and the listener play a central role.

While for a long time music was a topic hidden away under subject headings like 'pitch' and 'time perception' in scientific reference books, in recent years several disciplines, ranging from the humanities to the social and natural sciences, show a growing interest in the scientific study of music. A recent example is Robert Zatorre who promotes music as “the food of neuroscience” (see Nature). It looks like the beginning of something ...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

'Zonder luisteraar geen muziek?'

This weekend the music cognition group from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) will be officially nominated for the Academische Jaarprijs, an initiative of the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad and two scientific organizations (NWO and KNAW) to promote the dissemination and popularization of science. The UvA-team will participate with the project proposal ‘Zonder luisteraar geen muziek’ ['No Music without a listener'].*

The aim of the UvA-project is to show that we all have a talent for music. While some people might think they have no sense for rhythm or claim not to be able to sing a melody in tune, most of us do appreciate music and are perfectly capable of distinguishing between one performance or another. In other words, we will stress the musical competence of the average listener (as opposed to musical competence associated with musicianship).

The nominated communication plan aims to design an interactive website that allows listeners to test their musical listening capabilities (based on research by our group and that of authors like Bigand, Dalla Bella, Hannon, Peretz and Schellenberg). Participants might be surprised of what they are able to hear!

* See special issue of NRC Handelsblad

Monday, January 14, 2008

Is rock music dangerous?

Last Saturday the first edition of Noorderslag Science was held, during a sold-out Noorderslag in Groningen, NL. Noorderslag Science is a seminar on pop music, the music industry and related topics (such as music cognition) that gives researchers an opportunity to present their work to a wide audience.

ResearchBlogging.orgTom ter Bogt (professor of popular music at the University of Utrecht), with whom I co-organized the event, presented work on fame and (early) death in pop music. Next to a review of the empirical work of e.g. Mark Bellis (“pop artists die younger”), he presented his own research on the question whether Gothic rock has a (bad) effect on adolescent behavior.*

Based on large dataset on adolescents’ musical taste, he found a correlation between the liking of Gothic Rock and suicidal thoughts (up to ten percent of the group interviewed). Interestingly, a similar effect was shown for several other genres as well, suggesting that music —in general— is more appreciated in this particular age period.

While the relation is correlational and not causal, it suggests that without music these episodes of depressive thought might be far more dangerous for these adolescents (since the actual suicide rate is, luckily, far below the ten percent mentioned above). A striking example of the importance of music and its comforting role, in this case —apparently— a fact of life and death.

* Mulder, J., Bogt, T.t., Raaijmakers, Q., Vollebergh, W. (2007). Music Taste Groups and Problem Behavior. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36(3), 313-324. DOI: 10.1007/s10964-006-9090-1

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Too catchy a tune ? (Part 2)

Below the fragment belonging to the blog entry of two weeks ago on the earworm:
video