Music Matters. Materiality, Knowings and Practices in Performing Arts

 

Perspectives from Music Acoustics

Werner Goebl

 

Music performance aims at creating musical sounds with the help of the human voice or musical instruments. Traditionally, at music conservatoires, music has been sight-read and studied from paper scores, annotated with pencil and rubber, and the music performed on acoustic instruments built by professional makers and maintained by professional instrument technicians. As the current turn to digitization concerns all aspects of music making (from developing digital score representations and interactive content presentations, digital music instruments not designed by professional instrument makers, to the wide-spread digital online distribution of music recordings) the \traditional" approaches of addressing questions related to music performance are massively challenged. At the same time, empirical/scientific approaches are boosted by new technology (such as motion capture, eye tracking, physical measurements with smaller and smaller sensors) allowing to assess more precisely and less intrusively the many volatile behaviors and phenomena present in music making. Interdisciplinary knowledge and practices from physics, computer science, performance science and instrument making are united in the field of music acoustics with the aim to better understand both the physics and the psychology of music making and to shape and improve the tools performers use to create musical sounds. Three different possible questions are related to this scenario, showcasing different stages of materiality and practices:


1. Questions related to embodied music cognition (Leman, 2008) arise when asking for example whether studying a new piece with a purely digital presentation of musical scores will generate equivalent mental rep- resentations and memory recall rates as traditional paper scores. By monitoring partly involuntary bodily reactions as pupil size, eye gaze or body motion (Jensenius et al., 2010), we are able to track the participants' ow of thoughts and may understand internal processes such as of sight-reading and memorization. Results of this research may be used to improve interface design for interactive digital score presentation.
2. Questions related to digital instrument design, playability, and interaction design (Jensenius and Lyons, 2017) arise when asking: When does a sound source become a musical instrument? How much control over the algorithms does a performer of electronic instruments need? In how far can machine learning support the performer with new musical instruments? As much as these questions focus on digital instrument design are they highly relevant to scientific investigation of acoustical instruments which have these interaction parameters implicitly defined through makers traditions and musicianship.
3. Questions related to music acoustics (Weinzierl, 2014) arise when asking how physical properties of instruments such as wall vibrations of brass winds or reed thickness in woodwinds in uence the response of the instrument. Physical modeling methods allow to predict playing characteristics and sound quality of immaterial instruments giving rise to computer optimization and representation in virtual reality (Garner, 2018). Virtual acoustics has recently gained much attention and will enable composers and musicians to experience yet unknown ways of artistic ex-
pression and even remote ensemble performances using virtual instruments in jointly perceived virtual spaces.


References:
Garner, T. A. (2018). Echoes of the Worlds: Sound in Virtual Reality. Palgrave Studies in Sound. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, Switzerland.


Jensenius, A. R. and Lyons, M. J. (2017). A NIME Reader: Fifteen Years of New Interfaces for Musical Expression, volume 3. Springer.


Jensenius, A. R., Wanderley, M. M., Gody, R. I., and Leman, M. (2010). Musical gestures. concepts and methods in research. In Gody, R. I. and Leman, M., editors, Musical Gestures: Sound, Movement, and Meaning, Routledge, New York, London.


Leman, M. (2008). Embodied Music Cognition and Mediation Technology. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.


Weinzierl, S. (2014). Akustische Grundlagen der Musik. Handbuch der systematischen Musikwissenschaft. Laaber-Verlag, Laaber.