Vijay Iyer, Jazz Pianist

Vijay Iyer is a jazz pianist (he studied math and physics at Yale!!) and music cognition/perception PhD, but grew up playing classical violin. His music is really interesting rhythmically, including polyrhythms and complicated patterns. About rhythm, he says ”The way we perceive rhythm is by imagining ourselves moving, or another body moving in the same way…There is really a primal connection between music and the body. We tend to think of music as something we come to — I think the real insight that this concept brings to us is that music is us.”

Here’s the NPR story!

A Modern Sense of Time

In the first chapter of his 1988 book The Time of Music: New Meanings, New Temporalities, New Listening Strategies, Jonathan Kramer proposes different kinds of time that are created by contemporary music, e.g., gestural, multiply-directed, vertical (static), and moment (mosaic) time. Listen to nos. 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9 from the “Listening List 1” (a copy can be found in the “Handouts” folder, in the “Resources” section of classes*v2) and think about how each piece might challenge some of the assumptions about musical rhythm and temporality inherited from Western musical practice leading to the twentieth century, what Kramer refers to as “linear time” (i.e., where the succession of events is understood as the consequence of past events).

Pick one piece that you find especially interesting and write a commentary about your temporal experience when listening to this piece. How is time organized ? What kind of time is suggested by the music? How does listening to this piece influence your perception of time flow and/or time perspective? Does musical rhythm as embodied in this piece challenge your definition of it? If so, how might it be expanded? And finally, how can Kramer’s ideas inform your listening (and a psychologically relevant definition of musical rhythm)?

As you are listening and thinking about these questions, you might want to revisit the “Quotes about Musical Time” distributed last week, especially nos. 5 to 10. Feel free to include ideas from these quotes in your post. (Please post your initial comment by Sunday, January 27, 5:00 PM.)

Dessicated Chopin

Having studied the piece before, I found myself waiting for certain pitches throughout the space between each chord, and I was very able to hear the melody despite its exaggerated duration. I’m very curious about the thoughts of anyone who hasn’t heard or studied the piece before: did the pitches sound functional, or did the note changes sound random or haphazard? Did you hear a melody? What do you think of the delay given to the right hand?

Listening in context

In class today, we listened to an excerpt of Zoboko by the Aka Pygmies, a ritual that is performed the evening before an important hunting expedition.

Aka Pygmies Zoboko (traditional)

This listening exercise was done out-of-context, i.e., without knowledge or experience of the circumstances in which this music takes place. In fact, most experimental research isolate music from its context (one could venture to argue that this state of affairs is related to the ideology of “absolute music” which has exerted much influence on Western culture and thought). Although many interesting observations and questions can be generated this way, even more can be learned when the music is reconciled with its context. For much of history, music has been associated with other activities, such as rituals and dance, and the predominance of “passive” listening as musical behavior is also a rather recent development.  This video will give you a glimpse of music production in the culture of the Aka Pygmies:

What, then, might be missing from a recording of pieces such as those in this video that is relevant to an investigation of rhythm? What research questions might be prompted by observing the music in its context?

Welcome to “Cognition of Musical Rhythm”!

Where does the power of music to “move” us come from? Is “feeling the beat” a uniquely human ability? Do athletes who listen to music while training perform better? Does background music influence our shopping behavior? Why has music so often been a part of military actions? Can rhythm be used as a healing tool?

This course is situated at the interface of music psychology and music theory and integrates concepts and methods from both fields. In this course, you will gain critical understanding of the issues at stake in the study of musical rhythm and acquire a set of skills that will enable you to formulate research questions, conduct a literature review, and design and conduct an online experiment aimed at exploring an aspect of musical rhythm that is relevant to your everyday life. To reach this goal, we will explore music from different historical periods and styles, read landmark studies from both music theory and music psychology, and dig into the many recent empirical studies that deal with rhythm production, perception, and cognition.

Can the conceptual and methodological gap between music theory and music psychology be fruitfully bridged? Theories of musical rhythm have a long history, from Aristoxenus and Plato in the Greek Antiquity to Mathis Lussy and Hugo Riemann in the 19th century. These theories range from mostly pedagogical works aimed at musical practitioners of a given style to speculative theories that attempt to unveil underlying generative principles at work in the “musical mind” of composers as represented by specific musical pieces. In contrast, the core of empirical research dealing with rhythm has been focused on identifying “universal” laws of rhythmic perception and production, sometimes even bringing into question the validity of some musical concepts and tools. Nevertheless, the persistence of musical practices that challenge experimental findings suggests that music psychological research might benefit from a richer and more flexible understanding of the music-temporal experience, especially given the relative simplicity of the stimuli used in the lab when compared to actual music and the heavy bias toward musical materials from Western European cultures. Conversely, findings on the cognitive mechanisms that fuel rhythmic experience can enrich our understanding of the effect of music on our body and mind.