Current readings, interests, and relevant research

As a researcher, musicologist, and pianist, I am always on the lookout for stimulating ideas, creators, artists, recordings, and other sources of inspiration for my work. Here are a few.

Creativity and the creative process

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Creativity. Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (1996)

Among the many books and articles I read during my doctorate, this work was particularly inspiring. Through interviews with over one hundred subjects, high-achieving creators in various fields such as physics, chemistry, musical performance and composition, literature, economics and others, Professor Csikszentmihalyi draws observations on the characteristics of creative individuals. His "flow" theory is central to describing the type of mental state his subjects experience when they happen to have the breakthroughs or insights that allow them to redefine a domaine of work. His subjects describe “flow” as an “optimal experience” or “the feeling when things were going well as an almost automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness” (p. 110).

Another one of the many concepts to take away from this study consists of the nine elements of flow: 1) forming clear objectives at each stage, 2) having immediate feedback on one's actions, 3) finding an optimal balance between the task and the skills, 4) merging actions and awareness (or "mindfulness", the ability to be present in the moment), 5) excluding distractions from awareness, 6) freedom from concern for failure when performing a task, 7) the disappearance of self-awareness, 8) a distorted notion of time, and 9) the creative activity becoming a pleasant end in itself (which he calls autotelic).

Performance analysis

Sylvain Caron, Erica Bisesi, Caroline Traube

Analyzing interpretation: a comparative study of tempo variations in the first prelude of the Art of touching the keyboard by François Couperin (2019)

The objectives of the article by Sylvain Caron, Caroline Traube and Erica Bisesi were to relate musical analysis, interpretation and computer tools through the comparison of the tempo in seven interpretations of a prelude by François Couperin.

In collaboration with the harpsichord students of Hank Knox from McGill University, seven interpretations of Couperin's first Prelude (1716) were recorded in audio and MIDI format on a harpsichord equipped with MIDI sensors. MIDI data was extracted and processed on Matlab software and tempo data was presented on tempo variation graphs. An analysis of the score according to the perceptual approach developed by Bisesi, Parncutt and Friberg (Bisesi and Parncutt 2011) was linked to the graphic representations of the interpretations in order to "better grasp the multiple manifestations of the expression which can emanate from the potentialities of the work” (p.1). The authors first carried out an analysis of the score according to the approach by immanent accents developed by Parncutt and then proceeded to an analysis of the interpretations.

Some important considerations informed their work: the notion of the style of a prelude coming from Couperin himself (“good taste goes through a control of tempo variations which reproduces the free character of an improvised prelude” p.1); the concept of expressiveness as “a kind of distortion” whereby a performer produces variations over time “in varying degrees according to genre and style” (p.2); the notion of analysis by immanent accents which makes it possible to reveal the emotion encoded in the score (p.2) according to the analysis parameters: accents on the metric plan, of the phrasing, of the harmony and of the melodic outline.

Finally, the authors note that, in quantitative analysis done with computer software, some tempo variations are not perceptible to the human ear:

In fact, to be perceptible a tempo variation must include a difference of between 5% and 10%, which corresponds to a metronomic notch. However, the encircled variations are so weak that they are imperceptible: we perceive a stable tempo even if there are visual differences. (p.3)

By presenting the graphs of temporal variation in relation to the score, the authors were able to observe different interpretation strategies, varying the tempo according to some of the accents at the expense of others, but coherent within themselves. An excellent example of some of the ways modern scholarship, analysis and digital tools may help better understand musical interpretation.


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