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       M U S I C          T H E O R Y         O N L I N E

                     A Publication of the
                   Society for Music Theory
          Copyright (c) 1994 Society for Music Theory
| Volume 0, Number 6      January, 1994    ISSN:  1067-3040   |

  All queries to: mto-editor@husc.harvard.edu

AUTHOR:  Parncutt, Richard
TITLE:  Review of the 1993 Conference of the Society for 
Music Perception and Cognition
KEYWORDS:  perception, cognition, rhythm, meter, accent, tonality, 
melody, expectancy

Parncutt Richard
McGill University 
Faculty of Music
555 Sherbrooke St West, Montreal (Quebec), 
Canada H3A 1E3

Review of the 1993 Conference of the Society for  
Music Perception and Cognition

ABSTRACT: The 1993 conference on music perception and  
cognition in Philadelphia covered a  wide range of  
topics, including the perception and cognition of:  
melodic accent, melodic cues to meter, accented rests,  
meter extended through silence, expressive timing in  
percussion music, tonality, finality of cadences,  
modulation, key ambiguity, pitch salience in musical  
passages, melodic contour, North Indian rags, tuning of  
melodies, absolute pitch among non-musicians, and  
melodic expectation and continuation. Many of these  
issues have ramifications for the theory and analysis  
of tonal and atonal music.




[1] The Conference of the Society for Music Perception and 
Cognition (SMPC) was held from June 16-19, 1993 at 
International House, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. 
It was organized by Eugene Narmour of the Department of Music, 
University of Pennsylvania. The Chair of the program committee
was Carol L. Krumhansl, Department of Psychology,  Cornell  
University, Ithaca NY.

[2] The conference was preceded by a larger conference  
on the same subject: the 2nd International Conference  
on Music Perception and Cognition (ICMPC), held in Los  
Angeles in February 1992. The next major conference in  
the field will be the 3rd ICMPC in Liege, Belgium, from  
23 - 27 July 1994. The SMPC conference in Philadelphia  
was conceived on relatively small scale, but still  
covered a wide range of current issues.

[3] It is impossible in the space of this review to  
mention all the papers presented. I will concentrate  
instead on those papers that I feel are of most  
relevance to music theorists. For example, I do not  
discuss papers on performance, computer applications,  
and neuropsychology in this review.

Rhythm, Meter, and Accent

[4] Recent research in music perception has devoted a  
great deal of attention to the perception of musical  
pitch structures, melody, harmony, and tonality. A new  
trend became evident at the conference in Philadelphia:  
Temporal structure took over from pitch as the largest  
category of contributed papers.   

[5] David Huron (Waterloo) and Matthew Royal (Western  
Ontario) addressed the issue of melodic accents arising  
from changes in the direction of melodic contour and  
from the size of melodic leaps. They compared syllabic  
stresses in a corpus of gregorian chants with melodic  
accent strengths as predicted by a number of  
algorithmic models. 

[6] Piet G. Vos (Nijmegen) and Arjan van Dijk  
(University of Amsterdam) analyzed melodic cues to  
meter in four compositions of J.S. Bach.  Using the  
technique of autocorrelation, they confirmed that  
interval patterns (direction and approximate size of  
intervals between successive tones) tend to repeat  
themselves at temporal intervals corresponding to beat  
and bar durations, but not at other intervals. The  
technique of autocorrelation predicted measure length  
with reasonable reliability, but was unable to  
determine the position of the downbeat. 

[7] Justin London (Carleton College) considered the  
phenomenon of accented rests. Most music-perceptual  
accounts consider only events that precede an accented  
rest. London pointed out that it is necessary also to  
look forward to future events, especially in cases  
where the listener is already familiar with the style  
of a given piece, or with the piece itself.

[8] Robert O. Gjerdingen (SUNY at Stony Brook)  
investigated the perception of sinusoidally  
amplitude-modulated signals with modulation frequencies  
in the rhythmic range (say, 0.3 to 20 Hz). Such signals  
are physically perfectly "smooth" and thus contain no  
obvious physical "events" (or onsets). They may  
nevertheless be perceived as a series of events,  
occurring at specific temporal positions (phases)  
relative to the peaks in the sinusoidal modulation.

[9] Eric F. Clarke and W. Luke Windsor (City, London)  
played rhythmic passages followed by isolated probe  
events, and asked listeners whether the isolated events  
fell on or off the beat. They reported strong effects  
of memory decay, tempo, and slowing of pulse sensations  
in the absence of real-time reinforcement.

[10] Jeff Bilmes (MIT) modeled expressive timing in  
percussive musical rhythms by a combination of tempo  
variation and event time-shifting, illustrating his  
presentation with recordings of real and synthesized  
African percussion music incorporating specific  
temporal manipulations.


[11] Fred Lerdahl (Columbia) discussed the  
establishment of a referential tonic center. According  
to his theory of tonal pitch space, the tonic is the  
center of the most compact region of pitch space that  
may be represented by paths between superordinate  
events within a prolongation region.

[12] Wendy Boettcher (California, Irvine) reported an  
experimental study of the sense of completeness evoked  
by various harmonic cadences. Results were in  
qualitative agreement with music-theoretic notions of  

[13] William Forde Thompson (York University) and Lola  
L. Cuddy (Queen's University) investigated the  
perception of modulation (key change) in a set of  
specially-prepared four-voice textures. Listeners were  
musicians. Key-distance judgments were influenced not  
only by music-theoretical estimates of key distance and  
by the way modulations were approached, but also by the  
presence or absence of expressive timing and dynamics.

[14] Frank C. Riddick (Colorado) analyzed the tonality  
of Zemlinsky's Second String Quartet (Op. 15),  
emphasizing the study of highly ambiguous tonal  
passages can lead to a better understanding of tonality  
perception in general.

[15] Caroline Palmer and Susan Hollerin (Ohio State)  
investigated the perception of pitch in  
harmonic/contrapuntal music. Their experimental  
technique was to change the pitch of a note in a  
passage and to ask listeners whether they heard the  
change. Harmonically related pitch changes, and changes  
occurring in the mid frequency range, were least  


[16] Kathryn Vaughn (MIT) and Edward C. Carterette  
(Southern California) explored perceptual relations  
among North Indian rags by the technique of similarity  
ratings and multi-dimensional scaling. Western  
musicians were found to be sensitive to conventional  
emotional meanings of rags -- even if they had no  
previous knowledge of Indian music.

[17] James Carlsen and Marc Cassone (Washington)  
presented melodies in which selected tones were  
mistuned by 20 or 40 cents by comparison to equal  
temperament, and investigated sensitivity to mistuning  
as a function of scale-degree, tempo, and timbre. They  
compared results with an analysis of recordings of  
cello music.

[18] David Huron (Waterloo) applied the perceptual law  
known as Fitt's law to both the perception of apparent  
motion in human vision and to the fission and fusion of  
auditory streams or melodies. He tested hypotheses  
based on that law by analyzing a database of melodies  
from ten different cultures.

[19] Sven Allback (University of Gothenburg) and Sven  
Emtell (KTH, Stockholm) developed algorithmic models  
for the analysis of pitch categories, meter, phrase  
structure, and tonality, and applied them to some 5000  
Swedish folk melodies. In a separate talk, Allback  
applied Krumhansl's probe-tone method to Swedish folk  
melodies, and obtained results very similar to those  
obtained by Krumhansl, in spite of pronounced  
variations in intonation -- suggesting that intonation  
plays a secondary role in the establishing of a tonal  

[20] Daniel Levitin (Oregon) described an ingeniously  
simple experiment to test the absolute-pitch ability of  
non-musicians. He asked psychology students to list the  
popular songs that they knew best. From the results, he  
compiled a list of the best-known songs. In the  
experiment proper, he asked individual participants to  
sing a few bars of a given song, handing them the cover  
of the corresponding CD to jog their memories. The  
response of 24% of all subjects was within one semitone  
of the correct key, and 67% of all subjects came within  
2 semitones.


[21] Carol L. Krumhansl (Cornell) presented the results  
of psychological tests of Narmour's  
implication-realization model. In general, the model  
was found to perform well (however, the model's  
performance was not compared with that of other  
possible models). Further psychological tests of the  
expectation-realization model were reported by Mayumi  
Adachi and James Carlsen (Washington), Robert Rawlins  
(Clayton), and James Buhler (Pennsylvania).

[22] David H. Bradshaw (Washington) investigated the  
perception of melodic continuation. The degree of  
expectation of a given note was found to correlate  
highly with the degree of surprise that follows the  
actual perception of that note.

[23] Steve Larson (Indiana University) developed a  
model that combined research on key determination with  
research on melodic expectancy, taking both aspects  
into account in the prediction of key and of melodic  

Presidential address

[24] In his presidential address, David Wessel (Center  
for New Music and Technology, Berkeley) stressed the  
importance of musical relevance in music perception  
research. It is essential that researchers in all areas  
of music, including perception and theory, have a  
thorough (and, if possible, practical) understanding of  
the musical background and ramifications of their work. 

[25] Wessel also remarked on the remarkably small  
number of currently filled, full-time university  
positions in the field of music perception/cognition or  
systematic musicology (less than 200 in North America)  
by comparison to music theory (about 4000) and  
historical musicology (about 3200). These figures  
clearly do not well reflect the relative importance of  
the three subject areas for students currently studying  
music at university level -- that is, for musicians of  
the 21st century. Nor do the figures correspond well  
with the relative numbers of people in the three areas  
that are currently available and well qualified to fill  
post-secondary positions. Any university that manages  
to offer a position in music perception in the near  
future can count on receiving a large number of  
applications from musically gifted, well published, and  
internationally recognized scholars. 

[26] Wessel suggested that the problem may be solved by  
improving communication and encouraging collaboration  
between the fields of music perception and music  
theory. A promising strategy for the immediate future  
will be to organize music perception conferences in  
close spatial and temporal proximity to theory  
conferences, to enable people to attend two conferences  
in one trip. 


[27] The papers presented in this and other recent  
conferences in music perception reflect an encouraging  
trend: Music-perceptual issues are not as music- 
theoretically trivial as they used to be. Times have  
changed since the first measurement of the mel scale!  
Slowly but surely, the gap between music perception and  
music theory is becoming smaller. Research in music  
perception increasingly involves musically sophisticated  
judgments about good music, and the results of music-  
perceptual research are becoming increasingly relevant  
to music theory and analysis.   

[28] Researchers from both disciplines may benefit from  
these developments by engaging in cross-disciplinary  
collaboration. Admittedly, a synthesis of music  
perception and music theory is still rather distant --  
but the prospect is becoming increasingly feasible. 


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