Finally, the podcast has begun. The So Strangely podcast explore new work in Music Science by having academics recommend recent publications. The recommender and I interview the first author on how the project came about and what it means for music, science, and research. This is a podcast for people interested in music science, students and academics, but we also try to make the conversation friendly to people in the many different disciplines contributing to the area.
Listen to the first few episodes now on The So Strangely Podcast website and subscribe to catch future works. So far we’ve discussed papers in Music Perception, Music Information Retrieval, and Neuroscience, and we are always on the look out for more.
On June 21st, 2018, I successfully defended by doctoral dissertation, Detection of Respiratory Phase Adaptation to Heard Music. Without a doubt, listeners do subtly and subconsciously adjust when they breathe to fit with music, lining up specific respiratory phases to specific moments, but this happens under limited conditions. Only some moments of music draw respiratory phase alignment, and some people show stronger susceptibility to music’s coordinating influence.
With the extra three months granted by my committee, my quantitative analysis of listener respiration was extended with qualitative analysis of alignment patterns in repeated response studies and audience experiments. Activity analysis identified moments of exceptional phase alignment and music theory enriched my interpretation of the corresponding stimulus. Out of 36 pieces of music, 21 provoked identifiable moments of alignment and out of these arose four theories of how listeners’ breathing could be drawn or cued by what they heard:
- Embodied perception/motor imagery: Some listeners toke inspirations when they might have, were they performing the music. This happens to vocal music, whether or not the performers’ breaths could be heard in music recordings. Examples from one case study participant can be seen in the attached figure, with inspirations (blue stars on chest expansion measurements) coinciding with performer inspirations during this a cappella folk song (highlighted in red on sound wave).
- Inspiration suppression for attentive listening: The noise of inspiration and expiration can get in the way of auditory attention and there are (rare) moments in music when listeners seem to delay breathing in or out so as to hear better. A moment like this is also in the attached figure, with post-expiration pauses extended from 97.4 s.
- Respiratory marking of salient moments: Listeners would sometimes breath in our out with recurring elements of musical motives, as if acting with something important or familiar. This was more common in structurally complex music and moments of strong affect, such as powerful lyrics, increasing tension, or exceptional aesthetics.
- Post-event respiratory reset: In a few cases, well timed respiration cycles occurred after events, like after the last line of a song. This is reminiscent of relaxing sighs and similar actions through to help the respiratory system reset back to normal relaxed quiet breathing.
Causal mechanisms for these four theories are suggested by current respiration and music cognition research, however they each require further exploration on experimental data beyond what was studied here. And it is also possible they might arise more frequently than could be captured by these statistics, limited as they are to behaviour that co-occurs with the music at least 20-40% of the time. Between a theorize mechanism and well designed experiments, it may yet be possible to detect these deviation in action, giving us further clues into how listeners are engaging with the music they hear.
More details to come in the shape of my final dissertation document. To be completed in the next month or so.
The Activity Analysis paper has been published in Music Perception!
Titled “Activity Analysis and Coordination in Continuous Responses to Music”, this paper explains what we can learn about the consistency of activity in continuous responses to music using the example of Continuous Ratings and (with the appendicies) all the technical details behind the results.
Abstract: Music affects us physically and emotionally. Determining when changes in these reactions tend to manifest themselves can help us understand how and why. Activity Analysis quantifies alignment of response events across listeners and listenings through continuous responses to musical works. Its coordination tests allow us to determine if there is enough inter-response coherence to merit linking their summary time series to the musical event structure and to identify moments of exceptional alignment in response events. In this paper, we apply Activity Analysis to continuous ratings from several music experiments, using this wealth of data to compare its performance with that of statistics used in previous studies. We compare the Coordination Scores and nonparametric measures of local activity coordination to other coherence measures, including those derived from correlations and Cronbach’s α. Activity Analysis reveals the variation in coordination of participants’ responses for different musical works, picks out moments of coordination in response to different interpretations of the same music, and demonstrates that responses along the two dimensions in continuous 2D rating tasks can be independent.
Download the PDF (Upham_McAdams_2018_ActivityAnalysis) and get the MatLab toolbox to use this technique on more continuous response data.
Million thanks to my co-author and mentor, Prof. Stephen McAdams, whose steadfast support made this work possible, and the patience of our editor at Music Perception, Prof. David Temperley.
Following the fruitful results of the Solo Response Project, exposing the consistencies and inconsistencies of my own responses to music, the obvious follow up was to conduct the same kind of study on other listeners. As part of my dissertation research, I conducted four Repeated Response Case Studies, and that data is now online for any and all to look at themselves!
For the Repeated Response Case Studies, participants were selected from a call for people who enjoyed listening to music. These four were chosen because they contrasted in their ways of engaging with music and in their athletic training. Each listened to seven experimentor-selected pieces and four more of their own choosing (within some conditions). Over six weeks, they came into the lab to listen alone in a sound proof booth, for a total of twelve listenings per stimulus.
Their responses were measured through psychophysiolgical sensors () and self report via post stimulus questions. All of this is now published in CSV files on figshare, so if this is your thing, go get it! And long live open science!
In the Solo Response Project, I recorded my own responses to a couple dozen pieces of music everyday for most of a month, self report and psychophysiological, to generate a data set that would let me compare experiences as captured through these measurement systems. The data set has mostly been used behind the scenes to tune signal processing and statistics, but there is plenty to learn about the music as well, given how I reacted to these stimuli.
On the project website, there is now a complete set of stimulus-wise posts sharing plots of how I responded to these pieces of music as they played and over successive listenings. Each post includes a recording of the stimulus (more or less), and figures about each of:
- Continuous felt emotion ratings,
- facial surface Electromyography (Zygomaticus and Corrugator) and of the upper Trapezius,
- Heart rate and Respiration rate,
- Respiration phases,
- Skin Conductance and Finger Temperature.
The text doesn’t explain much but those familiar with any of these signals will find it interesting to see how a single participant’s responses can vary over time. Some highlights from the amalgam above (left to right, top to bottom):
- The familiar subito fortissimo [100s] and continued thundering in O Fortuna from Carmina Burana is so effective that my skin conductance kept peaking through that final section. (At least on those days when GSR was being picked up at all.)
- Some instances of respiratory phase aligning were unbelievably strong, for example to Theiving Boy by Cleo Laine [85s].
- Evidence that I still can’t help but smile at the way Charles Trenet pronounces the word play in “Boum!” (“flic-flac-flic-flic” [60s])
- Self-reported felt emotional responses can change from listening to listening, particularly to complex stimuli like Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor.
- Finger temperature plunging [130s] with the roaring coda [118s] in the technical death metal piece of Portal by the band Origin
- Respiration getting progressively slower at the end [90s] of a sweet bassoon and harp duet by Debussy called Romance.
There is still a lot to say about the responses to the 25 stimuli used in this project, but as always, anyone is welcome to poke through the posts to look, listen, and consider what might be going on.